Palm Centro Review| By Hillary Borrud
Palm touts the Centro as its smallest smartphone yet, and they've managed to fit a lot into a small package. To a large degree, the Centro is a smaller, more modern looking version of the Treo -- with many of the same features, including a keyboard with tiny keys. But the design also seems targeted at younger, less business oriented consumers attracted to sleek devices such as the BlackBerry Pearl.
The Centro's design doesn't include any problematic features, but it also stops short of any real innovations. It does offer a responsive touch screen, but it's not enough to set it apart from the iPhone and HTC Touch, which are closer to the forefront.
In the end, the Centro has enough helpful features to work for business users. It may also be attractive -- and not too overwhelming -- if you're venturing out into the world of smartphones. Sprint, AT&T and Verizon all offer the device.
Palm packed a lot of features into the Centro, and fortunately the company chose to keep the hardware design straightforward, intuitive and sleek. At 4.2-by-2.1-by-0.7 inches, the Centro is substantially smaller and lighter than the Treo series. It still feels solid and well-made, and the simple, modern lines give it a classy, understated appearance.
If Palm is trying to create a lightweight smartphone, this is as close as the company has gotten to BlackBerry's less bulky phones. This smartphone is perfect for business, but the small size makes it perfect for after work as well, and it fits easily in the cell phone pocket of a purse.
The Centro comes in a range of colors, which are offered at different service providers. Sprint offers the widest range, with pink, red and glittery black graphite. AT&T offers the Centro in glacier white, with punchy lime green number keys on the keyboard, and Verizon offers a cobalt blue Centro. Although the dark colors have a slight sparkle to them, it's subtle enough to maintain a professional look for business users.
Keys are just one way to access calls, text messages and apps on the Centro, since it features a touch screen and stylus. Yet with about half the face dedicated to navigation keys and the keyboard, it's easy to stick with these when using the phone. Also, the touch screen works with touch only, not the finger swipes allowed on the iPhone and HTC Touch. The touch screen, at 2.2 inches measured diagonally, is slightly smaller than on the Treos. The keys on the call screen are large enough to dial easily, so this is the best way to make calls on the phone.
As for the physical keys, the navigation key at the center is the most useful, and I found myself using it to toggle through apps and select the ones I wanted more frequently than the touch screen feature. The home screen includes the telephone keypad, time and date, so you can press the navigation key down to toggle through contacts, a call log, voicemail and apps. At the center of the navigation key is a separate key, with the Palm logo, that can be pressed to select items.
Other keys around the navigation key instantly bring up the phone screen, calendar, apps and messaging. To the right, there is a power key that can also be used to end calls. When the screen turns off, this key is also used to turn it back on and the center key must be used to unlock the keypad. The power key also turns off the screen. There is a call key to the left of the navigation key.
As with the Treos, the Centro has a keyboard at the bottom of the face -- only the keypad is essentially a shrunken Treo one squeezed onto a smaller space, which is not an improvement. The tiny buttons can be hard to use, but at least they are made of a rubbery material and raised up enough to help you dial by touch. A small menu key at the bottom right side pulls up menus related to the app that is open, and its strategic placement below the other keys makes it easy to reach.
On the left side of the keyboard, the option key can be used to access functions such as "find," when it is pressed before other keys. For example, pressing the option key and then the letter P key allowed me to adjust the screen's brightness. Other helpful shortcuts where the option key is used include e-mail and the work clock. The Centro also has 70 programmable buttons for quick access to common tasks such as speed dial and accessing a webpage.
At the bottom is the microphone, a slot for the charger and the USB port. A button on the left side is used to select the volume level, after a user adjusts the volume using the rocker key immediately above. This arrangement, with two separate keys used to adjust volume, is a little cumbersome and takes some getting used to. A ringer switch on the top makes it easy to switch off sound with one touch, and is much faster than using the volume key.
The earpiece is at the top, and the stylus is kept in a slot on the upper right corner. There is a large speaker on the back, next to the camera and self-portrait mirror. The infrared port for data transfer is on the right side, and directly below it is the microSD slot. To insert the card, you have to remove the back to reach the tab covering the slot. Out of the box, the Centro comes with a Palm software installation CD, rechargeable battery, charger, Sprint charger adapter, USB sync cable and printed materials including Read This First, Welcome to Sprint and Getting Started Guide.
The 1.3-megapixel camera is good enough if you're more interested in the smartphone capabilities, and the photo quality is decent. The Treo models that came before the Centro also feature 1.3-megapixel cameras, but there are higher resolution smartphones available such as the BlackBerry Curve with a 2.0-megapixel camera, with flash and 5X zoom.
In comparison, the Centro has only 2x zoom and no built-in flash. At least the relatively simple photography options are easy to access. You can access the camera and camcorder functions by scrolling down through the apps, with the central navigation key. Photo quality is decent. The Centro produces sharp images, but indoor photos with limited light tend to have a bluish tint. Overall, though, the color balance was good. As for taking photos or videos in the dark, forget it -- without a flash, the Centro is limited and the quality really depends upon the lighting.
Video quality is also decent, although clips taken in dim, indoor light were also slightly bluish. The microphone at the bottom did a good job of recording sound, and even picked up background music well enough for it to be recognizable. The large speaker on the back also did well reproducing recorded sound.
The lack of photo and video editing tools is one of the shortfalls. It's a good thing the image quality is decent, since there's no way to adjust for lighting without a flash or editing tools. There is a small self-portrait mirror next to the photo lens on the back, which is just large enough to make sure the photo will capture a face but insufficient to check one's appearance.
The Centro runs Palm Operating System 5.4.9, which is an easy system to use for basic tasks. It also packs a lot of shortcuts and options for customization that take a while to uncover. The battery provides about 3.5 hours of talk time or 12 days on standby.
The 65,000 color screen, which measures 2.2 inches diagonally, provides bright images but with many video-focused devices delivering 262,000- to 16.7 million colors, it falls short. The 320-by-320 pixel touch screen, with TFT, or Thin Film Transistor, offers brighter imagery and faster response rates than older STN, or Super Twisted Nematic, screens.
The screen was sensitive to touch, both with a finger and the stylus, and responded quickly. It was easy to toggle through apps and make selections with the touch of a finger but as mentioned earlier, you can't swipe a finger across the screen as you can with the iPhone.
Sprint lets you download music from its Music Store and organize purchases with Music Manager, a Windows app included on the Palm Software Installation CD. Once the music is downloaded, you can listen to it with PocketTunes, easily accessed with the apps key. The Centro comes with 37 ringtones to showcase its sound quality, and Palm's software designers were even nice enough to warn you when you crank up the volume to the highest level. The large speaker on the back produces strong, crisp sound. Through the Sprint Music Store, you can access to more than 1.8 million songs. You can also access Internet radio stations through the apps key.
You can access email from POP3, IMAP4, SMTP and Microsoft Exchange Direct Push accounts. This last option is convenient for business since you can receive emails the instant they arrive in your inbox. Instant messaging is also available through AIM, Yahoo and Windows Live. As mentioned earlier, the tiny keys can be difficult to master, but the rubbery texture and raised keys do help.
You can watch live TV by pushing the apps key and scrolling down to the TV icon. Similarly, you can access On Demand information through the apps key, for the latest news, sports, weather, entertainment and movie trailers in your zip codes. With Sprint Picture Mail, you can share images quickly with friends and family, or order prints. The only game installed is Sudoku, and while it's a timely choice given the popularity of the puzzles, you may wish you had a few more choices.
One shortcoming is that it lacks a GPS program, although it does come with the Google Maps app installed and Google provides color maps, satellite imagery, and traffic data. Basic features to help you stay organized include a calendar, a world clock, a memo pad, a calculator, a to-do list, and a voice recorder. The Centro from Sprint also comes loaded with DataViz Documents to Go, which allows you to open and edit MS Word and Excel documents and view text, PowerPoint and PDF files.
The Centro makes it easy for you to surf the Web, since it supports Sprint's Ev-Do high-speed network. This makes it easy to connect to the Sprint Music Store, Sprint TV, the built-in Google Maps app and other media. It's a good thing it supports fast Ev-Do, because it lacks Wi-Fi. You can also access the Internet using the Blazer mobile browser, and use Sprint mobile email for up to three email accounts or use Microsoft Direct Push Technology for delivery of Outlook email as well as AOL, Windows Live, Gmail and Yahoo.
With 64-megabytes of internal memory available to users, the Centro is an upgrade from the Treo series, which generally have 60-megabytes of storage. You can add to the memory by buying a microSD card, for up to 4-gigabytes of extra memory. Unfortunately, the expansion slot is stuck behind the back plate, so you'll have to remove it, and then pull out the small tab over the slot to get to the card.
The Centro supports several Bluetooth profiles. You can sync to headsets and handsfree devices, as well as turn the phone a wireless modem for a laptop. If you need to transfer files, it does that too. You can also move data using the infrared port above the microSD slot, and connect to your computer with the included USB cord.
The Centro is a good phone that covers the basics if you want smartphone capabilities. It falls short in some areas, such as the camera, when compared with other smartphones. And if you're expecting major innovations, you'll be disappointed. With that said, the Centro is generally a pleasure to use because of its simple design and easy to navigate software. The tiny keyboard means that women will have an easier time than men composing text messages, emails and documents. And the range of colors available from Sprint also seems targeted toward the fairer sex.
The smaller size makes the Centro more portable, and the slight increase in storage is also nice, although you'll want to buy a microSD card to really take advantage of the document editing and music software. Overall, the Centro shows that Palm is headed in the right direction, even if the company hasn't quite arrived at a groundbreaking new product. ♦
Categories: Business | Messaging
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