Palm Centro Review: Simple, Sub-$100 Smartphone

Palm Centro
Call it “My First Smartphone.” Basically Treo 755p crammed into a smaller case, Palm’s latest handset touts price as its bestselling point. In fact, the Centro is the must smartphone you can get for $99 with a service contract.

Though smaller than any other Treo model, the Centro is bigger than the BlackBerry Pearl, its main competitor. The larger size allows mom for a high resolution 320-by-320-pixel screen and a full but seriously tiny QWERTY keyboard. Typing on it is a challenge: The keys are clear rubber nubs, which help a bit, but there’s no avoiding the cramped feeling of this keyboard. If you want a better typing experience, look for a wider device.

The Centro performs well as a cell phone, with good reception and acceptable earpiece and speakerphone volume levels. On our tests, battery life was adequate but not outstanding, with talk time at just over 4 hours.

The Palm OS is four years old new, and the Centro Is missing modern features like stereo Bluetooth audio support. Still, the basic contact and calendar apps sync well with PCs and are easy to use. In addition, the device feels fast, and you can even use it as a laptop modem.

Palm includes plenty of messaging options. There’s a multiplatform IM client and two e-mail programs that can handle almost any type of mail account. The Centro is a respectable multimedia gadget, too. The 1.3-megapixel camera takes sharp enough Pictures, though videos are very jerky. The included music software plays MP3, AAC, and WMA files and syncs with Windows Media Player. Only the Sprint TV service struck a false note: It Offers a wide selection of programs, including entire episode of shows like Lost and Numb3rs, but the device delivered video that was too blocky and jerky to watch.

My biggest concern is the Centro’s bugginess. I ran into several problems with my evaluation handset, including headset incompatibility, programs that wouldn’t install, and a troublesome HotSync cable. But manufacturers tend to fix problems such as these with subsequent software updates. Provided Palm does that, the Centro should prove to be a top-notch introductory smartphone. It may be built around older technology, but at less than $100, that’s enough for folks who just want to check e-mail and surf light Websites.

Price range
Palm Centro: $650; $99.99 with contract

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