Palm Centro First Thoughts

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Palm, Inc. has announced — but not yet released — the Centro, a consumer-oriented smartphone that will run on Sprint’s 3G network.

Palm Centro
(view large image)

I was at the conference where Palm officially unveiled this model, and I wanted to share my first thoughts on it.

A full review will be available in the near future, when Palm sends us a demo unit.

Downright Lilliputian

Palm is heavily emphasizing that this will be its smallest smartphone ever, so lets look at the details.

The Centro is going to be 4.2 inches tall, 2.1 inches wide, and 0.7 inches thick. It will weigh 4.2 oz.

For comparison sake, the Treo 680, one of Palm’s most recent generation of smartphones, is 4.4 inches tall, 2.3 inches wide, and 0.8 inches thick. It weighs 5.5 oz. The Treo 650, one of Palm’s older models, is the just about the same height and width as the 680, but 0.9 inches thick and 6.3 oz.

To sum up, the Centro will be smaller than all of Palm’s previous smartphone’s is every dimension, and significantly lighter.

Palm Centro
(view large image)

Beyond the numbers, the pre-release version of this smartphone I tried out feels very small and light. It is noticeably smaller than the older generation of Treos I’m familiar with, like the Treo 700wx.

It slid easily into my pocket, though some people are going to want to add a bit of bulk with a case to protect the Centro’s screen.

One thing to keep in mind though, is that along with shrinking the device, Palm has shrunk the screen. This shouldn’t bother the twenty-somethings and college students that are the target market, but it might give pause to anyone a bit older.

The screen resolution hasn’t changed, so fonts actually look better than they do on a larger model. Better but smaller.

Tiny Fingers Not Needed

At a pre-launch event last month, someone panned the Centro’s keyboard for being too small to use. I totally disagree with this.

In my testing, I found that this keyboard is surprisingly usable. It’s not quite as good as ones on the larger Treos, but it’s certainly not bad.

After picking the device up for the first time, I was able to type a paragraph relatively quickly with one (1) mistake.

I think some people have written negative reports about this keyboard because the small keys look a bit intimidating. People might have assumed that in order to hit a key you have to very carefully aim. That’s not necessary. I just started typing to see how quickly I could go, and had no real problems.

I’ve included a video of me using the Centro, which will do a better job of showing the speed and accuracy you can expect than me just trying to tell you about it.

An Entry-Level Smartphone

In addition to its small size, what has captured the most attention about the Centro is its low price: $100. That should significantly help this product’s appear with its target audience.

Of course, in order to get that price you’ll have to sign up for a two-year service plan with Sprint. And even then you’ll be paying $200 and filling out a $100 mail-in rebate. I’m against mail-in rebates, as they’re a hassle and in even the best of cases you’re waiting at least a month for your money back. But companies know a good percentage of people never submit the forms, so they keep using them.

Etcetera

The Centro will include a microSD slot for storing multimedia files. Palm says this will support up to 4 GB SDHC cards, but based on previous experience with Palm, it probably won’t top out at that number. That’s just the highest capacity card Palm has been able to test. I don’t foresee problems with 8 GB cards and larger.

Cards can be swapped in and out without shutting off the smartphone, though you do have to pop off the battery cover.

Before the release, I know some people were wondering if this model will have the very convenient "silence" switch from other Treos, which quickly and easily keeps the device from disturbing everyone around you in meetings and movies. Thankfully, yes it does.

Those of you with Palm’s Infrared keyboard will be pleased to learn that the Centro has an IR port on its right side.

Battery life remains an open question. It’s definitely an important point, and something I’m concerned about, but it’s something that will have to wait until the full review.

Sprint in Your Stocking

I know there are people who aren’t Sprint customers who are wondering when they’ll be able to get a version of this device. Palm was upfront about the fact that Sprint has the exclusive rights to the Centro for 90 days after launch, and refused to talk about any other carriers offering it.

Around mid-January though, I predict versions of this smartphone will be released by other carriers, including GSM ones.

Like I said, Palm wouldn’t say anything about this, but don’t expect the other versions of this model to be called the Centro, as I think that will be just Sprint’s name for it. Everyone else will likely call something like the Treo 500p.

Keep Checking Back

Palm has promised us a review unit before the Centro launches on October 14, and we’ll have an actual review up as soon as we can.

Update 10/14/07: The full review of the Palm Centro is now available.

 



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