The Palm Centro for Sprint is a slick-looking device targeted to first-time smart phone users. It features the same operating system, basic specs, and applications of the Treo 755p but in a smaller form factor. The Centro is very affordable ($99 with two-year contract, after rebates and instant savings) and has enough going for it to entice regular cell phone users to upgrade to something that can keep their life organized while offering e-mail, instant messaging, and Web browsing. The keyboard could be better, but you won't find a better smart phone at this price.
This compact phone (4.2 x 2.1 x 0.7) fits easily in your pocket and is available in two colors: a hip Ruby Red and a more elegant Onyx Black. 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. The phone has a microSD slot on the side but isn't bundled with a miniSD Card. Even though Palm claims the MicroSD slot is external, you still have to remove the phone cover from the back of the phone to get at it. That's annoying.
On the front of the phone just below the screen you'll find a silver bar with the navigation buttons. The Centro comes with a comfortable five-way navigation key, two large answer on and off 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 key.
The stylus is a bit flimsy, and the backlit QWERTY keyboard is disappointing. Although the keys are raised and rubbery, they're too tiny for average fingers. A teen or someone with narrow fingers will likely manage with it, 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.
Despite Palm's target market, the Centro isn't any easier to use than the 755p, since it runs on the same OS. In fact, the Centro comes with a couple more apps instead of fewer. But it's still easier to use than Windows Mobile-based and Symbian-based smart phones, which have steep learning curves. The Centro comes with the usual Calendar, E-mail, and Contacts applications. It also includes the Sprint Mobile Instant Messaging application, which allows you to log into AIM, MSN, or Yahoo Messenger; on our tests, the phone took an average 18 seconds to log into Yahoo Messenger. You also get the latest version DocumentsToGo Professional for viewing and editing Office files.
The 1.3-megapixel camera on the back produced run-of-the-mill pictures with its 2X digital zoom. Video capture is also available, but the low 352 x 288-pixel resolution is nothing to get excited about, On our tests, it performed poorly in dimly lit areas, which is to be expected for a smart phone.
On our Web-browser tests, CNN.com took an average of five seconds to load on the Centro's Blazer browser, making it comparable to other Sprint smart phones that use the carrier's EV-DO network. Downloading a 1.8MB application from Sprint's severs took only 35 seconds, an impressive speed for this category of smart phone.
We love the Google Maps feature, which we also saw in the Treo 755p. You can view street and satellite maps and get directions and traffic reports. Unfortunately, you still can't use location-based services to get live navigation or to pinpoint your location automatically on the map.
The Centro also comes preinstalled with the PocketTunes Deluxe (normally $39.99). This application lets you listen to your favorite MP3s, AAC files, 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. Music playback was good, but the speaker is located on the back of the phone, so don't plan on listening to music with the phone sitting on a table.
Sprint also offers access to Sprint TV, which lets you watch live content and video on demand from the likes of CNN and Comedy Central. The Daily Show clips we watched started out decent but devolved into a pixelated mess.
During our tests, call quality was good, and like other Palm phones, this one requires an adapter to plug in 2.5mm headphones. The adapter is included in the package, but we'd recommend using a Bluetooth headset as a workaround. Stereo Bluetooth isn't an option, which is a bit disappointing.
Battery life is rated at 3.5 hours of talk time and 12.5 days of standby. That's a little shy of what we expect from most phones these days, especially with the 755p managing more than 4 hours of talk time. After talking for 20 minutes, spending two more hours browsing the Web and navigating the device, and then leaving the Centro on standby overnight, we woke up to a device that still had more than half its juice.
At only $99, the Palm Centro is a bargain for first-time smart phone users, as long as you can live with the tiny keyboard. We'd recommend trying one out before you buy.
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