Priced at just AU$299 on prepaid with Telstra and running Palm OS, not Windows Mobile 6, the Centro is pitched at first time or budget-conscious smartphone buyers. It may even pick up the odd, long and frustrated Palm OS devotee.
Depending on your view of design aesthetics, the Palm Centro is either unerringly cute or bares too much of a resemblance to a bar of soap. We fall into the former category, but we suspect that if you're of the latter disposition then none of the praise we're going to heap on the Centro will change your mind.
Casting aside its snow white hue — the only colour currently available in Australia — the Centro looks like a Palm 500/500v that's been left in the dryer for too long. Weighing 124 grams, while measuring 55mm wide, 18mm deep and 107mm tall, the Centro is a smidge shorter, a tad thicker and about the same weight as its Windows Mobile sibling. Most telling, though, is that it's 6.5mm narrower, making it far more pocketable. It does, however, make pressing keys on the Centro's QWERTY keyboard, initially at least, tougher, with the odd mis-pressed key an inevitability. With a little practice using the keyboard with your thumbs becomes second nature although certain tasks, such as typing and walking, should never be attempted.
Above the thumb-board is a five-way controller surrounded by a cluster of four buttons — home (applications), phone, messaging, and calendar/organiser. These are flanked by pick-up/call and hang-up/power buttons. On the left-hand edge there's a volume switch and a user-programmable button, while along the top there's a switch that lets you quickly flick the smartphone to silent.
The Centro's 2.2-inch touchscreen boasts 320x320 resolution and, as such, is sharper than the 240x320 displays on most Windows Mobile devices. Visually, Palm's OS has changed little since its inception. Yes, yes, there are now more pixels and colours than before, but the essentials are practically the same. That means an uncluttered interface that's easy to use but lacking the gee-whiz factor of products breathed upon by one Steven P. Jobs. Many of the on-screen buttons are large enough to be finger-clicked, however there are some teeny buttons, on say the Web browser, for which many users will find the included stylus invaluable.
In terms of hardware specs, the Centro isn't terribly impressive — for instance, there's only 64MB of available memory. But with Palm OS's simpler design, lower overheads and smaller app sizes there should be plenty of space. Those wanting more space for photos, music or other electronic trinkets can supply more memory in the form of microSD cards. Responses are always speedy — something that can't be said about most Windows Mobile 6.0 devices.
On the phone's box there's a picture of three sassy, suitably photogenic lasses, primed for a night on the town, snapping a photo of themselves on their Centro with the tag-line "your shortcut to happy hour". How they managed to take that shot of themselves is beyond us, as the Centro's 1.3-megapixel camera can charitably be called basic, at best. Capable of taking both stills and video, the camera has a self-portrait mirror and best left for taking photos of friends for easy caller identification ... in good light. With no flash, any ideas that you'll be capturing your friends' drunken escapades should be banished.
Other spec-sheet features include Bluetooth 1.2 and an infrared port, but no Wi-Fi. Standard software included are the Blazer Web browser, Google Maps, Versa Mail, Pocket Tunes for MP3 playback, and Documents To Go 10. The latter allows you to create, edit and view Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. Those who have used Microsoft Office Mobile will be surprised by how much more fully featured and easier-to-use Documents To Go is. We were able to sync up, via the supplied cable, our Outlook calendar, tasks and contacts but not our email.
Those unfamiliar with Palm devices may be surprised with the Centro being always on. The phone can be switched on and off by pressing and holding the power button, however, the device is always on unless you remove the battery. That said, battery life is good; the Centro just managed to last an entire weekend of intense use on a single full charge. Although, we do reserve a poisoned dart to the smart alec who designed the SIM card tray; its location and design means that you'll need longish nails, and a willingness to break them, in order to retrieve said card.
Being available only on Telstra prepaid — not to mention the prominent on-screen Telstra branding, most of which can thankfully be disabled — the Centro is locked to Sol Trujillo's cash cow unless you pay an unlocking fee of AU$100. Note that this is contrary to what's stated in our video &mdash our review unit was shipped to us in an unlocked state.
Voice quality is good via speaker, handset or the included hands-free kit, which plugs into the phone's 2.5mm headphone jack. Using mobile mail and Google Maps on the Centro is only for the patient. That's because the Centro is only a 2.5G phone, albeit a quad-band one — this is no doubt a consequence of the phone's eye-popping price. Download speeds, even when using EDGE, are pretty tragic and more akin to dial-up modem speeds than broadband. Stick to mobile specific websites which are graphically light, such as those offered by the New York Times or — gratuitous plug warning — CNET.com.au and ZDNet Australia, and you'll be fine.
We're not entirely certain that the comely lasses like those on the Centro's box would actually be that interested in this smartphone. It's not particularly flash but those looking for a cost effective entry into the world of smartphones or those wanting to upgrade from their phone-less Palm PDAs will be more than satisfied by the Centro. With the wealth of free or cheap Palm OS applications available on the internet, the Centro is far more powerful and useful than its AU$299 price suggests.