The Palm Centro is the new entry level smart phone currently available exclusively from Sprint. It is available for 99 bucks with a new two year contract and is available in onyx and recently released ruby. The phone runs the most recent version of the Palm phone and PIM applications and fits nicely in both hand and pocket. I'll give a quick run down of the things I like and don't like about this little device.
The hardware of the Centro is sturdy but does have the feel of a lower end device. It is solid but does not feel unbreakable. It has a plastic case which one expects for this price range. The screen is small but very vivid at 320x320 resolution. The device's dimensions are 4.22" (L) x 2.11" (W) x 0.73" (D); 4.2 oz = small. There is a tiny QWERTY keyboard at the bottom of the device, a directional pad and four application buttons on the front assigned to phone, home, calendar and e-mail applications. The buttons are fully user assignable so customize how you like. The left side has volume buttons and a custom application button you can assign to any thing. I believe a voice recorder is the default. I set mine to launch the camera. The right side has the microSD slot where you can put up to an additional 4GB of storage. Mine has a 2GB card. To place the memory cards you do have to remove the back cover which conceals the user replaceable battery which is rated at 3.5 hours talk time, up to 300 hours standby time. The back has a speaker and the 1.3 megapixel digicam and camcorder - it records stills as well as video. The bottom of the device has the syncing port, small headphone jack (does not accept standard audio headphones but will with adapter) and charging jack. A few quick hardware impressions:
- Small Keyboard - to be honest I am coming from text messaging on a number pad so the keyboard is a delight for me. I would say I have medium sized hands so the small keyboard is an issue. The keys however are quite raised and distinguishable so I have not had a problem here.
- Ear piece volume - there have been complaints in the past about the volume level of the Treos - Palm's flagship smartphone. I will say the volume is plenty loud but I have experienced the volume changing without my doing anything. It has faded low in the middle of long calls only to return again to the higher level. May be my phone and I will check on this.
The biggest complaint these days against Palm is the aging Palm OS. The OS has not had a major revision in years and is feeling dated against the modern handset systems such as Windows Mobile 6, Symbian and OSX/iPhone. Yet to be honest, I love the Palm OS even though I know its technical and architectural limitations. It is fast, simple and all the software I had bought in the past for Palm pretty much runs on my Centro. I agree with the critics that Palm needs a new OS (and there Linux deal is much delayed as of this writing) but I don't find the Palm system to be a drawback to Centro.
- PIM - The basic Palm PIM apps (Calendar, Contacts, Memos) are easy to use and well integrated.
- Phone - the phone module is new to me but I can see why people love their Treos as it is pretty much the same app
- Messaging - the SMS application supports MMS (not on the iPhone) and is a wonderful threaded chatlike program. It groups text messages into conversations which is just great.
- Web - the Blazer web browser is fast and does its best for such a small screen. It supports two modes - fast and stripped down or full which includes style rendering. The only problem I have faced is using my blog software fully to admin my Movable Type 3.2 install.
- Audio - the included PocketTunes is great for playing audio and the little speaker does a nice job. I have an iPod so I won't use this much but it is good software.
- E-mail - VersaMail is included and is working great syncing with my corporate e-mail (push through Exchange/ActiveSync) and with a couple of my POP accounts. Could be better but very functional.
- Office Docs - Documents to Go is included giving access to Word, Excel, PPT and PDF files at all times. Nice.
- Extras - There are some fun extras included like Handmark's OnDemand which has movie times, news, weather etc. All stuff you could get online but in a nice simple and aggregated interface. The camera/pic/vid software is adequate doing the job nicely and the My Centro app provides quick access to user guide and support.
- Palm OS - Because this is the old Palm System there are numerous software titles available. My very favorite is the excellent MyBible 4 by Laridian and the accompanying commentaries and resources. I have four Bibles, a commentary and Greek/Hebrew concordance in my pocket again.
- This is the best part of having a smart phone - you can always access the net and e-mail from anywhere at any time. Unlike the crappy AT&T EDGE service that iPhone uses get stuck with, Sprint's data network is snappy and responsive. A few weeks back I was listening to some bands with a friend when there was a tornado warning. He pulled his iPhone to check whether, me my little Centro. Granted his screen and browser were much better but I had the weather maps and forecast up while he awaited for the slow network to respond. Additionally, the Sprint unlimited data plan added only 15.00 a month to my plan which is reasonable for the amount of use I am giving it.
Overall, I am quite pleased for the functionality I have in the Centro for only 99 dollars. Sure its touchscreen does not flick and fly like the fancy iPhone but I also paid a whole lot less...and I feel good about saying no to Steve Jobs and yes to Palm. Plus, if Palm blows away in the next two years my investment was small and I can be in the market for another reasonably priced device in 2009 - maybe iPhone 3.0...and hopefully not on AT&T.
For a very in-depth look, see the excellent review over at Engadget.