Palm is a 3.3-inch Android sidekick that won’t replace your phone

Palm is a 3.3-inch Android sidekick that won’t replace your phone

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Aww, isn’t the new Palm just adorable?


Sarah Tew/CNET

Imagine a mini iPhone so tiny it fits neatly into the palm of your hand and into your tightest jeans pocket. But it isn’t an iPhone. It isn’t even a phone at all. This 3.3-inch gadget is the new Palm, a superportable Android sidekick that has its own LTE data connection and pairs with your phone for calls and texts.

Repeat it again: The new Palm isn’t a phone, but it works with the phone you already have. When you want to watch videos, play games or take fancy portrait shots, reach for your main device. But when you want to go for a jog, run a quick errand or focus on the people around you, Palm wants you to take its gadget instead. For Palm (yes, Palm is the name of the product and the company), the device is a lifeline when you need it, not an object to obsess over like you would your usual phone.

I briefly tried out the Palm, and it’s nuts.

For anyone who’s ever moaned about the death of small phones, the Palm is truly a one-handed device that does most of what you want to do on your Android phone. This thing is adorably tiny, like a teacup dog.

The Palm is too small for watching video, playing games and typing missives, but it’s just the right size for playing music, recording workouts and other at-a-glance tasks. And since it runs on Android, your apps and data will sync. So will your texts and calls.

It goes on sale in November for $350, exclusively through Verizon in the US, but Palm says it’s in talks with global carriers as well. You’ll have to pay a $10 monthly fee to connect the Palm to Verizon’s network.

Palm is the latest retro brand, alongside BlackBerry and Nokia, to hitch a ride with Android in the hopes of making a comeback. It’s most associated with the Palm Pilot, Palm Treo and Palm Pre. It resurrects that venerable gadget brand that popularized the concept of personal digital assistants in the days before the iPhone. But Palm’s comeback is risky. Although it shares a message about digital detox that Apple and Google have recently embraced, it introduces yet another device for people to buy and use — one that looks and acts a lot like the device they already own.


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On one hand, I’m puzzled by Palm’s “solution” to the large-screen, always-on problem. Why would the Palm be a better solution than an LTE smartwatch you can actually strap to your wrist? On the other hand, I’m intrigued by Palm’s chutzpah. After we get a review unit for testing, we’ll know a whole lot more about Palm’s vision: sheer lunacy, or a benefit to those looking to disconnect?

There’s a lot to unpack here, so read on for all the Palm specs and how exactly this new not-phone works.

How the Palm connects to your Android and iPhone

A Verizon exclusive in the US, Palm uses the carrier’s number share service to link your phone number to the Palm device as well. If anyone texts or calls, your phone and your Palm will both ring. (This is how the LTE-connected Apple Watch works, too.)

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You’ll generate a scannable QR code as part of the setup process linking the phones.


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Since the Palm is an Android device, there’s a huge advantage for Android users. The Palm will technically work with iPhones, but you won’t have access to any Apple-specific apps that aren’t also available on Android. For example, you can use Apple Music (because it is, oddly, actually available on Android), but not FaceTime or iMessage.

In fact, to get messages to sync between the iPhone and Palm, you’ll need to disconnect iMessages and use the Verizon Messages app instead. You can also use third-party messengers like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

The smallest iPhone clone you’ve ever seen

With rounded edges, no fingerprint reader and only one power button on the entire thing, the Palm’s resemblance to the iPhone is unavoidable. Extremely easy to hold and use, it almost slipped out of my hands a few times. Palm wants you to buy accessories for this phone accessory like a workout sleeve or lariat. Palm will also sell you a bi-fold wallet case and a Kate Spade clutch which you wear around your wrist.

Its 3.3-inch screen has a 720p resolution, which keeps things looking sharp and colorful. Gorilla Glass 3 on the front and back help give it a modern look. There’s no headphone jack and no home button. You control the Palm with swiping gesture navigation. You unlock the phone with facial recognition — but unlike Apple’s Face ID, this isn’t secure enough for mobile payments. In fact, the Palm has no NFC at all.

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The 3.3-inch Palm next to a Galaxy Note 9 with a 6.4-inch screen.


Sarah Tew/CNET

You’ll be able to take photos from the 12-megapixel rear camera and the 8-megapixel front-facing camera. Don’t worry too much if it takes a bath — the Palm is water-resistant to a rating of IP68. That means it can submerge in a meter of water, about 3 feet, for up to 30 minutes.

You can program the Palm to launch Google Assistant or your camera when you double-press the power button.

It’s adorable, but typing’s a pain

The Palm has a slightly different interface from your usual Android phone, one I really like. It’s colorful and the circular icons float on the screen almost like clusters of grapes.

As an Android device that connects to the Google Play Store, you can download and use any app you like — though some, like games, won’t be fun or easy to play.

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Typing on the Palm is madness. Whenever you can, use voice instead.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Even my smaller-size fingers had trouble tapping and typing into the Palm. Palm knows this isn’t an ideal typing device, which is why it hopes you’ll rely on Google Voice more than you might otherwise do. It’ll support a traceable keyboard, like GBoard and Swype. Autocorrect worked out pretty well, too, during my limited hands-on.

Life Mode preserves battery and keeps you only somewhat connected

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Life Mode lets you decide which apps and people can reach you while you’re otherwise offline.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Palm sees its product as a lifestyle device that you take with you when you want to be mostly off-grid. Life Mode is an option you turn on when you want to limit what you see and do just the apps you pick.

Say you’re working out and you want to enable only your fitness tracker, your music and your incoming calls. Life Mode suppresses every other notification and app until you’re ready to reengage with the world.

By turning off most radios and apps, Life Mode also helps stretch life on that 800mAh battery.

Palm specs

  • 3.3-inch, 445ppi. 720p resolution
  • 12-megapixel rear camera and flash
  • 8-megapixel front-facing camera
  • 32GB local storage/3GB RAM
  • No expandable storage
  • Battery capacity: 800mAh
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 processor
  • Proprietary optical sensor to unlock the phone, but not 3D, not secure enough for mobile payments
  • One speaker on front
  • USB-C port
  • One button power/lock
  • Gesture controls
  • Android 8.1
  • No NFC
  • Water-resistance: IP68

Read also: Google thinks the Pixel 3’s 1 rear camera will beat Samsung’s 4
 
Read next: Samsung says its foldable phone will be a tablet you can put in your pocket

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Jessica Dolcourt {authorlink}
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