Opened Palm

The diminutive smartphone goes it alone

This week, Palm began taking pre-orders for an unlocked version of its 3.3-inch smartphone that is compatible with AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, as well as other carriers. The unlocked model can only be bought online from Palm’s website and is only available in the US.

The phone was originally launched in late 2018, when it was introduced exclusively on Verizon in the US as a companion device, meaning it would share a phone number with a user’s main smartphone (see Small Ambitions). It has also been available from Telefonica in Spain, and from Vodafone in Germany, Spain as well as in the UK, where the operator has been selling it as a standalone device since December 2018. However, Vodafone has yet to offer it as a “one number” companion device.

In April 2019, Verizon began selling a standalone version of the pocket-sized device, allowing it to act as a subscriber’s only mobile phone. Palm hopes that by now selling an unlocked model the device’s diminutive design will appeal to subscribers of other wireless operators.

Palm is a “start-up” division of TCL Communication, which bought the rights to the Palm trademark from HP in 2014. Back in the ’90s, the original Palm essentially created the market for personal digital assistants. Before smartphones absorbed all the functionality of PDAs, PalmPilot devices grew to become the must-have gadget for white-collar workers and tech-savvy consumers. The new Palm generation is exploiting a brand that still has some nostalgia value among some subscribers, journalists and bloggers.

Palm believes it’s catering to a segment of people that are tired of the growing size of smartphones and their addictive nature. However, it’s not clear how large an audience this really is, particularly as the device comes with a $350 price tag.

The company says its device has been popular with athletes and with minimalists looking for a lower-calorie digital diet. It also claims the phone has become a hit with kids, which it hadn’t expected, although it’s true that Palm’s small size makes it look like it was built for tiny hands.

The Palm phone is best suited for communication as its primary use, rather than media consumption. It offers limited battery life because of its size, but it does boast a decent camera. If digital detoxing becomes a serious trend, Palm may be in a good position to grab market share. It’s a cute device, but at $350, it’s a costly way to slim your mobile usage.