Smarting at the prospect of prospect of paying $65/week for something that the Hilton Hawaiian Village should provide for free, dammit!, I called Verizon. I knew they had a number of wireless options, including PC cards and stand-alone wireless hotspots, and although I suspected these would also be expensive, I wanted to at least find out what their terms were.
Verizon charges $40/month for a PC card, plus the cost of the card itself. I don’t remember what the data limit is, but I suspect there isn’t one: for reasons I won’t go into, my office is running its entire network off of one of these cards. For $60/month, I can get a hotspot (the hotspot itself costs $50, I think). Obviously, neither of these options would make any more sense than the $65/week.
But then the Verizon customer service representative offered me the Palm Pre Plus. Although Verizon normally offers this phone for $50 with a 2-year agreement, I had a $50 credit towards a new phone with Verizon, so the Palm would essentially be free. It’s a Smartphone, so it must be used with their $30/month data plan . . . but there is no obligation to keep the phone activated. When I get back to flyover country, I can return to my Razr and cancel the data plan. (I don’t have an ongoing need for a Smartphone, so this works out well.) The best part of about the Palm is that it is apparently the only Smartphone with which Verizon offers “tethering” – connecting a computer to the internet via the phone – free for up to 5GB per month. Data usage using the phone itself is essentially unlimited, but like all Smartphones the Palm doesn’t have a Flash player. That means no Netflix and Hulu unless you are tethering, and 5GB would only get you, what, maybe a feature film and a half?
Let’s talk about the phone itself.
The first thing that needs be said is that the battery life is horrible. My Razr runs for days on a single charge; the Palm, in contrast, dies in about half a day, probably because of the massive heat it seems to throw off. To its credit, the Verizon salesman was up front about this aspect. So you definitely want to get a car charger and keep a wall charger or USB connection wherever you know you’ll be stationary. It takes a relatively long time to charge the battery; I’ve only managed to return it to full strength during an overnight charge.
The second Palm disability is that the GPS has a long sync time. Although I didn’t have any prior experience with GPS to speak of, I knew that getting the initial fix was not instantaneous. But the Palm took so long to establish my correct location (as opposed to an estimated location based on cell tower triangulation) that I initially thought it wasn’t working. I was demonstrating this failure to an iPhone user who was able to get a position fix in about a minute; meanwhile the Palm was taking 15 – 20 minutes. The worst part about this is that the Palm doesn’t tell you when the position it is giving you is the estimated fix or the GPS fix, and while the phone ostensibly allows multitasking, the GPS fix is lost if the user moves to another application.
The third strike against the phone is the slow data transfer rate. I’m loading a 1.5GB video into the phone’s memory via USB cable as I write this; the transfer looks like it will take a full hour. I’m pretty sure that movies transfer into the Touch a lot faster, although I have forgotten the exact time. A further aggravation is that all other features (calls, browsing, etc.) are suspended during data transfer. Come to think of it, all these functions must be used singly: placing a call, for instance, suspends internet connectivity over the tether.
I don’t have any experience with Smartphones, not counting my Touch, but that said, nobody does OSs like Apple. The Palm interface, while not impossible, is also not intuitive in the way the Touch interface is, so be prepared for a steeper learning curve than you may be used to.
The Palm has a 3.2 megapixel camera with something called an “LCD flash”. The phone automatically syncs contacts with Facebook and gmail, but not with with your old phone; this requires you to first download your contacts to a .csv file and then upload them to gmail. The phone’s performance as a hotspot is solid over Verizon’s network. The palm has a physical keyboard, which would be fine except that it slides out from the narrow end instead of the wide end. This makes it more difficult to use than in ought to be.
Bottom line: you get what you pay for. This isn’t my dream phone (which hasn’t been invented yet), but it’s a good low-budget travel phone for people who only need wireless internet when they’re out of town and who can keep it plugged in most of the time.