There's a lot of good going on with the Palm, but nostalgia isn't enough to make this a top-seller.
Palm. A name associated with PDAs from the early 2000s. In a time where the two major players were Palm and BlackBerry (back then, BlackBerry was owned by a company called RIM or Research in Motion). Palm is a name that hasn’t really been used in a popular or successful smartphone in nearly a decade. When news broke that TCL had bought the company, Palm Inc., a few years ago, many were excited to see what the Chinese tech giant was going to do with it. This was after TCL had bought the licensing rights to BlackBerry Mobile from BlackBerry and put out a few handsets that were somewhat popular. In the fall of 2018, Palm Ventures Inc (the new name for Palm) put out the Palm. That’s the entire name, though we’ll be calling it the “Palm Phone” throughout this review. It’s a very different smartphone, compared to others on the market. You’re seeing smartphones with screens hitting six inches or larger, while the Palm Phone has a screen that measures in at about 3.3-inches. It also has a battery capacity that is measured in three digits instead of four, just 800mAh compared to the massive 4,000mAh capacities we are seeing in other smartphones. The real question is, whether or not the $349 Palm Phone is a smartphone that you should be buying in 2018. Let’s find out in our review.
The Palm Phone has a 3.3-inch display with a 1280x720 resolution. This is one of the very few 16:9 aspect ratio displays launched in 2018. Powering the Palm Phone is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 chipset with the Adreno 505 GPU. This is paired with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. To no surprise, there is no 3.5mm headphone jack included, so you’ll have to stick with Bluetooth for listening to music or the speaker itself. It does have WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, noticeably absent is 5GHz support. There is Bluetooth 4.2 with A2DP and LE support. Finally, there is a USB-C port at the bottom for charging.
When it comes to the camera, there is a single 12-megapixel sensor on the back, that does have auto-focus and a flash. While the front has a 8-megapixel sensor. This camera is capable of shooting video up to 1080p at 30fps. The Palm Phone has a non-removable 800mAh capacity battery inside that is going to keep it going for a bit.
In the Box
Since the Palm Phone is pretty small, so is the box. It’s actually more of a square, but still small. You won’t find a whole lot inside the box, there’s the phone, as well as a wall charger and USB cable and of course your usual assortment of paperwork. There is no SIM ejection tool because the SIM card is pre-installed (this is because it is not really a phone, but we’ll get to that a bit later). And that’s about it. The unboxing experience is actually pretty high-end, it’s similar to what you’d find for a smartphone that costs double this price, and double the size.
Somewhat surprising, the Palm Phone actually has some really good hardware. The build quality on this phone is top-notch (and there is no notch). It’s the typical glass and metal sandwich, but it looks really good and feels good in the hand. Unfortunately, Palm did still go with a camera bump, but it is fortunately pretty small. The back and front is black with the metal band around the frame being silver. It gives it a rather nice tone. Nothing too flashy, but it does definitely look high-end. The Palm logo is only found on the back, unlike some other companies that would rather have their logo on the front of the device, which is good to see.
There’s not a whole lot to the build quality on the Palm Phone. There’s a power button on the left side, and the USB-C port on the bottom and that is about it actually. There’s no volume rocker, which might be surprising, but there is a volume bar in the notification pulldown and that is how you will need to adjust the volume while watching content. Though this is not a phone made for watching content, and that is clear by the small 3.3-inch display and small capacity battery that is included here. The hardware here is quite stunning to be honest, and it could be the best part about the Palm Phone. There’s no doubt here that Palm knows how to make great looking smartphones, now the use-case for this phone is another story.
There’s no way around it, the Palm Phone has a tiny screen, by 2018’s standards. It’s a tiny 3.3-inch display with a 16:9 HD resolution. Now the resolution isn’t an issue here, at 3.3-inches 1280x720 is more than enough pixels to provide for a good looking display, and this is actually a really good looking display. While having an OLED panel would be pretty awesome, the LCD found on the device does a good job at providing a great experience. But since the operating system is largely all black, OLED would allow for better battery life.
With this display, you aren’t going to do a lot of content consumption. Now that’s not to say that you can’t, because we did. We watched some YouTube on this smartphone, and well, the experience just wasn’t as good. Everything is so much smaller than watching on something like a Samsung Galaxy Note 9 or a Pixel 3 XL. And that’s to be expected. But as long as the screen size is not an issue, then you can watch plenty of content on the Palm.
Palm is using a chipset that many would equate to being in a sub-$200 smartphone. While the Palm is $349. That is the Snapdragon 435, and it also comes with 3GB of RAM. Surprisingly, it actually runs very smoothly. Part of this is because of the lower-resolution display. With a lower-resolution display, there’s not as much power or RAM needed to keep the phone running. So even with 3GB of RAM, you won’t notice any memory management problems like you do with the Pixel 3 XL which has a bit more RAM. During our time using the Palm Phone, we didn’t notice it slowing down often, but if you opened a few apps in the span of say 30 minutes, then you would notice it start to bog down. That is primarily because this is a Snapdragon 435 chipset inside. It can also get a bit hot, but nothing to really be worried about, as it doesn’t stay hot for long - mostly only when charging.
Now, we did not try gaming on this smartphone, and that’s just because it is not made for gaming. Between the 800mAh capacity battery and the 3.3-inch display, it’s not going to be a good experience. The Snapdragon 435 and Adreno 505 likely could work well while gaming, but it’s not recommended here. For everyday tasks though, this isn’t too bad, performance-wise.
When it comes to securing the Palm Phone, there’s really only one choice, which is facial recognition. There’s no fingerprint sensor on the Palm, which might not be all that surprising given the size of this smartphone. But you will definitely want to set up face unlock as putting in a PIN is not the easiest thing on this phone, since it is so small.
Phone Calls & Network
This is where things get interesting for the Palm Phone. This is a smartphone, but not an ordinary smartphone. Meaning that you cannot just go to Verizon and buy the Palm Phone to use it as, well, your phone. It must be tied to another phone on your account - in our case, it was a Pixel 3 XL. Both smartphones use the same phone number using NumberShare. There is technically a pre-installed SIM card on the Palm Phone but it is not a typical SIM card. It’s a bit of a weird thing, but basically, it will allow you to leave your normal phone at home and still get phone calls, text messages and so forth on the Palm Phone while you are away.
So when it comes to phone calls, it works about as you’d expect. Though it is a bit weird to put that smaller phone up to your ear while you’re on a phone call. But it works well. Those on the other end were able to hear us and there is even support for HD Voice and VoLTE from Verizon. When it comes to the network, it mostly works as expected. On Verizon’s network, there’s no problem with speed, but when it comes to WiFi, the Palm doesn't offer 5GHz support. That omission isn’t actually a big deal, since this is not meant to be used as a media machine for watching YouTube and such - though you can - but for normal messaging, sending emails and such, 2.4GHz is still plenty fast.
The speaker on the Palm is well, let’s just say mediocre. The only good thing we can say is that it works, and it does get decently loud. As you’ll notice on the Palm, there is no actual speaker holes on the phone. The speaker is in the earpiece, so as you can imagine the sound quality there is not that great. It does sound a bit tinny at times, and there is almost no bass either. So, it works, and that’s about it.
Given the fact that it is 2018, and most phones have ditched that headphone jack, Palm decided to join in that fun as well. Of course in a phone this size, the headphone jack likely would take up a lot more space and could make that already tiny battery even smaller. But the good thing is, Bluetooth support is part of the package. Using a pair of Bluetooth headphones, the sound quality is decent, though this is going to largely depend on the headphones connected, and not so much the actual phone and its DAC. Needless to say, sound quality was not exactly a priority for TCL.
Inside of the Palm Phone, you will find a pretty small 800mAh capacity battery that is not going to last long, as you’d expect. The battery life is pretty sub-par to say the least. But one has to remember the use-case for this phone. This isn’t supposed to be used the same as a regular smartphone. Which would include watching loads of YouTube, browsing Twitter and Facebook and such. This is mostly just to keep you connected so that people can still get a hold of you, even when you don’t bring your phone with you. If you plan to use this as a normal smartphone all day long, it’s not going to last.
There is no fast charging on offer with the Palm, though with a USB-C port and an 800mAh capacity battery inside, it’s going to charge fast anyways. Going from a completely dead Palm to fully charged takes a little over an hour - usually around 70 minutes. There’s also no wireless charging available here either.
Palm is running on Android 8.1.0 Oreo, which is an older version of Android, but looking at the phone you may not even realize it is running Android. Palm has decided to go with a very customized version of Android. Of course, that is necessary seeing as the phone is very small, and using plain old stock Android on the Palm would not be a good idea, at all. Throughout the OS, it is very dark, it’s black with reddish-pinkish highlights. It actually looks really cool. This is likely to help save some battery life even though this is an LCD panel and not an OLED. Palm also has a three dot button at the bottom that is used for navigation through the OS. It does work well, and takes a bit of time to get used too. But if you want, you can revert to the triangle, circle and square buttons that stock Android used before Pie. However, they will take up some screen real estate, which on a 3.3-inch smartphone, is a bit more of an issue than on other devices.
The Palm Phone’s home screen is also very different from regular Android. It is a scrolling page of large app icons. It’s very intuitive to say the least, and you can customize how this is laid out, as well as add some other apps to the home page. There’s no real “app drawer” here on the Palm Phone, instead, once you get to the bottom, you can swipe up again and see all of the apps that were not already listed. It’s actually a better implementation since it is not showing you the same apps twice.
Everything about the Palm Phone’s software is intuitive. The developers over at Palm obviously used this phone for a bit before releasing it - that’s more than we can say about some other recent launches. And it worked to optimize the software as much as it could for this smaller display. That Snapdragon 435 chipset that is running the show, would normally be pretty slow. But since this is a stripped down version of Android, and a lower resolution display, it actually really flies. The software, actually, might be the best part about this phone.
Palm’s camera is actually surprisingly decent. Most would figure that Palm stuck a “cheap” camera sensor in this smartphone, but that’s not entirely true. The pictures we did take with the Palm came out pretty decent. Now it’s not going to compete with something like the Pixel 3 XL, Samsung Galaxy Note9 or LG V40 ThinQ, but they are usable pictures. Compared to some smartphones that are around the same price, that you might find on Amazon, the Palm phone is pretty impressive. The backgrounds are usually not blown out, it’s pretty quick to autofocus, and it even gives you a bit of a Bokeh effect on some images. You can see all of the images we took with this phone at the Flickr gallery down below.
The Palm's camera app is pretty basic. There’s only a couple of modes available, but surprisingly there is a “manual” mode available, allowing you to adjust the ISO, exposure and much more. The video quality caps at 1080p, so there’s no 4K included, and given how little storage is available (32GB of storage) that is probably a good thing. There is also no slow-motion available. So if you were one looking for either 4K or slow-motion, then the Palm phone is not the one to get.
Software is very well optimized
Waterproof, with an IP68 rating
No Headphone Jack
Poor WiFi speeds - largely thanks to no 5GHz support
Can slow down pretty quickly
The Palm phone launched as a smartphone that was meant for a pretty small niche audience. Basically intended for those that were wanting a smaller phone to take with them on vacation or over the weekend when they don’t want to be bothered with their “larger” or main smartphone. And at $350, that is not going to appeal to many people, not to mention the Verizon exclusivity. On paper, it’s a pretty good idea, and in practice, it does work well. But that is still a pretty small niche for Palm to cater too. If this phone was a bit larger (think around the size of Sony’s Compact lineup of smartphones), it could do quite well. It has a really good look and is built nicely. It also has some really well-optimized software, it’s just tough to use a smartphone this size. Which is surprising, since most smartphones were around this size, about eight or nine years ago.
Should I Buy the Palm?
Probably not. For most people, there's virtually no reason to buy a second phone, especially when it needs to be tied to your "main" smartphone and use the same number. But if you are one that likes to spend the weekend without your phone, then the Palm phone is going to be a good option. As you can still be in touch with people, but don't need to carry a large phone around with you all weekend.