updated 08:00 pm EST, Thu January 7, 2010
Minor but welcome webOS improvements
After seeing Palm introduce the Pre Plus and Pixi Plus at its CES keynote today, we were eager to get a look at the devices ourselves and had the opportunity this afternoon. We also had a chance to test the new 3D gaming support and to see what software would come out of the box on Verizon versus Sprint.
Design-wise, the changes are subtle but actually fairly welcome. The Pre Plus sees the biggest change and loses the hardware center button for calling up the card view. It's initially a setback, but within a few minutes we got used to relying on either tapping the center area or accessing the home screen from the launcher. Certainly it helps the phone's aesthetic. The Pixi Plus is virtually the same as it has been, although that's not necessarily a problem; we actually like its keyboard more than the Pre's, which isn't terrible but requires more conscious effort than on the Pixi.
We do appreciate the inductive backs being included with both phones out of the gate. Many owners complained of having to switch backs, and the casing no doubt increases the cost of making the Touchstone charger the backs are meant to use.
We could swear the phones are faster than before, though Palm tells us that the hardware is largely the same. Aside from the increased capacity on the Pre Plus, most of the speedup is attributable to minor hardware tweaks as well as the webOS 1.3.5 firmware that has already been available for weeks.
What's most impressive is gaming: namely, that it works as well as it does. We tried Need For Speed and X-Plane, and both ran at least as well as a typical iPhone 3G or (in some cases) 3GS title with roughly as much detail. Despite lacking a home button, the control remains intuitive, and in theory a game can draw on the hardware keyboard for extra controls.
Verizon subscribers who get the Pre Plus and Pixi Plus may be slightly disappointed in terms of software: the only real change we could notice was the replacement of Sprint Navigator with VZ Navigator and the absence of other Sprint apps like its NASCAR news tool. We doubt most buyers will be concerned, though, as Google Maps will handle most non-driving duties and the Palm App Catalog is finally getting to a significant (if still quite small) number of titles.
As such, the two phones aren't revolutions by any means but do show promise, especially for gaming; to date, only the iPhone and Android have had gaming on this level. So long as Verizon prices the phones well and Palm keeps its word of supplying updates like video recording, we could see webOS finally gaining enough market share to make some of its rivals nervous.