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The Palm Centro; at $99.99 it really isn't a tough choice

I started using Palm OS devices back in 1997 and went through several Palm and Sony CLIE models. The last Palm OS device I used was the Treo 650, which I used for about a year (almost a record for me) and gave up on it almost 2 years ago. While the Treo devices released over the last year have had some nice improvements (rubberized casing, loss of antenna, and better cameras) there hasn't been much departure from that same Treo 600 form factor we saw back in 2003. Early rumor photos of the Palm Centro did not look too great, but I changed my mind quickly after receiving a 30-day evaluation unit from Palm. The Palm Centro is a very sleak smartphone and at US$99.99 with a two-year agreement and service plan I hope it brings more people into the smartphone world.

I started using Palm OS devices back in 1997 and went through several Palm and Sony CLIE models. The last Palm OS device I used was the Treo 650, which I used for about a year (almost a record for me) and gave up on it almost 2 years ago. While the Treo devices released over the last year have had some nice improvements (rubberized casing, loss of antenna, and better cameras) there hasn't been much departure from that same Treo 600 form factor we saw back in 2003. Early rumor photos of the Palm Centro did not look too great, but I changed my mind quickly after receiving a 30-day evaluation unit from Palm. The Palm Centro is a very sleek smartphone and at US$99.99 with a two-year agreement and service plan I hope it brings more people into the smartphone world.


 Image Gallery: The Palm Centro refreshes the Palm smartphone lineup.  Image Gallery: Thumb keyboard Image Gallery: Thumb typing on the Centro 

Hardware: The Palm Centro is about the size of a fairly standard candy bar phone that you may pick up from your local carrier. It is about the same width and thickness as the Nokia N95, but just a tad longer. The Centro is constructed of durable molded plastic and feels rock solid in your hand. Palm rearranged the button layout so there is now send and end keys on either side of the direction pad with top and bottom bars that rock to activate the buttons. The center directional/navigation pad is large and comfortable to use. Palm actually included an IR port on the right side, along with a tough to open microSD card slot. You actually have to take off the back cover to get to the slot.

On the right side are volume up and and down buttons and another button that launches voice memos by default. There is a on/off sound switch on the top of the device that lets you quickly put the Centro into silent mode. The stylus matches the device and my test unit was Ruby Red so the stylus was colored in the same manner. The stylus is a bit flexible, but has good length and I found myself hardly using the stylus since you can perform most operations without touching the screen.

The display is very crisp and bright and comes in with a 320x320 resolution. This resolution is quite standard on Palm OS Treo devices, but I was a bit surprised to see it on this device that only has a 1.56 inch by 1.56 inch display.

You will even find a 1.3 megapixel camera on the device that supports taking video. A Bluetooth 1.2 radio is included for wireless headsets and connections.

One thing I have always loved about the Palm OS is the fast response and zippy action and the Centro continues that tradition with a 312 MHz Intel XScale processor, 128 MB ROM, and 64 MB RAM. The Centro runs Palm OS 5.4.9. The battery capacity is 1150 mAh. The device also doesn't skimp on the wireless support with EV-DO data support and CDMA voice technology. You can even use the Centro as a modem for your laptop, with the appropriate Sprint data plan.

The keyboard is definitely a bit tight, but the bumps for each key do allow you to enter text fairly accurately. I have medium-sized hands and was able to enter text quite easily. The younger crowd that seems to text more than others should be able to enter text even faster. The keys are really not so much buttons as they are small rubberized protrusions on a flat panel. They are well backlit and the number keys are highlighted in white.

Software: In addition to all the apps you get with Palm OS, Palm and Sprint have included a few other premium applications. Documents To Go 10 is installed so you can create, edit, and view Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents right on the Centro. Pocket Tunes Deluxe is the default media player, Google Maps is preinstalled for mapping needs, Nuance gives you full voice control functionality, Astraware Sudoku is a fun game to play, and OnDemand (Sprint's branded Handmark Express product) gives you access to lots of helpful information (movie times, news, sports, etc.). Sprint apps include Sprint Mobile Email, Sprint Store for access to applications, Sprint Mobile Messenger (AIM, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo IM support) and SprintTV (you can actually watch TV right on your Centro and it does work quite well).

In addition, you will find a Download utility where Palm and Sprint give you access to a couple more free apps and apps you can buy. You can install Astraware Solitaire, Palm Files (file explorer), and Vox Mobile for free. You can get one channel of MobiTV for free or pay US$9.99/month for full viewing access.

Overall usage and impressions: IMHO, this is the best Palm OS device that has been released in a few years and has all the specs you will find on the larger Treos, but in a more compact form factor that I think is attractive in today's smartphone market. Phone quality was very good and the device performed flawlessly for me. As soon as a GSM version is available I will most likely buy one for my Palm OS device, but will probably stick with the Onyx Black color as the Ruby Red is a bit flashy for me. The Centro retails for US$99.99 after a US$50 instant savings and US$100 mail-in rebate with Sprint service. Even at US$250 I think it is a solid device, but if people can get it for a $100 then that is a steal in my mind. The lame Zire devices were available at this price just a year or two ago and the Centro offers so much more.