Palm Pixi vs. iPhone 3G—Can Palm Steal Apple's Thunder?

Palm's next WebOS smartphone has been rumored for ages, and now Palm's just made the Pixi official. Choosing this morning for a launch pitches Palm in a race to beat Apple's iPod news...but can the Pixi beat the iPhone in a specs race?

Palm PixiPalm's Pre was heralded as a potential iPhone-killer well ahead of its launch, but in the end it didn't quite deliver. Its performance was slightly ahead of the iPhone 3G, but lagged behind Apple's revamped iPhone 3GS (aided in part by Apple's enhanced iPhone firmware which works on all its smartphones). Then we heard rumors that Palm was working on another WebOS phone, but it had possibly been delayed due to poor Pre sales. That phone was codenamed Eos and Pixie, and it's turned out to be the new Palm Pixi—a candybar phone with much simpler design than the Pre. So much simpler, in fact, that it's probably fairer to compare the Pixi's performance to the older iPhone 3G—which is still on sale, and is Pixi's closest competitor. Pixi's less capable than the Pre, and priced more cheaply, and it makes even more sense.

Check out the comparison table below:

Pixi versus iPhone

The Pixi is Palm's effort at an entry-level smartphone, and its rumored pricing pitches it at or about the same level as the iPhone 3G, which Apple chose to retain as the entry-level part of its inventory after releasing the 3GS. In many ways, the comparison chart places the devices as more or less parallel, but there are a few key features that make the Pixi stand out.

First is the Pixi's physical keypad. This is a huge plus, as some people perceive the touchscreen keypad of the iPhone to be sub-par for their meaty digits. The guys at Engadget even found the keyboard to be strangely utile given its very small size. It's also engineered without a slider-function, which gave the Palm Pre a reputation for bad build-quality.

Next up is the removable battery. Heavy phone users can simply swap-in a spare. But you'd still have to buy that spare, and there's a burgeoning iPhone juice-up external battery trade that makes up for the iPhone's built-in unit, so in that sense the phones are the same. They both have the same capacity, but it's not yet known how long the Pixi will last—will its newer chips eat less power than Apple's? Or will its LED flash consume much more energy?

Connectivity is the biggest feature that stands out. There's no Wi-fi on the Pixi (presumably to save money,) and that will severely affect how users interact with the device, since your only option for wireless downloading is EVDO which has a peak data rate of about 3.1Mbps, versus the iPhone's 3.6Mbps HSDPA option. The lack of Wi-fi means you're going to be relying purely on Sprint's data services when you're away from your PC.

And finally, there's the Pixi's screen. It's 80 pixels shorter than the Pre's, presumably to lower the production cost, and so that Palm could include a gesture-entry touchpad zone. The WebOS is apparently good at scaling apps to different sizes, but there're going to be some optimization problems for some apps. And the screen won't be as satisfying for video viewing as its older brother or the iPhone due to the smaller size and reduced pixel count.

With the launch of the Pixi (and the price drop of the Pre to $150, beating Apple's iPhone 3GS prices) Palm's either trying to steal some thunder from Apple's iPod launch event due later today, or is trying to ride the tech news waves ahead of the Apple press tsunami. It's a ballsy tactic, but the Pixi doesn't really have any market-grabbing features. Maybe people who fancy a physical keypad or the slightly smaller size and weight—or have detestation issues with AT&T—will chose it over the iPhone (though that's strictly a U.S.-only matter). But can we say that perhaps Palm should have launched the Pixi as the first WebOS phone awhile ago? It would've stood out in the market a little more, against Apple's one-year old tech, and given Palm more time to make the Pre a world-beater.


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