Palm's Next Act: Pixi

September 9, 2009: 12:19 AM ET
Palm Pixi

Palm Pixi

The clearest indication at whom Palm is aiming its newest smartphone, dubbed Pixi, is the new Facebook application that debuts in the younger, smaller sibling to the Palm Pre. If that is your thing, then perhaps your gadget has arrived.

At a meeting in San Francisco Tuesday afternoon, Palm chairman and CEO Jon Rubinstein kept the Pixi half hidden in the black and orange slipcover that comes with the Pre. The top half of Pixi looks a lot like its older sibling, but when Rubinstein performed the full monty as it were, the device revealed itself as a candy bar-type phone that echoes the Pre's styling without the slide-out keyboard.

Matte black, with the same sticky keys as the Pre, the Pixi is noticeably thinner and a tad smaller than Pre. Slick was my first impression, and still is. When I put my Blackberry Bold down on the table, it looked chunky by comparison. Rubinstein didn't noticeably gloat, but pointed out that Pixi is more than 10% thinner than Apple's iPhone 3GS, and 20% more svelte than any Blackberry device (there is a reason that Pixi is launching at New York's Fashion Week after all).

What Pixi is designed to do is message.  Message like a teenager with a crush, a band to see, or a class to skip. That's not exactly the way Rubinstein put it, but in the end that may be the demographic who gets most excited by the phone. Pixi is not designed to go up against the iPhone or the latest Blackberry. That's Pre's job. "This is meant to hit a more affordable segment of the market," Rubinstein says. "Who buys the phone is a matter of personal preference, we are giving them a choice."

If that choice is Pixi, it includes a 2-megapixel camera, Bluetooth, but no WiFi (with the launch carrier Sprint at least). The touch screen is smaller, and the resolution is not as sharp as the Pre, but unless they are side-by-side it's hard to get too picky. Will Pixi get rolled out in the corporate world? Not likely. "I will carry a Pre," says Rubinstein. "For me it's my workhorse."

Pixi will be available "for the holidays" from Sprint Rubinstein says, with no more detail on whether that means October or November. Nor did he put a price on the phone, but you can expect it will be priced lower than the $150 you can snag the Pre for (starting today) with a two-year Sprint contract.

The phone runs the same webOS that the Pre does, with a few new additions that Pre users will get "some time in the future," Rubinstein says. One is the Facebook application, that lets you update your status, read news feeds and message with your FB friends easily from the phone. Other new features include synching with LinkedIn and Yahoo contacts.

Rubinstein has promised a series of products featuring Palm's webOS, and Pixi makes it a family of two. Like Pre it shows a good deal of promise, especially if it can attract a crowd that can't afford (meaning their parents won't spring for it) an iPhone or a Blackberry. Pre hasn't had an easy time competing in a world dominated by Apple and Research in Motion, and analysts are getting more pessimistic in their projections for Pre sales. If Sprint comes up with a pricing plan on its end that makes the whole Pixi commitment cheaper, this phone could be a monster hit.

Rubinstein, for his part, says he is happy with the progress Palm has made in the three months since Pre launched. He expects to keep the momentum moving forward with Pixi. "When anyone talks about smartphones, we are now part of that conversation," Rubinstein says. "We've earned a seat at the table (alongside Apple, RIM and others), now we all duke it out."

The Full Specs:

-Connectivity (EVDO Rev. A)

-2.63-inch multi-touch screen with18-bit color 320x400 resolution TFT display

-Exposed QWERTY keyboard

-Messaging support (IM, SMS and MMS capabilities), including Google Talk, AIM and Yahoo! IM

-Integrated GPS

-Multimedia options, including pictures, video playback and music, and a 2-megapixel fixed-focus camera with LED flash, and a standard 3.5mm headset jack

-Email, including Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) (for access to corporate Microsoft Exchange servers), as well as personal email support (Google push, Yahoo! push, POP3, IMAP)

-Bluetooth® 2.1 + EDR with A2DP stereo Bluetooth support

-8GB of internal user storage (~7GB user available)

-USB mass storage mode

-MicroUSB connector with USB 2.0 Hi-Speed

-Qualcomm's new MSM7627™ chipset

-Proximity sensor, which automatically disables the touch screen and turns off the display whenever you put the phone up to your ear

-Light sensor, which dims the display if the ambient light is dark, such as at night or in a movie theater, to reduce power usage

-Accelerometer, which automatically orients web pages and photos to your perspective

-Removable, rechargeable 1150 mAh battery

-Dimensions:  2.17 in. (W) x 4.37 in. (L) x 0.43 in. (D)

-Weight: 3.51 ounces)

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Michael Copeland
Michael Copeland

Michael V. Copeland joined FORTUNE as a senior writer in September 2007. Copeland has covered everything from electric cars to e-readers. He is a creator of Tech Mate, an irreverent video series in which he debates (and skewers) digital issues of the day. Before joining FORTUNE, Copeland was a senior writer at Business 2.0. Copeland graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.

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