Palm Centro review: Palm Centro

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Palm Centro - red (Sprint)

(Part #: PTR690HKR) Released: Oct 14, 2007
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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good The Palm Centro sheds some of the weight and bulk of Palm Treo to make for a more compact smartphone. It also carries an attractive price tag and offers a lot for the money, including Bluetooth, EV-DO support, push e-mail, and a suite of productivity apps.

The Bad The Centro's QWERTY keyboard is extremely cramped and the hardware feels a bit toylike. The phone's speaker is on the weaker side, and it lacks Wi-Fi.

The Bottom Line The Palm Centro isn't the innovative product we were looking for from the company, but with its slimmer size, ease of use, and affordable price tag, the Centro is a good option for those looking for their first smartphone.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Performance 7.0

Palm has certainly come under a lot of criticism lately for its lack of innovation in the smartphone department, and rightfully so. While the HTCs and Nokias of the world continually churn out new and exciting devices, Palm can only offer up its aging lineup of Treo smartphones. The company tried to mix things up with the Palm Foleo, but we know that failed miserably. Fortunately, we think Palm will have better luck with its latest device, the Palm Centro. It's the first non-Treo, as well as the smallest and lightest smartphone from the company. Palm hopes that it will attract a new customer base of those ready to make the jump from cell phone to smartphone. For the record, we feel like Palm tried this already with the Palm Treo 680, but there are a number of factors that make us believe the Centro will be more successful at attaining this goal, first and foremost being price.

Available through Sprint, the Centro costs $99 with a two-year contract, which is a bargain for a smartphone, especially when you consider that you get all the features of a Treo and more. It offers ease of use, so first-time smartphone buyers shouldn't be intimidated, and it also provides a nice middle ground between the really basic and youth-oriented T-Mobile Sidekick 3 and more business-featured devices like the Sprint Mogul. The Centro certainly isn't without problems. There are some major design issues; it's not the best choice for serious business users, and it certainly wasn't the type of innovation we were hoping for from the company. However, for that target group of 20- to 30-year-olds looking to make the jump to a smartphone, the Centro is an attractive option. The "black onyx" version of the Palm Centro will be available through Sprint starting October 14, while the "ruby red" version will go on sale in November.

We've got mixed feelings about the design of the Palm Centro. At 4.2 inches high by 2.1 inches wide by 0.7 inch deep and 4.2 ounces, the Centro is certainly smaller than the bulky Treo, and it's a nice compromise between a regular cell phone and a business smartphone like the Sprint Mogul. For comparison's sake, the device carries a similar footprint to the HTC Vox S710 and will also make for a tight fit in a pants pocket.

The petite Palm Centro next to its bigger, older cousin, the Palm Treo 700p.
The Centro comes in two colors: black onyx or ruby red. (We reviewed the red model.) Palm hopes the latter option will help attract more female customers and, in fact, a female colleague passed by and said, "Oh, I like the red." So obviously, there's some logic there. That said, the design fails to impress us; shrinking the size and adding a splash of color wasn't exactly the type of innovation we were looking for. The Centro lacks the flash and "wow" factor of a device from HTC or Nokia, looking more like a toy, and in the hand, it feels, well, a bit plasticky. On the positive side, the smaller size and rounded edges make the phone more comfortable and easier to hold when held up to the ear.

On front, you'll find the Centro's 2.25-inch diagonal TFT display that shows off 65,000 colors at a 320x320 pixel resolution. It's crisp and bright, and perhaps the best news of all, it's a touch screen. This is an advantage the Palm Centro has over some of its competition, such as the BlackBerry Pearl. The ability to enter data, launch apps, and navigate the device via the touch screen is a wonderful convenience.

You also have controls beneath the display to help you operate the smartphone. These include Talk and End keys, and shortcuts to the phone app, home screen, calendar, and message in-box, and a five-way toggle. With the exception of the toggle, which consists of a thin ring and a large central select button that's raised above the phone's surface, the buttons are flat and don't have the best tactile feedback, feeling a bit cheap.

We weren't huge fans of the Centro's QWERTY keyboard, since the buttons are tiny and cramped.
The Centro's full QWERTY keyboard is another sticking point. Given that there's less surface area to work with, we figured the keyboard would be smaller, but we've got to say, it's pretty darn cramped. It's definitely better suited for women with smaller hands, but when we gave it to a few to try out, they remarked that it was hard to easily type messages with. Users with larger thumbs are definitely going to have problems. The individual buttons reminded us of gelatinous stickers, but tactile and well backlit.

There's a ringer silencer switch on top of the unit, while you will find a 2.5mm headset jack and multiconnector port on the bottom. The left spine of the Centro has a volume rocker and a customizable launch button. The right side houses the infrared port and microSD expansion slot, which is protected by an attached cover, but we found it quite difficult to pry off. Finally, the stylus, speaker, camera lens, and self-portrait mirror are found on the back.

The Palm Centro comes packaged with just the basics, including an AC adapter, a USB cable, a desktop software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons for the Centro, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.

Despite the smaller size, the Palm Centro still manages to pack in all of the features of the Palm Treo 755p and then some. To start with the basics, the Centro runs Palm OS 5.4.9 and comes with 128MB ROM and 64MB RAM. Of course, you get the standard personal information management tools, including a calendar, a to-do list, a memo pad, a calculator, a world clock, and a voice recorder. The Centro isn't just an electronic organizer, though, as the smartphone comes preloaded with Documents to Go (version 10), so you can open, create, and edit Microsoft Word and Excel documents, and view PowerPoint presentations and PDFs.

You can supplement the Centro's memory with the microSD expansion slot, which can accept up to 4GB cards.

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