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Palm's comeback: does the 'companion phone' make sense?

Palm's comeback: does the 'companion phone' make sense?

Palm was a real contender in the mobile world back in the day, and now a Palm-branded device is back in stores, running Android no less! But hold your horses. The new Palm is a strange beast: a smartphone that aims to save you from smartphone addiction. Does this ironic proposal make any sense?

First of all, the new 'Palm' phone has little to do with the PalmOS phones of the mid-2000s. Instead, it's from a San Francisco based startup that bought the Palm name from Chinese manufacturer TCL. While the name attempts to trade on lingering nostalgia for the old mobile brand, it has a proposition at its core that is very modern: the idea of digital well-being, the technology that promises to save you from tech addiction.

With a tiny 3.3-inch display and weighing in at 2.2 ounces, the new Palm Phone is designed as a companion to your larger main phone. It's much more portable than a modern phone, ideally suited for working out, going to concerts or clubbing, or taking a break from your more tempting high-end devices while still having a simple connection to the digital world if you need it.

palmshots
Ultimate portability, at a price. / © Palm

The Palm Phone runs Android 8.1 Oreo, modified to be easier to navigate on the small screen. Under the hood, we have a Snapdragon 435 processor, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage. You can take photos with the 12MP rear camera and selfies with the front 8MP camera (with face unlock, too). Palm promises "all-day" battery life from the 800mAh battery which charges over USB-C. Pretty lightweight hardware, but it can run Android apps so you can pull it out to navigate with Google Maps, check your social media feeds or open Spotify or YouTube for music. 

Do we really need a companion phone?

This sidekick device is sold exclusively through Verizon (not even unlocked) with a $10/month Connected Device plan, similar to wearables like smartwatches. You get to mirror your phone number and messages onto the Palm, so the 'basics' of having a phone is always within reach. The price of this digital wellness? $349...that's a bitter pill to swallow. You could buy a Pocophone F1 for that kind of dough.

palm phone 2018 phone 3
Cases and accessories are a big part of the business plan. / © Palm

While it's easy to think of situations where I'd like to shrink my phone for certain occasions, I can't say that spending that kind of money for a downgraded device with only situational usefulness makes sense as a solution to technology addiction. It's also easy to look at the variety of premium cases and accessories Verizon is shilling for the Palm phone with a cynical eye.

But I'm both a harsh critic of digital well-being and a fan of high-spec phones, so perhaps I'm missing the appeal here. In this week's poll, we put it to you: do you see the appeal of the new Palm phone?

What do you think of the new Palm phone?
View results

Cast your vote, and don't hesitate to share any additional thoughts in the comments!

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6 comments

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  • I have seen a couple of articles that say something like why buy Palm for that price when you could buy a "Pixel3a" or in this article a "Pocophone F1". Those are not fair comparisons, since both of those phones are much bigger. The whole reason for a device like a Palm is if you want something small. If you are going to give alternatives, give ones for other small options - not just big cheap phones as they are not really intended for the same use case.

    My use case is kind of unique, but it requires a phone with 4" screen or sometimes even less. Specifically, it has to be less than 61mm in width.

    What I need is a smartphone that can do GPS navigation and be more like an international phone by being unlocked and supporting multiple bands (both on gsm & lte). I am a diver and take many trips to new places to scuba dive. I want a phone that I can use navigation to help find some dive sites - which are not always easy to find and navigation would be a big help.

    Many of these places although generally safe, you can not just leave the phone in your car due to petty theft. You need to leave your windows down and rental car unlocked or you may come back to broken windows. This of course means you have to take your phone with you on a dive and the flimsy plastic pouches some people use are a joke and can not be trusted to keep the saltwater out at 10 feet, let alone 130. I have only found one solution, which is a capsule waterproof down to 180 meters. Designed to hold personal locator beacons (an emergency diving signaling and locator device). Its internal dimensions require the phone to be about 61mm or less in width. The only phones I have found that will fit in it is the Palm, Atom, maybe really old android phones (refurbished) and an old IPhone SE (refurbished). I don't like refurbs, so I am in the market for a new truly small phone with the features I just mentioned.


  • It's about the same size as my first LG smartphone (replacing a Nokia candybar in 2012, running tiny Android G with unfettered App2SD) that thrilled me with its overall functionality and surprisingly good camera. It was that led me to buy an 8" tablet after surprising myself reading Kindle books and viewing video, and I've continued using small tablets (still measurably bigger than flagship phonezillas) around the house and preferring pocketable phones out and about. Something like this is worth consideration - given competent specs and a good cam - as a tablet companion and not as a second phone.


  • You are asking the addicted. If you love your HUGE phone you will hate this one. A significant number of people, especially in Japan are downsizing to a flip phone. This seems to be a perfect way also have a somewhat smart phone with the same number as my flip. Now I will be able get messages, be a little connected and use Waze in my car without lugging around a mini computer.


  • Back in the day I loved using Palm PDA's. I even had a Palm Centro smartphone and really liked it. At the time the Palm OS was slick. Wish they would bring something like that back. And Palm was ahead with their WebOS.


    • storm Oct 20, 2018 Link to comment

      I worked for 3com during the us robotics merger. palms were everywhere and I used them too. Then to Handspring, then Sony clie. Palm had a great thing going. But they failed for a reason.


      • To some degree they were a little too late bringing out their WebOS Pre phone. Apple and Samsung and HTC had most of the consumer interest. Sad cause Apple & Android are now implementing the card type features which was the basis of WebOS.

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