That’s what has changed, but what remains is the same lovely rounded device that is compact when closed, at just 100.5 x 59.5mm, though thanks to its sliding keyboard it is a tad thick at 16.9mm. Because of its diminutive dimensions, it’s really easy to reach the full expanse of the 3.1in screen, something that’s often a problem on larger touchscreen devices.
Sadly, the Pre’s main bugbear – its sliding form factor and keyboard – still remains. Although in principle the design works quite well, in use it’s not the most practical. This isn’t because slideout keyboards are bad, per se, but simply because this isn’t a great example. For a start, there’s the sharp edge that runs round the keyboard, which some people (not all) find uncomfortable, then there’s the keyboard itself.
Palm has improved the feel of the keys slightly, giving them a more pronounced click, but the rubber keys are simply too small requiring you to stab at them with fingernails. This isn’t conducive to fast typing, despite the layout of keys being just fine. Moreover, there’s no predictive text facility, so any mistake is taken at face value and left in. This doesn’t completely destroy the phone’s appeal, but it is a major flaw. Despite many requests, Palm also hasn’t implemented an on-screen keyboard. Consequently you have to open the phone up to write even the quickest and simplest text, though you can at least dial number without the keypad.
Build quality is the other obvious initial complaint. Unlike most premium touchscreen smartphones, the Pre and Pre Plus use plastic screens rather than glass. This makes them much more prone to scratching. Obviously this is a compromise born out of the decision to have a curved front, which would be too difficult to make from glass, but that doesn’t really excuse it. Thankfully Palm does provide a neat slip case to keep the phone protected.
Where the Pre Plus does still excel is in its physical features and their layout. The 3.5mm headphone jack is conveniently positioned on the top, as is the power button/screen lock button and a slide switch for muting the device. On the left edge is a volume rocker, and the right is home to a microUSB socket for charging and data transfer that’s hidden behind a rather annoying flap.
Slide the phone open and there’s a mirrored section on the back, which is useful for self portraits or makeup emergencies. None of this revolutionary stuff, but you do get the impression Palm has actually given some proper thought to how you use your phone and come up with a device that’s nice to handle, rather than just throwing features at the problem or copying the competition.
The only weak points in this regard are the speaker and camera. Despite its oversized grille the speaker is nothing special. It certainly gets loud, but doesn’t have quite the range of the best out there so it sounds a bit tinny. Likewise, the camera is a little behind the times as it has ‘only’ 3.2 megapixels and lacks autofocus. It does, however, have an LED flash, which helps out a bit indoors.
Results are as mediocre as you’d expect with reasonably accurate colours and enough detail to suffice for Facebook, but it struggles in scenes with contrasting light and dark, produces noisy images in dark situations, and the flash is very limited in range. In other words, it’s like most phone cameras.