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Palm Centro

The least expensive Palm smartphone yet

by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer

On September 27, 2007, Palm and Sprint introduced the Palm Centro smart device, aimed at individuals and traditional mobile phone users looking for more in a phone and perhaps a better way to manage their professional and social lives. The Centro, available for just $99.99 (with the usual service plan requirements), has voice, text, IM, email, web, contact and calendar capabilities, a full-color touch screen and full thumb-type keyboard, and it comes in onyx black or ruby red.

What do you get with the Centro? It is a fairly small and light phone, measuring 4.2 x 2.1 x 0.73 inches and weighing 4.2 ounces. That's still bigger and heavier than the ubiquitous Motorola RAZR that, itself, is not among the smallest phones, but the Centro is definitely handier than any of the Treos. Even compared to the Treo 680, the Centro is a class smaller.

Yet, despite its small size, you get quite a bit. The 16-bit transflective color display has 320 x 320 pixel resolution. We haven't measured the screen size yet, but it appears to be about 2.4 inches diagonal. That would translate into over 190 dots per inch, a food deal more than the vaunted iPhone. In this respect, Centro users should be in for a treat.

The Centro has 64MB of available user storage, a removable 1,150mAh Li-Ion battery good for about 3.5 hours of talk time and up to 300 hours of standy, Bluetooth (but only the older version 1.2), a microSD slot that supports cards up to 4GB, and a 1.3 megapixel camera with 2X digital zoom and video capture. The Centro is running Palm OS 5.4.9, long familiar to millions of Palm users the world over.

As a phone, the Centro has a dual-band CDMA2000 EV-DO radio that is backward compatible with 1XRTT and IS95. It is a one-touch speakerphone, you can do conference calling, ignore a call with text messaging and use Bluetooth connectivity with headphones and such. It's just available on Sprint for now, though the "Centro will be exclusive through Sprint in the United States for 90 days" statement in Palm's press release indicates that the handy little device should become available through other carriers as well.

Our old friend Ed Colligan, beleaguered president and chief executive officer of Palm, said "Palm Centro has the power of a broadband smartphone at the price of a standard 12-key phone. People looking to have all their contacts and calendar at the touch of a button, plus YouTube streaming videos and the Internet can now get it in a small, cool design with the trademark Palm ease of use. If you're thinking about stepping up to a smartphone, the Palm Centro should be your choice." Colligan's strategy may just work: According to IDC, smartphones are increasingly entering the mass market and U.S. smartphone shipments are expected to grow from 13.8 million in 2007 to almost 75 million in 2011.

As is, with the Centro you get all the traditional Palm OS features and functionality, and access to the very large library of Palm applications. You also get what Sprint is offering:

  • Sprint TV lets you watch live TV or video-on-demand with full-motion video and good sound or catch the latest news, sports, weather, entertainment and movie trailers on the go. Theere are over 50 live TV channels including CNN mobile, FOX sports and E! Entertainment. You can also access the NFL Network and special programming via Sprint Exclusive Entertainment.

  • On Demand -Here you can set up your personal preferences and get customized news, sports, movies, and weather updates all based on your zip code.

  • Sprint Picture Mail lets you share visuals immediately. You can also order prints and then pick them up at many photo centers.

  • Sprint Mobile eMail allows mobile access to up to three email accounts from providers such as AOL, Windows Live, Gmail, Yahoo! and more. Sprint Mobile eMail is a free download for any Sprint data subscriber.

  • Sprint IM for instant communication from your PC to Centro with access to Yahoo! Messenger, AOL's AIM service and MSN Messenger.

  • Web Browsing at reasonably fast EV-DO speeds. And the built-in Google Maps application offers access to directions, traffic updates and local search.
All of this is nice and good, but as with almost all phones these days, there is that nasty 2-year service commitment that locks you in. Cellular service remains unreasonably expensive, quality and dropped calls remain at unacceptable levels (not just with Sprint, that goes for all carriers), and to take advantage of data capabilities, you need to sign up for one of the available Sprint "Power Vision" packs that cost an additional $15 to $30 per month. What all of this means is that people who already have a phone can't just pick up, say, the cool new Palm Centro. Not unless they want to ditch their prior phone and pay a huge early termination penalty if it was a competing network, or transfer service from an older Sprint phone to a Centro. It is no longer possible to simply pick up an interesting new device. That is too bad as the Centro looks nice enough so that I want one!

-- Conrad Blickenstorfer