AT&T customers who have been pining for the Palm Centro, once exclusive to Sprint, are now in luck. But what does the AT&T version of the slick-looking smart phone provide that the Sprint version doesn’t? Other than XM Radio Mobile support, TeleNav GPS Navigator, and push-to-talk capability, not much. Targeted at first-time smart phone users, the AT&T Centro features the same plain Palm operating system and basic specs and apps in a tiny package. The Centro is very affordable ($99 with two-year contract, after rebates) and has enough going for it to entice regular cell phone users looking to upgrade to something that can handle push e-mail, instant messaging, and Web browsing. However, data performance is sluggish, and the cramped keyboard isn’t for everyone.
Palm Centro Design
This compact phone (4.2 x 2.1 x 0.7 inches) fits easily in your pocket and is available initially in Glacier white with a green-shaded keypad (a more elegant Obsidian black will be available in March). The touchscreen measures only 2.2 inches but it has a nice 320 x 320-pixel resolution, which is perfectly fine for the light-on-graphics Palm OS. Annoyingly, you have to remove the battery cover in order to slide a microSD Card into the slot.
On the front of the phone just below the screen is a silver bar with the navigation buttons. The Centro comes with a comfortable five-way navigation key, two large Send and End buttons, and quick-launch keys to access the dialpad, main menu, calendar, and e-mail. On the side you’ll find the up and down volume buttons and a programmable hotkey.
The stylus, which slides into the back of the phone, is a bit flimsy, and the backlit QWERTY keyboard is disappointing; Although the rubbery keys are raised, they’re too tiny and cramped for average fingers. A teen, female, or someone with narrow digits will likely manage, but the target soccer mom or average first-time smart phone adult user won’t feel very comfortable typing on it until they get used to the layout. After a few days of typing we had gotten used to angling our fingers to avoid hitting multiple keys.
A Simple and Easy OS
The AT&T Centro comes with the Palm 5.4.9 operating system and, as we pointed out in our review of the Sprint version, it’s just as easy to use as the Treo 755p. Palm did create a special interface for the phone shortcut on the AT&T Centro; tabs let you select an on-screen keypad, a favorites list, a list of recent calls, and the address book. The Centro comes with the usual Calendar, E-mail, and Contacts applications, among others. We had no problem setting up our POP3 and GMail accounts through Xpress Mail. The AT&T Centro also includes Mobile Instant Messaging, which allows you to log into AIM, MSN, or Yahoo Messenger; on our tests, the phone took an average of 35 seconds to log into AIM. You also get the latest version of Documents To Go Professional for viewing and editing Office files.
EDGE Data Drawbacks
Absent from the Centro are AT&T’s core multimedia applications—its Mobile Music service and Cellular Video—most likely because the device lacks an HSDPA or Wi-Fi connection. XM Radio Mobile, which comes preloaded on the AT&T device, is available for $8.99 per month and poked along over EDGE. Our music kept pausing, and the station names took half a minute to appear. We had similar problems with MobiTV; it took two full minutes to receive a signal and MSNBC video appeared choppy and very pixilated. Unlimited e-mail and data access is available for $30 a month for the Centro with AT&T’s PDA Personal data package.
On our Web browser tests, CNN.com took an average of 15 seconds to load on the Centro’s Blazer browser; that’s three times what it took on the Sprint Centro. In side-by-side web loading tests it took the AT&T Centro an average of 10 seconds longer than the Sprint Centro to load pages. However, for basic browsing and searching the AT&T Centro does the job; finding a Dunkin’ Dounts using Yahoo’s oneSearch took less than 20 seconds.
Decent Pictures and Music
The 1.3-megapixel camera on the back of the AT&T Palm Centro produced run-of-the-mill pictures. On our tests, it performed adequately in dimly lit areas even though it lacks a flash. Video capture is also available, but the low 352 x 288-pixel resolution is nothing to get excited about.
The Centro comes preinstalled with PocketTunes Deluxe (normally $39.99). This application lets you listen to your favorite AAC files, MP3s, and DRM-protected WMA tracks, which you can download to the 64MB of onboard storage when you sync your phone with your computer or by simply playing the songs stored on your microSD Card. Our tracks sounded good through the speaker, but we preferred plugging in a 2.5-mm headset and walking around the city listening to tracks, which paused when calls came in. Like its Sprint cousin, the AT&T Centro is missing stereo Bluetooth, which is disappointing.
Strong Call Quality and Good Battery Life
Walking around New York City on a windy winter day, our callers were able to hear us and didn’t complain of background street noise. We could hear our callers clearly, but wish the volume on the earpiece could have been turned up just a bit. Pairing the Iqua 603 Sun Bluetooth headset with the Centro was simple and audio sounded good through the headset even from several feet away.
The Centro also comes with AT&T’s Push To Talk feature; we could hear our Push to Talk buddy on another AT&T Centro clearly but there was a slight delay. Unlimited Push to Talk minutes cost $9.99 per line and $19.99 for all lines on a Family Talk plan. Other Push to Talk phones inlcude the AT&T Tilt, Nokia 6555, LG CU515, and mulitple BlackBerrys.
Battery life is rated at 4 hours of talk time and 12.5 days on standby. After talking for a total of 2 hours, spending 2 more hours browsing the Web, and then leaving the Centro on standby overnight, we woke up to a device that still had more than half its juice.
AT&T Palm Centro Verdict
At only $99, the Palm Centro is a bargain for first-time smart phone users, but you get more with Sprint’s version, which packs more speed because of its EV-DO connection. We also like the $99 Samsung BlackJack II from AT&T better than the Centro because it supports 3G and has a larger display and keyboard. But if you prefer the Palm experience to Windows Mobile and you’re not leaving AT&T anytime soon, this Centro is a decent choice.
Portions of this review appeared in the original Palm Centro (Sprint) review.