By Drew Olson Special to Published Apr 12, 2010 at 1:06 PM

Back when I was in elementary school, it seemed clear to me that the world was divided along commercial lines.

Matt's dad worked for Miller, so they always had High Life at their parties. Greg's father was a Pabst man, so we knew what we were getting at his house when we scrounged to fill our bottle cap collection.

Andy's father worked for Harley-Davidson (back in the AMF days). His neighbor, John, had a Honda mini-bike and nobody thought anything of it.

My mom's family was in the car business, selling Fords. Not surprisingly, every time we got a new car, it was a Ford. We went from the Country Squire station wagon to a Maverick to an Elite to a Granada, which may have been the worst car ever produced.

The family down the street drove Oldsmobiles, particularly a silver one that looked particularly cool at night.

Whether it was a beverage, a motorbike, a car or any other product, people in the 1970s seemed to stay loyal to a certain brand and bypassed the others.

Thirty years later it seems, many folks have taken the same approach with cell phones.

Nearly everyone in the editorial office (myself included) uses an iPhone. A lot of other people I know in other fields are so fiercely loyal to their Blackberry and wouldn't even think of trying another brand.

I'm not that way.

A few weeks ago, my friend Colin Deval from Core Creative in Milwaukee asked if I wanted to try out a Palm Pre Plus and a Palm Pixi Plus. I had enjoyed using a Verizon phone with VCast a few years ago, so I decided to give them a test run for a few days.

Here are some observations:

  • In the initial stages, getting acclimated to a new phone can be a long, frustrating process. Both the Pre and the Pixie operate on the webOS system and are easy to navigate, but I've had an iPhone for 2 years and felt hopelessly clumsy for the first several days with each device.
  • Of the two phones, the Pre Plus is decidedly more exciting. Maybe it was the novelty of the slide-out keyboard (vs. the static model on the Pixi), but I found the Pre to be more fun to use. Though it has many bells, whistles and advanced capabilities, the Pixi seemed like a phone for the "I just want to make calls and send the occasional text" crowd.
  • Both phones have vivid displays. The color on the main menu is striking, but it really shines when surfing and other sites.
  • Both have terrific cameras with flashes. The Pre is 3 megapixels and takes outstanding pictures. The Pixi is 2 megapixels, but it holds its own with other cell phone cameras.
  • The Pixi offers a number of customizable options for back covers, which allows people to personalize their phones.
  • A cellphone is worthless if you can't make calls. The phones in both units were excellent. Signal strength (on Verizon) was strong and calls were crystal clear. My only beef is the speaker phone was a bit on the quiet side, making it tough to hear in the car. Both devices offer speed dial, conference calling, airplane mode, a silent ringer switch, and text and multimedia messaging. Neither the Pre nor the Pixi offer voice dialing, but I don't use that feature, anyway, so I didn't miss it.
  • The Pre is shorter, but more solid and just a tad heavier (4.89 ounces to 3.26).
  • The Pixi comes with Bluetooth 2.1 and built-in GPS, which makes it easy to use Google Maps or VZ Navigator, which is Verizon's location-based service.
  • The Pre keyboard is small and could present problems for people with thick thumbs. But, it's very clicky and responsive, which is nice. You get feedback when you type, which is great. But, there is no virtual keyboard for landscape use.
  • The Pixi is a solid choice for people who use Facebook and Twitter a great deal. I don't think you can wear out the Palm's slide-out keyboard, but the "ready to type" aspect has to be good for social media enthusiasts.
  • The biggest adjustment for me while using the Pre was navigating between menus and "flicking" between applications. Once I figured it out, though, I was a pro. It just took awhile to dial back from my iPhone leanings. It took me awhile to realize that the touch zone on the Pre extends below the screen, which seemed weird at first but actually helped make the device seem more intuitive.
  • Neither phone offers a memory card slot, which seems to trouble some users.
  • Moving music to both devices was a simple "drag and drop" proposition. No problems there.
  • The absolute best feature on both phones was the addition of Wi-Fi, which can speed things up with a 3G (or 4G) network gets bogged down. The fact that both phones can be used as a mobile Wi-Fi router makes me want to pick one up as a spare. How does it work? All you have to do is download a program called Palm Mobile Hotspot from the App catalog. If you sign up for a hot spot plan (about $40 per month beyond the voice and data plan), you can turn your phone into a hot spot for up to five devices. Think how convenient that would be at an airport or hotel where they try to charge for Wi-Fi. No more digging in your laptop bag for a wireless card. You use your phone!

Final verdict: Both the Pre and the Pixi are functional and offer a solid move into smartphone territory, particularly for those intimidated by the idea. The Pre seems a bit more versatile, though, and will do more to satisfy technophiles.

Drew Olson Special to

Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.