Smartphones have been growing ever larger over the last few years, with fewer and fewer options available for those who want something for small hands or small pockets. The new “Palm” phone bucks that trend, offering a teeny-tiny secondary device.
“Palm” is in quotes, because while this device is merely called the Palm, it doesn’t really share any DNA with the iconic Palm Pilots, the Pre phones that the original company designed running WebOS, or even the few TCL Android phones that had the Palm branding after the rights were shuffled through several corporate hands. This design comes from a startup that has once again licensed the Palm name, which is now trying to use it for a new in-between form factor: a tiny Android-powered device that has neither the power nor the longevity of even a mid-range smartphone. It’s being offered exclusively on Verizon in the US.
The Palm phone (stylized “PA-LM” in two rows on the back logo) is meant to augment your primary phone, not replace it with something smaller. The idea is that you pay Verizon for both the second phone and a second data line, and you can grab it for a short outing, a night on the town, a jog or bike ride, or maybe a camping trip where you’re trying to avoid the myriad digital distractions of the modern world for a couple of days. In that sense, it’s not dissimilar to a clutch purse, the tiny bag-for-when-you-don’t-want-to-carry-your-real-purse that’s popular among more fashionable types.
And appropriately, the Palm phone is very fashionable indeed. It looks like someone zapped a latter-day iPhone with a shrink ray, with a 3.3-inch screen (just a bit smaller than the original 2007 iPhone, incidentally) and a diminutive 800mAh battery. Palm says it will last about 8 hours of screen time or a full day with regular use. Creature comforts like wireless charging or a fingerprint reader are eschewed, but since this thing is meant to go out with you on social events, it does hang on to a powerful 12 megapixel rear camera and 8MP front-facing cam. The processor is a low-end Snapdragon 435, with a decent 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, and its IP68 waterproof body can survive a quick dunk.
Software is Android 8.1, with some extras on top from both the new Palm company and Verizon. The former has a few interesting user interface tweaks to make Android more friendly on the tiny screen, like a swipe-up gesture that activates a mini-launcher with huge, finger-friendly links to your most relevant apps, and an integrated swiping Fleksy keyboard. “Life mode” is a sort of super-do not disturb, silencing all incoming calls and texts unless you’re actively looking at the screen (or using GPS). Verizon offers a synced connection with your main account (if not your actual primary phone), not unlike an LTE smartwatch: you’ll get calls and texts from your primary number without needing to swap SIMs. You can’t, anyway, since the Palm phone uses an e-SIM. Palm is positioning its minuscule gadget as a more powerful, flexible alternative to a smartwatch for some users.
The idea of a secondary phone that’s less detracting and more pocket-friendly will probably appeal to at least a subset of users, particularly those who frequently find themselves without any pockets at all. Palm seems to be leaning into that, with accessories that include a case with an integrated camera-style wrist strap, and another from Kate Spade that makes it look like an itty-bitty purse wallet. But with a $350 asking price, not to mention the extra monthly charge, they’ll have a hard time convincing consumers it’s worth adding another device to both their life and their bank accounts. It goes on sale sometime later this year at Verizon.