The Palm Centro - Review and Analysis

For the moderate user, the Palm Centro delivers on what it set out to do: Create a smaller version of the Treo which contains most of the functionality of its predecessor.

The Centro is a powerful little unit, able to keep up with most functions that an average, or even above-average user requires. I know that I want to get to the Centro vs. Treo comparison on the Treo vs. Centro page, but let me just say this: When held in your hand, the Centro feels significantly smaller than the Treo. The rounded edges, thinner profile, and smaller overall footprint make the difference between the two feel greater than the dimensions would lead you to believe.

I will evalute the Palm Centro on a few basic Criteria below. This review is focused on a moderate user who uses the Centro for both personal and some business use:

Size: The first time Palm has really modified the size of one of their smartphones, they did a nice job with the Centro. At 4.22" by 2.11" by .73", this phone feels like a large non-smartphone. It fits very nicely in one's hand, and can go in a pocket without feeling terribly bulky. While not quite as small as either the Blackberry Blackjack or Pearl, I believe Palm compensated by preserving a full QWERTY keyboard (which those others don't have).

Screen: Excellent resolution and decent size. Basically similar to other Palm products, which is a good thing. Palm always does a nice job on the screen, better than the Blackberry products in general.

Keyboard: When you make a good product smaller, you have to comprimise somewhere. The keyboard on the Palm Centro is small. Now, I'm a decent-sized guy without petite hands, so I notice these things. The keys are small and close together. While it doesn't make me not like the Centro, this is a factor to consider if you are a prolific outbound email sender from your handheld device. For my use, I typically am in read-only mode when checking emails from my Centro, and when I do send one it, it is typically something like "I'm running late", or "Thanks", or "Works for me." You get the picture. I don't care how nice a handheld keyboard is, most of my email manifesto works are composed at my computer.

With all of that said, Palm add a tacky/sticky surface to the keys, which helps immensely. The Treo keys are hard and a bit slick. Your fingers actually have an easy time making contact with a Centro key because of this, and despite the smallish size of the keys.

Phone Sound Quality: Good. I haven't had any major problems with sound quality on my end or on the receiver's end. I would rate the quality as equal to that of the 755p which I used before this. The earpiece is small so it needs to be on your ear just right, but that is a user issue, not a phone issue. The speaker quality is only so-so. Fortunately for me, I don't rely on my speaker other than for checking vmail while driving.

Email and Text Messaging: Palm's email interface is a breeze. I've used Activesync in the past, but now directly have the email connect to my company's home office server. My email and calendar are kept constant through those sync's, rather than routing it through my computer. However, syncing through the computer is also a breeze. This is an area where Palm has done a nice job, and made it easier on small companies by not requiring unique licenses per user.

Appearance: I got the black version, and a red version was just released. There are little sparkles in the black casing -- reminds me of a disco joint or a ride at the county fair. I could live without them, but they are very, very subtle.

Battery: OK. I've been a bit disappointed in the battery life, but it is really what one should expect. While Palm claims that the Centro's battery life is 3.5hrs of talk and 12 days of standby, I find that I need to charge my Centro nightly. The number of calls I receive, in addition to the fact that I have my Centro setup to sync emails regularly, means that I go through battery juice at a good clip. For a typical business user, you'll want to charge daily. This is actually slightly better than the 755, which is rated for only 10 days of standby.

Ringers / Toys / Gadgets: Everything I've tested works out fine: The different ringtones, camera, ptunes, etc. The 1+ megapixel resolution is excellent, and I'm continually astounded by how far smartphone cameras have come so quickly. My only complaint here is the same one I have with other Palm products: The stock ringtones are all fun, quirky attention-getters. As a business user, I want one that is boring and subtle. Who would have thought boring and subtle would be a novelty.

Price: Nice price (as low as $100 with discounts and rebates through Sprint). As of this moment, you can get a Palm Centro for less than a Treo 755 through Sprint. I don't know why anyone would go with the Treo considering they would have to pay more for it.

Connectivity: I've successfully used the Bluetooth, IR, and cord cable hookups for various reasons, and all have performed well. My coverage range with this phone seems a bit better than the Treo's I've had, but nothing significant as that is much more a function of the network than the phone.

Review Conclusion: The Palm Centro is overdue. Palm took a year to catch up with the smaller smartphone movement. While the 755 was basically a 700 without the antenna, this is a significant improvement. The only downside I can see it the keyboard size, and that isn't a big deal if you don't write novels from your phone.

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