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.
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.