Palm Centro AT&T Review

4
Introduction and Design
Introduction:

For years the term “Treo” has been synonymous with smartphones; the line had become iconic, and the rumors and speculation surround new releases were once the talk of the mobile industry. Now-a-days, however, you’re more likely to find a BlackBerry or Windows device in the hands of a smartphone user, and many are criticizing Palm for resting on its laurels while others are innovating. Palm has responded, and the Sprint Centro set out to quiet those pundits. One million units later and the line is an undeniable success. AT&T is hoping to capture some of that lightning in a bottle with a GSM Centro of its own, but will the lack of 3G hurt the device?

Included in the box the user will find:
  • Handset
  • 1150mAh Li-Ion battery
  • Travel charger
  • PC Sync cable
  • Palm Desktop software CD
  • User manual


Design:

From the minute you pick the Centro up its obvious that the device is totally different than the Treo. While it retains the candy bar form factor found in most smartphones, it is smaller in all dimensions and feels wonderful in your hand. The Centro strikes a near perfect balance between thinness and narrowness; it’s narrow enough to be grasped comfortably and thick enough so that the device doesn’t feel fragile and get lost in your hand.


You can compare the Palm Centro to many other phones, using PhoneArena's Visual Size Compare tool.

The casing is two tone, both jet black and white versions will be available, with silver accents. The plastic casing is slippery, and while we would have preferred the soft-touch paint found on the 755p the construction is still good. Palm definitely skimped on materials to bring the Centro to market with such a low price-point, but that is not to say the device feels cheap.


The touchscreen is with 320x320 pixels, supports up to 65k colors, and is easy to read in all lighting conditions. Underneath the user will find a silver strip, flanked by the send and end buttons. In the center is the 5-way directional pad. To the right of the D-pad is the home and messaging buttons, to the left sits the phone and calendar keys. Buttons are easy to press and give good feedback.

At the bottom of the phone is a full QWERTY keyboard, with ALT, Shift, Backspace, Enter, 0 and context menu hard keys. The Shift key and keys containing numbers contrast with the rest of the keypad, making for easy differentiation. The black version has a sensible black keyboard with white contrast keys, but the white version has a white keypad with a God-awful puke/lime green contrast. When pictures first surfaced of the white Centro we thought it was a joke.


The keys themselves are constructed of a rubber-like material that makes them just grippy enough that size is not an issue. We had no learning curve using this keyboard, and within minutes of picking it up were already typing faster than we do on larger keypads. The keys are placed far enough apart, and there is auto-correction software onboard which generally fixes the occasional mis-type. We actually find ourselves preferring this keyboard to larger keypads found on models like the Q and even the Treos. We gave it to some people with larger fingers and they had no problem using it either.

The left side of the phone houses the volume rocker at the top, with a programmable side key just below. On the right is the Infrared port and a pretty much hidden microSD slot. Unlike the Sprint version, there is no sticker to tip users to the presence of the door, and it is integrated almost seamlessly into the silver trim that rings the sides of the phone. The slot is pretty hard to open, and users without fingernails will find themselves removing the battery door to access the microSD card.



That battery door monopolizes the back of the phone, but at the top the user will find the speaker and 1.3 megapixel camera. The stylus tucked away at the top left, and on the right is a rubber plug that hides an external antenna port. Along the top of the phone is a sliding switch that quickly puts the phone into vibrate, and the bottom is the standard Palm charging/data port.

Overall, we have found the design of the Centro to be excellent. It is as close to perfect as we have encountered for a full featured smartphone, and it’s hard to describe just how great this device feels to use. The Centro is a major upgrade from the already good 750/755p design. It is good to see Palm put some forward thinking into the design of their devices.


Palm Centro for AT&T Video Review:


Palm Centro 360 Degrees View:



Interface:

The Centro runs Palm OS, clocking in with version 5.4.9. It has not changed much over the years, and anyone who has ever used a Palm should feel comfortable picking up the Centro. In fact, users who have never used a PIM or smartphone before should be comfortable picking up the Centro too. AT&T has put its own touch on the phone screen, which has five tabs running across the bottom. The functionality isn’t any different than the Sprint Centro, there is Dialer, Favorites, Phone (which does nothing but show a wallpaper image,) Contacts and Call History, but the stylish skin give it a much more refined looks.

As always, the Palm OS runs smooth and stable, and the layout couldn’t be more intuitive. Power users can find third party applications (both free and for a fee) that will allow them to do just about anything with their device. The beauty in Palm OS is that it is easy enough that new users won’t feel intimidated, yet it is powerful enough to be a true all-in-one unit.

That said, the OS is growing stale and AT&T would have done well to skin it as well. The layout and basic functionality has not changed in nearly a decade. Features like a camera, web and multimedia players have been integrated since its initial inception, but the OS remains fundamentally unchanged. To be fair, the OS lends itself to seamless integration of new applications and features so functionality and ease-of-use remains without endless submenus.


The OS is very customizable- the user has the ability to edit and create categories, as well as reassign any application to any category they see fit - but it lacks the personalization found with Windows Mobile. There are several color themes available, but they cannot be personalized. The user can set a wallpaper in the phone tab, but it’s a generally useless feature. If Palm would incorporate a customizable home screen into the OS a-la Windows Mobile we feel it would do wonders for the aging OS.


Phonebook:

The phonebook on the Centro is as robust as it comes. The user can store just about any piece of information they want with a contact and is limited only by available memory in the phone. You will find standards like multiple phone numbers and email address, photo caller ID and personalized ringtones onboard, and the user has room for multiple addresses, IM names, birthday and anniversary, 9 custom slots as well as a memo for each entry.

The contact list can be managed both from the device as well as from your computer using the included Palm Desktop software or Microsoft Outlook. Contacts can be beamed to other devices via either Infrared or Bluetooth, or can be sent by email.

The GSM Centro uses VoiceSignal as its voice recognition program, unlike Voice Control which is found on the CDMA version. As always, it is an excellent program that works flawlessly, and is these days found on most handsets. However, it is not nearly as robust as Voice Control, which allows for advanced features such as dictating emails, adding calendar appointments, launching websites and checking weather and stocks online all by voice. Voice Control had some drawbacks, but we think power users would have appreciated its inclusion.

Organizer:

As expected from a smartphone, the Centro features a full-featured calendar. As with the phonebook, it can be synchronized and managed with either Palm Desktop or Outlook, and users can add and edit events on the go as well. It is the same calendar application Palm has used for years, and appointments can be set as a one-time or recurring event. Reminders can be assigned at any time interval, and appointments can be filed under customizable categories and tagged with notes. They can also be set to private, meaning that the user can choose to hide the events in the event that someone gets a hold of the device.


The Centro includes other PIM features, such as a Memos, Calculator Tasks and Voice Memo. These applications work exactly as one would expect them to. The user can store up to 100 minutes of voice memos, and the calculator features an advanced mode that not only offers features like a preload list of common constant numbers (Pi, Avogadro’s number, speed of light, etc) but also has several modes such as Trig, Finance, Statistics, Length and others. The World Clock features an alarm clock function, though that was not the first place we would have thought to look for an alarm.



Messaging:

The Centro is a robust messaging device, offering a full email program (two, actually) text, picture and video messaging as well as an included IM client. For email Palm includes the same Versamail client found on the Treo line, and AT&T includes a link to its Express Mail application.
Versamail has been a Palm staple for years, and allows the user to set up personal POP and IMAP accounts while also supporting Exchange email. Unfortunately we were not able to download and test Express Mail since the page we were directed to did not work.

As we have seen on the Treo, the SMS application on the Centro allows for threaded messaging. AT&T incorporates MMS into this as well, so if a message has a picture or video it still shows up in the chat with a clickable icon that will take the user to the attached media. This is a wonderful feature, and allows text messages to basically become instant message conversations. We are not sure why more phones don’t incorporate this feature given the popularity of text messaging.

Instant Messaging is included and offers access to AIM, Yahoo Messenger and Windows Live Messenger. This program is free of charge, and is web-based so anyone with a data package (and who owns a smartphone without one?) can IM until their heart is content. Users can be signed into all three services simultaneously, and the program runs in the background which means users will have their IMs delivered to them even when the program isn’t being used. It is, in fact, the same program we liked from the Sprint Centro, just without the Sprint branding.

Connectivity and Data:

Unfortunately the GSM Centro lacks the 3G found in the CDMA variant, and is limited to EDGE speeds. On the other hand it is quad-band GSM and can be used overseas. The Bluetooth is also downgraded to 1.2, supporting the HFP, HSP, DUN, OPP A2DP and AVRC profiles; hot syncing is available as well.

As with any Palm device, Blazer is the native browser, and version 4.5.8 is found on the Centro. Blazer is capable of handling HTML pages and attempts to optimize them for the device, but it chokes up on larger pages. For example PhoneArena loaded decently enough, but a more complex page such as ESPN.com took forever to load and was fairly unusable. The lack of 3G, while noticeable, isn’t a big hindrance for mobile optimized pages, but can be sorely felt on more complicated pages or when downloading files. While mobile YouTube videos loaded quickly and played relatively smoothly, there was definitely a quality difference when compared to the CDMA Centro.

The Palm Desktop software is included in the package and handles PC Sync. Users can choose to sync their contacts and calendar either with the program itself, or if they are already running Outlook they have the option to sync data with it. The sync program also allows for users to install third party applications to the phone; users download them to their computer, and then next time the phone syncs they will be installed on the device.



Multimedia:

The 1.3-megapixel camera found on the Centro performed admirably. It is not the greatest mobile camera we’ve used, but color representation was good and edges were generally sharp. The pictures were a bit brighter than they should have been, but it is more than adequate for casual snapshots. Options are sparse however, and the only adjustments the user can make is image size or to apply a black and white or sepia filter.


The camcorder records videos at a maximum resolution of 352x288. The video quality was adequate, they would probably best be described as YouTube quality. Video options are as meager as the camera. Video length is limited only by available memory, but only ones fewer than 295K (~11 seconds at max resolution) can be sent via messaging. Unfortunately there is no setting to restrict videos to a sendable size, and there is no size counter like there is a time counter, so users will have to learn when they need to cut videos off. Larger videos can be attached to an email and sent.

Both pictures and videos can be sorted into user-created albums, a very nice feature that allows for easy organization and media recall. All video playback is handled via the Pics&Videos application, and videos can be played in full-screen mode.


Audio playback is handled by Pocket Tunes v4.0.4. It supports MP3, AAC, AAC+, WMA and WMA-DRM codecs, as well as features such as album art playlist editing. The player can run in the background, allowing the user full access to the device. If a call comes in the player pauses and when it is ended the music resumes where it left off. We really can’t complain about anything with Pocket Tunes, it is a full featured player and should suffice any user’s need.


The Centro supports the MobiTV and AT&T music, which allows users to both download music and stream XM satellite radio. At times it would hang, we especially noticed this when moving with the device, but the picture quality was generally good and we enjoyed watching TV on the larger screen.

Software:

There is 64MB of flash memory in the Palm Centro, but microSD expansion allows for microSDHC cards up to 8GB. Palm is a relatively svelte OS, and despite such little onboard memory we have never had issues with lag or the system bogging down.

Applications are plentiful, and with third party support the possibilities are endless. Besides what we’ve mentioned already the device comes preloaded with the likes of documents to go, and other programs such as TeleNav are only a click away.



Performance:

From our perspective the call quality of the Centro was good. Callers sounded natural and clear, but they reported that we sounded “good not great” and that our voice was more “electronic” instead of natural. We were easily able to pair with our Samsung WEP500 and Plantronics 510, but callers said we sounded worse over Bluetooth, more “tinny.” To our disappointment we were not able to get voice activated dialing working over Bluetooth, only redial. The Centro is rated at 4 hours of talk time, but we were happily able to achieve just over 6, and its rated 13 days of standby is plenty.

Conclusion:

We still really like the Palm Centro, but prefer the CDMA version for its 3G data. The device feels great in your hand, call performance was admirable and as a smartphone there isn’t anything it can’t do. This phone is aimed at the “tweener” crowd- the 16-29 year olds who have never owned a smartphone- but given the robust support for both multimedia and business applications and the fantastic form-factor this phone should appeal to anyone interested in the Palm OS. Oh, and the $99 pricetag will continue to draw in a few users as well.


Pros

  • Great size
  • Low price point
  • Full-featured Palm OS device
  • Easy to use
  • Good phone performance

Cons

  • Palm OS is stable, but boring
  • Lack of 3G data

PhoneArena Rating:

8.0

User Rating:

7.5
19 Reviews

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