We probably need to get off of our phones. I know I do, and I can’t; I still want to be able to take photos and call a Lyft. (Re)enter Palm, a storied mobile name that’s been resurrected by a California startup backed by big Chinese phone maker TCL. New-Palm’s first phone, a $ 349 product just called Palm, but which we’re going to call the Palm phone, is supposed to be a secondary phone that gives you just enough connectivity that you can leave your main phone at home.
Palm’s idea of a tiny, stylish phone that does everything you actually
The Palm phone is being sold in a really weird way. Palm seems to be acknowledging that it isn’t good enough to be your only phone, so it’s a $ 349 purchase and a $ 10 per month add-on to an existing Verizon account. The phone doesn’t have a removable SIM card—it’s locked to Verizon and must be set up cloning the number of another Verizon phone. Verizon sent us our Palm along with a Pixel 3 XL as if to show us how you can have a really big phone and a really small phone, and use each one when appropriate.
A Beautiful Object
The best thing about the Palm phone is the object itself. I love how I can genuinely lose it in my jacket pocket; I forget I have a phone on
Years ago, Samsung told me smartphones should feel like “river stones,” and this one really does. At 3.8 by 2.0 by 0.3 inches (HWD) and a mere 2.2 ounces, it’s a delightful fidget object you can turn over and over in your hand, smooth all around with just the hint of a lip where the silver plastic surround encounters the glass front and back. I guess you could even skip it
It’s very minimalistic. The only button is a power button; the only port is USB-C. You’ll need Bluetooth or USB-C headphones. I recommend
The 3.3-inch, 445ppi, 720p screen is bright and lovely. It uses relatively big
Two Phones, One Number, No iPhones
The Palm doesn’t have its own number; it shares a number with your main Verizon line. Here’s how the number-duplicating thing works: If someone tries to call you and your Palm phone isn’t in Life Mode, a special mode that turns off LTE and Wi-Fi when the screen is off, both of your phones will ring. Pick up the call on one, and the other will “hang up.” Outgoing calls from either phone appear to come from your number.
If you want messages to sync between the phones, you need to use Verizon’s Messaging+ app for texting, or an Android-compatible, multi-device-friendly app like Facebook Messenger or GroupMe. You can’t use any app like Whatsapp or WeChat that only allows you to log in on one phone at a
So the Palm phone is not for WhatsApp or WeChat users. It also isn’t for iPhone users. Palm will argue
If you’re looking for a running companion that plays music and tracks you via GPS, the Palm phone is great. But the lack of key messaging apps really damages its status as a “going-out phone.” One of the big advantages of a Palm versus an unconnected handheld/wearable, or versus a simple phone like the Punkt MP02, would be the ability to tap into your social circles. If it can’t, then this small phone has a big problem.
A Unique Interface
The Palm phone can use a PIN or facial recognition to unlock, as it doesn’t have a fingerprint sensor. The face recognition doesn’t use fancy 3D imaging like an iPhone, it just uses the front-facing camera.
Palm gets big points for reinventing the Android 8.1 Oreo home screen in a way that makes sense on a tiny phone. Instead of widgets or an app drawer, you get an Apple Watch-like cascade of app icons that scroll smoothly under your finger. Long-press on one, and you get a set of related actions, like starting a new message or opening an incognito browser window. Fonts are thoughtfully chosen; I had no trouble reading web pages. In a nod to Palm’s old Graffiti handwriting-recognition software, if you swipe up and scribble a letter into a box on the screen, it will show you suggested actions and apps starting with that letter. Double-pressing the power button launches Google Assistant.
The keyboard isn’t as well thought through. It’s a third-party keyboard called Fleksy, and I don’t like it much. It doesn’t support swiping, so you have to tap pretty precisely on extremely small touch targets. Some words appear surrounded by little gray boxes, which is a Fleksy symbol to show that word can be turned into a sticker or emoji, and which looks weird. The voice-typing button should probably be much more prominent than it is—on a device this small, I’d really rather dictate than try to type.
Disconnecting, a Little More Than You Want To
The Palm phone has networking problems—LTE, Wi-Fi, voice quality, you name it. But shouldn’t that be a plus rather than a minus here? Aren’t you bringing this phone out because you want to be poorly connected? Ultimately, though, we base our reviews on things that work, and the Palm phone, right now, doesn’t work very well.
On voice calls, I got wobble, dropouts, and scratchy sibilance on a rooftop where the Pixel 3 XL had none of those problems. Calls connected; they just didn’t come through consistently and clearly. I suspect some of the dropouts involved the system dealing with wind noise from the tiny phone’s mic, which is unusually far from your mouth. Earpiece volume is surprisingly good, though, and the
Dealing with Wi-Fi was a constant frustration in testing. The phone only supports 2.4GHz 802.11n connections, and even on those, it isn’t the greatest. One of our office networks dropped repeatedly in weaker-signal conditions where the Pixel had no trouble holding onto Wi-Fi. On our faster test network, speeds were about half of what they were on the Pixel. That goes for LTE, as well.
More than that, though, Life Mode (which disconnects networking while the screen is off, and extends battery life) interacts poorly with weak Wi-Fi connections. At best, Wi-Fi takes several seconds to reattach when you turn the screen back on. But when my previous network had been a weak connection, I would get a “select a network” screen popping up when the phone woke up, even when there were known networks in range.
The Palm is based on a 1.4GHz Snapdragon 435 processor, which benchmarks like other midrange phones. It feels pretty janky, though, with Google Play not rendering a page and quitting, or Chrome dragging the system to a halt and having to be force-quit. The phone also frequently felt hot in normal usage, or even with the screen off (and Life Mode turned off), showing that it was churning a little too much in the background. Those things shouldn’t be happening on a phone with a low-power processor, 32GB of onboard storage, and 3GB of RAM. As I said early on, it just feels like the software was rushed to market here.
Palm says the phone has less than a day’s worth of battery life, maybe a day if you kill the radios using Life Mode, which is one reason you shouldn’t use it as your primary phone. It charges over USB-C, not wirelessly.
A Somewhat Dim Picture
The Palm has a 12-megapixel camera on the back and an 8-megapixel camera on the front. It records up to 1080p video. The cameras aren’t great. Palm’s story seems to involve lots of use when you’re running down the streets at night or out at the club, and of
In general, this is a smaller sensor than you’ll find in a bigger phone, and so
The front-facing camera performs facial smoothing without a
Lose This Phone
The idea of having two phones isn’t insane. You might already have a work phone and a
But it fails to function well. I can forgive a low-cost phone for not having a Pixel-quality camera. The Pixel 3 costs $ 800. But the Whatsapp and iMessage problems, the weak Wi-Fi, the scratchy call quality, the tiny keyboard, and the lack of volume buttons all add up to a phone that’s irritating, not relaxing, to use. Many of these annoyances are probably fixable with software updates, which just puts the Palm phone on the list of products that had to come out in November, whether or not they were ready.
The only real competition I can think of for the Palm
Otherwise, no other manufacturer is trying to release you from being swallowed into your screen, while still giving you access to the messaging apps you use to arrange a night out. The best I can suggest is that you use attention-management apps on your main phone to establish some boundaries. I can’t recommend the Palm phone for now, though I really hope the company continues to pursue this idea.