My how time flies when you are having fun! A month has come and gone since I received “my” Palm Centro review unit: a month in which I got to try out nearly everything, a month during which I was able to decide if a device such as this could meet my needs. When I first received the Centro, I posted its unboxing, gave a description of the hardware, and posted my initial thoughts. If you haven’t already read that portion of this review, click here and then come back; as always, I’ll be waiting patiently.
In this portion of the review we’ll cover my user experience, the Centro’s battery life, its camera, and a rundown of some of the included Sprint software. Let’s get started…
From the beginning, I was impressed with the Centro’s specifications. I mean after all, this $99 PDA phone comes with a high resolution color screen, a very compact form factor, 68.6MB of user memory (out of an original 128MB), and enough built-in goodies so that it puts just about any other similarly priced phone to shame.
On the flip side, I was worried that the phone might be a bit too compact, especially the keyboard. Well, as I mentioned in the first part of this review, the keyboard is a bit tight when using fingertips for texting, but I eventually got more comfortable while doing it. I thought that this texting phone aimed at the ‘teens and twenties’ market would appeal to my 18 year old daughter Sarah, since she is the right age as well as our households reigning texting queen, but she told me the first day she saw it that it was still “too big” and “ugly.” Drats!
I don’t think the Centro is too big, and I certainly don’t think it is ugly. But I guess if you are used to the typical mobile phone’s 12 button keyboard, the necessary width to put a full QWERTY thumb board on the front might make the device seem bigger than necessary. Ah well, different strokes for different folks, right?
The QWERTY thumb board buttons feel like they are made out of silicone, or a rubbery jelly. I suspect, although I haven’t seen it happen, but if the user were to use his or her thumbnails all the time to tap out messages, it seems like the buttons might eventually break down. Could I be wrong? Sure. But that is the feeling I get when using my nails on it, so I have made an effort not to.
The Centro feels good to hold. I have mentioned before that my mobile phone must fit in my hand, because many times it will become a natural extension of the hand that is holding it. The Centro nestles perfectly in my palm, its curved back hugs my hands contours, and there are no sharp edges or unnecessarily bulky areas.
Perhaps the only thing that I didn’t ever really grow too fond of was the new button cluster. It looks nice, it looks efficient, but the buttons are simply too big and a bit mushy. The only true feedback provided is made by the system clicking sounds if you haven’t turned them off. Otherwise, the buttons provide very little tactile feedback, while the D-pad provides a bit more. Lack of true tactile feedback isn’t going to necessarily be a deal-breaker for anyone, but it might be a minor annoyance.
If I could convey one thing to everyone reading this review, it would be that this phone doesn’t feel cheap or cheesy in any way. The hardware is rock solid, but there is one thing I would have changed: the lack of reset button. While it is true that the Palm OS usually doesn’t require daily resets, the need for them does arise.
Having to remove the battery completely and then basically count to ten before reinserting is silly. The fact that the rear battery door slides off easily but is a minor pain to reattach doesn’t help. You’ll notice when the battery door is removed, that there is a divot next to the microSD door. That is because the battery door must be accessed in order to open the memory card compartment. If you are one to slip your card in and forget about it, this design won’t bother you. But if you remove your card regularly, the removal process will grow old quickly.
The Centro measures exactly 4.25″ long x 2.11″ wide x 0.77″ thick, and it weighs 4.4 ounces. When compared to the Samsung Blackjack (4.5″ tall x 2.3″ wide x 0.5″ thick; weight: 3.7 oz), the Centro is thinner, shorter, and only a little bit thicker and heavier.
The battery is touted as lasting for up to 3.5 hours of talk-time and 300 hours standby. I generally was able to go almost two days without charging, but since this wasn’t my main voice phone I didn’t make as many calls as I might have otherwise. If you are using a push email service, running Bluetooth constantly, talking a lot, or doing any media intensive activity such as listening to MP3s on the included Pocket Tunes or streaming Sprint TV, you will notice a significant battery drop; remember, it the Centro’s battery is only 1150mAh.
One handed use of the Centro is very easy, as it generally is with all Treos. Having become used to the sliding keyboards of the Mogul and Tilt, I it was a joy to go back to the all-in-one form factor which I truly enjoyed while owning the Palm 700wx. There is something to be said for having a thumb board immediately available; it makes texting while driving that much safer. I keed, I keed!
The screen measures 2″ diagonally (1.56″ x 1.56″), which is tiny, but the 320 x 320 resolution creates a beautiful picture when viewing applications or video. The screen almost fills the cutout allotted for it, but it still appears to have the usual 3 or 4 pixel black border on each side…
…which seems a little less wide than the borders I’ve noticed on other Palm Treo devices. An improvement for sure, but still far from perfection.
the Palm Treo 700wx and 700p
As many of you know, I have been predominantly using a Windows Mobile device for the last few years, and I have also been flirting with Symbian S60 lately. It has been one year since my Palm Treo 700p review and therefore one year since I have used the Palm OS. While very little has changed in the actual OS department since my 700p review, I was impressed again by how snappy and responsive the Palm OS can be. But alas, not impressed enough to switch back by any means.
The camera is the typical and lame 1.3 megapixel with 2X digital zoom and video capture. The camera will save your butt in a pinch, but you will not want to rely on it for those once in a lifetime shots. Here is an example of why…
Isn’t Gizmo adorable, though?
Here are some of the highlights of the Centro’s included software. If you would like a more detailed report on the Palm OS, please refer to Palm Treo 700p review.
Worth noting is that there is a new icon for My Centro, which when tapped…
…reveals the User Guide and Support sections for this new device. You can also register your Centro under the Home tab, or reinstall additional software which came installed on the Centro. Worth noting is that Astraware Solitaire comes pre-installed; it’s a great game if you haven’t played it already, you should check it out.
For all your spreadsheet or word processing needs, DataViz Documents To Go comes pre-installed.
Google Maps is also installed, but since there is no built-in GPS, you’ll have to use an add-on unit or just enjoy the inaccurate data given by Google. Like here – my house is shown as a full half-block to the right, where the arrow is. I told Mitchell that this inaccuracy will keep unwanted visitors away from my door – as long as they don’t read the curb numbers.
The Centro comes loaded with AIM Messenger and Yahoo Messenger.
Browsing the internet is certainly possible, and it works better on sites like Gear Diary which have a mobile version…
…because viewing the full site is pretty much painful. I think this picture says it all.
You can even watch TV on your Centro via Sprint TV or the optional purchase mobitv, but in an area like mine with just a 1X connection, the picture can be erratic. At time is will be sharp and smooth, and at others jerky and pixelated – hardly worth the trouble. I suspect that those of you who are in EV-DO or faster areas may love this feature.
What it boils down to is this: The Centro is a device for anyone that wants a PDA phone without paying a PDA phone price. You get many of the same features found on the more expensive Palm OS Treos, and the only true caveat is that fat-fingered users need not apply. If this Centro were running Windows Mobile Standard (the OS formerly known as Smartphone), I would buy one today.
The Palm Centro is available from Sprint and other retailers.
MSRP: $99 subsidized ($399 without a plan),
What I Like: Solid little device; features one would expect in a more expensive PDA phone; brilliant high resolution screen; Palm OS is zippy as always; still uses typical Palm / Treo connector; price is really great for what you are getting; great form factor, fits comfortably in hand
What Needs Improvement: Keyboard will seem too small for those with fat fingers; not much tactile feedback in button cluster; 1.3 megapixel camera is barely adequate; the battery compartment door must be removed to perform a soft reset or to access the microSD slot