When the Treo 680 was released back in 2006, Palm heralded it as a means to increase the number of consumers who own a smartphone. To enlarge the smartphone pie, if you will. At a sub-$200 price point, it was an OK — if sometimes maligned — shot at a low-price and user-accessible smartphone.
With the introduction of the Palm Centro on AT&T (and previously Sprint), the company is trying again, with better results. The Centro, a larger departure from the original Treo in size and price, has been a hot seller for Palm and its carrier partners.
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With a price of $99 with a 2-year contract, the Centro hits squarely into the price point of the mainstream customer. And with features such as a touchscreen, capable email client, and loads of carrier add-ons, it could show that there just might be room at the table for more users indeed.
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The Palm Centro is one of the most phone-like smartphone devices available. Sized similarly to a large candy-bar phone, its high-resolution (320 by 320 pixel) touchscreen and QWERTY thumbboard dominate the front of the device. How Palm managed to stuff such a usable keyboard in there is beyond me, but given a few days practice, I was just as fast on the Centro as I was on my Treo 680.
The left side of the Centro has three simple buttons — two for volume control and a third customizable button. The top of the Centro simply contains the famed ringer on/off switch. The right side has just the Infrared port and a microSD memory card slot. And finally, the bottom of the device has a 2.5 mm headset jack and the Palm multiconnector for data synchronization (HotSync) and power connections.
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In between the screen and thumbboard are the navigation buttons, call and power buttons, and the four navigation buttons. Essentially, you could do almost anything you want with just these buttons, and simply. For example, clicking the calendar button takes you to the calendar application, but repeated clicking of the calendar button within that application will cycle through the application screens.
The Centro uses the same tabbed Phone application that debuted on the Treo 680. Containing five tabs, its gives a well-rounded phone user interface. It has the same pluses and minuses as the 680’s application; it’s easy to use, but missing features such as an easily findable detailed call log.
Voice and signal quality were better than the Treo 680. Calls sounded clear through all volume levels, and the fuzziness at the high volume range is just about gone completely. The fact that you can do anything from touching the screen or the buttons makes it easier to engage calls; however, users not familiar with the Palm OS that I showed this device to said that the options for doing anything touch- or button-enabled was overwhelming.
This brings out an interesting point for the Centro. It’s a great phone, probably the best in its price class; however, if you’re not familiar with the Palm OS, or skip the tutorial that shows when the device first boots, then you will be confused and frustrated. One user even remarked that just knowing that there was a stylus made accepting the interface a lot easier. They knew that because a stylus was present it was more than just a regular phone. A good phone, but one that was a bit more than just plain ol’ pie.
The Palm Centro is built on the roots of the Palm operating system. It has not changed much since being introduced long ago, but it still hold high marks for simplicity and functionality.
The traditional PIM applications remain: Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, and Memos. Also included are Documents to Go (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and images), VersaMail (email), and a Voice Memo application. Essentially, all that a person needs to stay organized and up to date with their personal life and work.
When you’re using this smartphone to access to Web or exchange emails, you’re going to miss that it doesn’t have 3G wireless Internet access. This is a limitation of the operating system, and yet for such a device it does not feel like a total loss.
On the multimedia side, the Centro comes with Pocket Tunes Deluxe for music; Camera/Camcorder for still pictures and video; an Instant Messaging application that connects to AIM, Yahoo, and Windows Live; and the SMS/MMS application Messaging. All of these feature simple menus, and not too many options. Basically, they are designed to be used for short bursts while away from a larger computer.
About the Camera: on the rear of the Centro sits a 1.3 megapixel camera. Compared to the Treo 680, the camera’s shutter speed was greatly improved. However, picture quality did decrease. Photos from the AT&T Centro had a blue/purple cast in most lighting settings. Nevertheless, you could snap as many pictures as the 68 MB of internal memory, or up to 6 GB microSD card could handle. The camera features a neat 2x zoom that doesn’t do a bad job, but then again, except for the very high end, cameras in mobiles are just OK.
Overall, you cannot lose with the Centro as a means to organize your life and some elements within it. True, the graphics don’t fade and grow like the iPhone; but it’s all quite functional. Unlike the iPhone and similar mobiles at this price point, the Centro has the advantage of having thousands of third-party applications that can be installed. It essentially makes the Centro a cheap and versatile platform for any type of mobile computing user.
The Palm Centro on AT&T has been loaded to the gills with additional software. The highlight of the AT&T release is the additions of Push-to-Talk and the AT&T Mall.
I was unable to test Push To Talk (PTT), but this is essentially a walkie-talkie feature where users on the AT&T network can instantly chat to one another.
The AT&T Mall is just what it sounds like. From here, you can purchase ringtones, wallpapers, and other multimedia items.
AT&T Music is another add-on. This is another portal that allows you to play music, shop for music, subscribe and use an XM Radio application, interact with the AT&T Music community, or use the MusicID service to identify a song you hear on the radio. Just activate the MusicID service/application, then hold the Centro near the source of music, and in most cases 10-15 seconds later you will have the name of the song and some accessory information.
The Centro also includes program stubs to download MobiTV, XpressMail, and TeleNav.
Palm Centro vs. Nokia N75
Palm Centro vs. Nokia N75
Simply put, the Centro is one of the best smartphone values around. If the cost of a data plan ($30-40/month currently) isn’t offputting, the Centro makes for a very nice lifestyle device.
The battery life is impressive, lasting a bit over two days in normal use during my time with it. And though the keyboard might take a bit to get used to, its a good deal easier than some of the predictive text solutions for other models.
For people who’ve used Treos before and don’t do much with their devices, the Centro might prove to be a solid, and familiar, buy. It’s not ground breaking except in size. Those with more powerful devices currently might be better off getting the Centro for a loved one that prefers not to feel so techie, but wants in on that smartphone fun. After all, with the amount of people who’d like a smartphone, there’s room to find something good at the table for everyone.