AT&T Palm Centro Review

Last fall, the Palm Centro was launched upon the U.S. on the Sprint network. Judie did a review of it and covered everything from the unboxing to her impressions of the device. Rather than repeat covering the basics of this device, I’m going to recommend that you take a look at her review here and here for a basic overview of using the Centro. Today, I plan to talk about the Centro on AT&T’s GSM network, AT&T highlights and additions to the Centro, and my impressions of the device and service.

Most import, for some folk, is the fact that Centro appears on the AT&T network in a brand new color – Glacier White. You’re either going to love the white with green combination or you’re going to hate it. I actually find it kind of interesting.

Let’s take a quick review of some of the specifications for this device. To start, this version of the Centro is running on the AT&T network. As such, it’s a quad-band GSM “world” phone (850/900/1800/1900 MHz). It’s also important to note here that this is NOT a 3G device, it’s EDGE service only for data.

Physically, it’s sort of a large “candy bar” type phone, weighing in at 4.23 ounces with dimensions of 4.2in (high) by 2.1in (wide) x 0.73in (thick). The phone has, of course a full, albeit very small, QWERTY keyboard.

The Centro is a “traditional” Palm phone running Palm OS 5.4.9 on a reasonable 312MHz Intel processor. For memory they gave us 64MB RAM with 64MB non-volatile flash. It can handle a MicroSD card (up to 4GB).

The screen is the standard Palm 320 by 320 display, but a little smallish 2.2” package with a 64K color depth.

Lastly, the Centro on GSM manages 4 hours of talk time with up to 10 days of standby running on the standard Palm 1150mAh battery.

AT&T Additions
AT&T doesn’t really give you a lot of freebies with the Centro, but they do have a number of features and options available. They do include an IM app that works with AOL’s AIM, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo! Messaging services.

They give you 2 choices for email – XpressMail, or VersaMail. The main difference is that VersaMail has MS Exchange support.

They include the option to install Telenav (an add-on GPS service which is available for use for an additional monthly charge).

Also included is the application for AT&T’s PPT (push-to-talk) service and MobiTV service.

For web browsing, the device includes the standard Palm browser – Blazer.

For music playback, they included Pocket Tunes Deluxe (choose Music Player to run this program). AT&T offers Music ID service for $3.99 a month. For those that don’t know, this is a service that allows you to “hold the phone up to the audio and the service will attempt to determine what song it is hearing. They do include a 3 day trial of this service.

They also include the same 1.3mp camera as well as Camera and Camcorder apps included on previous Palm devices. There is no flash on the camera.

Lastly, AT&T includes access to the AT&T Mall so you can buy ring tones, graphics, etc. all in one place, directly from AT&T. Generally these run from $1.99 to $2.49.

There are a few things I really like about the Centro. I actually like the white color and the green number pad offset. The number pad stands out nicely, lit or unlit. I like the feel of this budget-range Palm model. I appreciate the relatively clean design of the Centro.

I was pleased with the call quality, which was up to the level I’ve come to expect from Treos. I had excellent coverage, even in areas where signal quality is usually a little weak. I was really pleased with the performance of the Centro in these areas.

There are a number of things that concern me. To start with, the MicroSD card doesn’t appear to support SDHC (hence AT&T indicates card support up to 4GB). Although this isn’t really geared toward power users, some with question the lack of support for cheaper SDHC cards. While I’m mentioning the card, the fact that it’s hidden under the battery cover is really a problem. In actuality, it’s behind a panel on the side of the phone, but to get that panel open, you must remove the battery cover first. And just like on the more upscale Treos, the card door panel is a little too flimsy for my liking – I think it will break off if used too frequently.

While I’m mentioning the outer case, I’m a little concerned that this pretty shell will scratch a little too easily, especially in the hands of the younger person it is likely target toward. That said, it’s lower price point might make such things a little more acceptable since it can be relatively inexpensively replaced.

I had other difficulties. The keyboard is really designed for kids or teenagers, I guess, because it is much too small for my hands to use it comfortably. I had to hit the keys with my fingernails, and, quite frankly, the rubberized keys are not likely to hold up for any time under constant fingernail key presses without becoming chewed up. And, like Judie, I found the D-pad a little difficult to use and, my big hands had difficulty pressing the center button without also hitting one direction or another on the D-Pad.

I also had a problem with the placement of the earpiece. To hear clearly, I had to hold the phone in an uncomfortable position — too far down on my ear. I would really need to use this with a Bluetooth headset to be able to tolerate it for any amount of time. Again, I really think it was designed with someone smaller than myself in mind.

Some folk are going to criticize the device for using the outdated Palm OS, but, there’s still a lot of people who are fold of the simplicity and wide application availability for the Palm platform, and as an entry-level smartphone, the Centro is reasonably equipped and reasonably powerful. It doesn’t include WiFi, but again, I really consider this is a budget device. As such, I think the PalmOS is a fine choice. If you want more power or options, there are other, more upscale choices.

Unfortunately, I really didn’t get to try most of the add-in AT&T services, but many of them are available on other phones, and other carriers and have been widely reviewed in the past.

Overall, despite my concerns, I still like the Centro a lot. It’s an entry-level PDA/smartphone that includes the options and flexibility of a smartphone while still coming in at a reasonable price. I like the clean design of the Centro, even though it was a bit small for my hands. I suspect that this phone will be very popular with a younger crowd (despite the experience Judie reports!) and those who are not enamored with the higher price point of an iPhone. In any case, this phone is definitely interesting and cool enough to be worth a look!

Although the Centro has an MSRP of $349.99, the AT&T Centro is available for an online price of $99.99, but you have to sign up for a 2 year contract and you have to fork out $199.99 first, then send in for a $100.00 mail-in rebate to get it at that price. Additionally, there are the usual assortment of AT&T add-in services and voice and data offerings for PDA phones including Telenav (GPS) service for $5.99 (10 routes/month) or $9.99 (unlimited routes), the MusicID service for $3.99 per month, not to mention their new $99.99 unlimited voice plan.

What I Like:The design is very clean and pleasant. The sound quality was generally excellent and on par with more expensive devices. The signal strength was strong and remained very consistent.

What Needs Improvement:The case is likely to become scuffed up easily. The device must be held awkardly to hear clearly. The rubbery keyboard won’t hold up well to fingernail typing. Keyboard is really too small for moderate to larger hands/fingers.

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29 Responses to “The AT&T Palm Centro Review”
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1 Wayne Schulz
Feb 20th, 2008 at 5:08 am
Thanks Chris – great review. Two questions that I had as I read:

1. Do you know if the Instant Message App that AT&T ships uses DATA or SMS text. There’s a big difference because using SMS would almost always force someone to get an unlimited SMS plan for extra $$ versus the Data which would truly give unlimited IM.

2. I think AT&T gets you $ 30 per month for PDA Connect Data — which I’m reading (though having trouble verifying) is mandatory when you buy the phone. So it appears that the difference between a Centro and iPhone is only the initial device price — the ongoing data costs are still expensive.

BTW, I picked up a neat trick on Howardforums which I haven’t tried but the poster claims works to ditch the $30/mo data and pickup a $15/mo data plan. I’m unaware what limitations (if any) the $15/mo plan may have versus the $30 — just an interesting trick…

Via Howardforums:

” They temporarily lock you into the data plan. The trick is to put a SIM card into a regular phone (like an old Moto V3). Wait about 10-30 minutes, log into your OLAM [Note: This means online account management — login via] , the system should recognize your regular phone and when you click on add/manage features, they should let you downgrade to the $15 unlimited media net plan.

You may have to wait up to a day for the OLAM to update your phones status. I know this trick works because I gave my financee my Motorola Q9 and they would not let me switch her from the PDA plane ($30). However, I put my an old V180 (regular phone) waited a couple of hours and relogged into the OLAM and it had the $15 data plan available.

Remember, you aren’t going to qualify for any rebates if you switch your data plan before they cut your the Visa Check Card rebate. Can’t have the best of both worlds! “

2 Wayne Schulz
Feb 20th, 2008 at 5:17 am
PS – How quaint that this is an EDGE device. People knock Sprint, but darn at least their phones are EVDO — I think almost all of them. Poor AT&T is still kicking around with EDGE.

It’s even worse.

When I look at the 3G coverage map for my town — the AT&T High Speed is terrible — the coverage layout looks like something out of the 1970’s — with huge gaps everywhere statewide.

3 runningman
Feb 20th, 2008 at 5:47 am
Wayne, I picked up one of these for my daughter a couple of days ago (they were in the local AT&T store at least two days before the formal release date), and I tried in vein to buy it without the data plan, no go. The data plan for this phone is a must. We also have an unlimited messaging (family) plan. On the up side, at least for once I finally know what my monthly bill will be!

4 Wayne Schulz
Feb 20th, 2008 at 5:53 am
For $30 per month I would not worry as much if the speed were at least half way decent — but you get crippled with the poky EDGE speeds (I have an iPhone on the same plan via AT&T so I share your pain).

I think this is a cute design – but for only $200 more out of pocket at point of purchase (I believe the Centro requires a mail in rebate to get $100 back) I am really curious why your daughter wouldn’t go with an iPhone (save for the initial purchase difference of about $200)?

After all the big $$ item with these phones is the recurring monthly bill for service. I just got my first “regular” iPhone bill — $87 — I’m on the $39 plan plus $30 data plus SMS and 7pm NW.

5 Christopher Gavula
Feb 20th, 2008 at 7:22 am
Thanks Wayne,

Although I didn’t originally explicitly call out the EDGE-only service, I’ve now edited the review to state it clearly that this is not a 3G device. To be fair, I’m not necessarily expecting 3G services at this end of the device spectrum either.

EDGE service doesn’t really bother me all that much, no one really offers 3G service in my area of the country anyway and I find iPhone EDGE service much more acceptable than EDGE service on a WinMo device (browsing is tolerable on the iPhone, painful on WinMo). Blazer on the Centro was acceptable, but not as fast as the iPhone.

Having said that, with AT&T’s stated plans to greatly expand 3G coverage this year, you’d hope they’d release more 3G devices, but, again, this is more of an entry-level device, not a high-end device, so I don’t think it’s as much of an issue as it would be if I’d paid a lot more for the device.

Although I’m not 100% certain, the IM service requires that you have data service, but a text messaging plan is not a requirement (you could pay for text messaging per message). Additionally, text and IM services are mentioned separately in all product literature, and no mention is made of text messaging charges with respect to IM, so I’m suspecting that they are using data service, not SMS to accomplish IM, but I would strongly recommend confirming with AT&T. I will look into it further as well and report on what I find.

I should also point out that eligibility for the rebate appears to be dependent on buying a data and/or text plan as part of your service.

The $15 plan you mention is what used to be known as the MediaNet plan. It was supposed to be used for messaging (SMS, MMS, email only – mostly for phones like the RAZR) where the full PDA connect plan was requirement for a PDA like a Treo or 8125/Tilt/etc. Although it wasn’t rigidly enforced, it could be considered a breach of your terms of use if you bought the MediaNet plan when you should have been paying for the PDA connect plan. Now, they offer a $30 PDA connect plan that DOES NOT include tethering or a $60 plan that DOES include tethering. There were a lot of debates on the Howard forums and even the AT&T forums about plan requirements for PDA phones!

Overall, I think the $20 unlimited iPhone data plan (tethering isn’t an option on an iPhone, of course) is a better deal, especially when attached to a family voice plan.
6 questionfear
Feb 20th, 2008 at 8:18 am
Keep in mind that with a Palm OS device it’s not that AT&T is being cheap, it’s that Palm OS Garnet cannot handle simultaneous voice and data, hence being stuck at EDGE on the GSM spectrum. There is no indication they intend to fix this, so if you want 3G Palm OS you need EV-DO (before it goes to Rev A) or sit tight until Palm OS II.

Which makes AT&T’s requiring the more expensive data plan ridiculous.

7 runningman
Feb 20th, 2008 at 8:33 am
Chris, I think you’re correct about the data plan supporting IM. I have NEVER allowed my daughters to use IM on the phone (only SMS) due to the download charges. This new phone clearly looks like it is using the data service to support IM.

Wayne, I agree wholeheartedly about the iPhone. Why on earth would anyone with a choice pass up the iPhone for the Centro (esecially when Dad is paying for it)? I actually offered that option to her (yes, she’s a great kid with excellent grades and I am obviously gadget impaired).

Her answer was well, perhaps not something that either of us can relate to – although you hit part of it on the head with your comments already. She said the Centro is cool looking, great color (white), makes it easy to sync music to her phone (Palm software), is perfect for IM (she does not like the iPhone touch screen keyboard at all – nor does she even have an email address – and doesn’t wear a watch for that matter), EVERYBODY has one, and iPhones are for ‘old geeks’ – which translates to something that I’m going to leave to your imagination. Ouch. Apparently, the iPhone is passe already with the sub 20 set. Wow, do things change quickly. Go figure.

8 Wayne Schulz
Feb 20th, 2008 at 8:45 am
Two Words (and I’m ducking as I type this because I’m such a broken record on this):

Sprint Sero


$ 30/mo = 500 voice, 7pm NW, unlimited SMS, MMS, EVDO REV A Data

This plan blows even the unlimited plans announced yesterday out of the water because the vast majority of people don’t need unlimited voice — they need unlimited text and/or data.

Oh, and did I mention for $30 / mo you can use PDANET to tether your device and get about 700k (I’m paying Verizon $65/mo and getting only slighly higher — 1.2 to 1.5 mb)

I’ll stop now because I am such a broken record on this but wanted to add the info in case anyone was thinking of a Centro and didn’t know about the Sprint deal.

9 Christopher Gavula
Feb 20th, 2008 at 9:45 am
I’ll become a little bit of a broken record too, but I’ll say that Sprint services aren’t for everyone. They don’t work well in every market (who does?).

Additionally, I tend to avoid Sprint and Verizon on principle. I have always diskliked that they chose a proprietary, locked technology for their services. If Qualcomm would open up CDMA and make it an open standard rather than a proprietary one, I’d be much more supportive of carriers that utilize it. GSM (used by T-Mobile and AT&T) is a standard, not a proprietary technology.

Okay – there’s my soapbox speech for the day! Boy, do I feel better now!
10 questionfear
Feb 20th, 2008 at 9:56 am
Even if Qualcomm opened up CDMA, I think that ship has sailed. With Verizon committing to LTE (which has evolved out of/is connected to GSM), and the USA and parts of Asia being the only CDMA holdouts left, it’s a little late to save the standard. Too much of the world has gone or will go GSM.

And honestly, that’s what worries me most about Palm (to get somewhat on topic). They’ve pushed so much into the CDMA version of Palm OS, but by not working to get 3G into Garnet they lost a HUGE chunk of the Euro market to windows mobile (even their OWN windows mobile devices!); will those carriers really want to re-support Palm OS? Will customers who shunned Palm OS for it’s lack of 3G AND lack of wifi return?

11 Judie Lipsett
Feb 20th, 2008 at 9:59 am
I’ll become a little bit of a broken record too, but I’ll say that Sprint services aren’t for everyone. They don’t work well in every market (who does?).


I just dumped all the Sprint phones in my home and paid the fees to break the contracts because of all the dropped calls – SEVEN in one conversation a couple weeks ago!

If your Sprint service is good, then they are a great company to do business with, and their customer service is great. But in my case, calls would inexplicably and constantly drop when I was in my home – which is in a great coverage area (albeit not even an EV DO one). Since I do much of my work from home with my mobile being my primary number, this was inexcusable.

BTW – this came after working with them about the problem since last May, and I still had to pay to break the contracts. No, I am not bitter.

Now, about the Centro: One of my collegiates has a pink Centro (obviously Sprint). We had a retreat last weekend, and my iPhone was laying next to my (now on eBay) Mogul, and Becca’s Centro. Several girls commented on all the tech laying on the counter – but every one of them picked up Becca’s Centro to get a better look. I think the Centro has hit its target market. We just aren’t necessarily it.

As far as not having 3G – perhaps it has to do with better battery life? Which was Steve Job’s excuse…right?

12 jessica
Feb 20th, 2008 at 10:08 am
Hmmm, I am kind of hoping that the Centro makes it to T-Mobile as well. My husband really REALLY wants a smartphone, but he doesn’t need a super powerful one–just something he can sync his calendar with, email with, and of course play games on! I have been encouraging him towards the T-Mo Dash, but he really likes the look of the Centro and was bummed that it was Sprint-only there for awhile. Hope springs eternal!

13 Judie Lipsett
Feb 20th, 2008 at 10:14 am
jessica, in person the Centro is very cute – but also petite. If your husband has larger hands, he might want to play with a Centro in the store for a while before he commits. Assuming they are eventually coming to T-Mo, of course.

Jerry held the AT&T Centro for the first time at our CES meeting with Palm, and he really liked it. He was able to tap on the keyboard with no problem, but his hands aren’t overly large.

I might be tempted to buy one today if it ran WM Standard (smartphone) or Pro (Pocket PC) at that $99 price point…but that’s just me.

14 questionfear
Feb 20th, 2008 at 10:17 am
@ Judie-

The Centro does not have 3G because Palm OS CANNOT process GSM 3G. It’s not battery life, or pricing, or anything like that. Palm OS Garnet is not advanced enough to handle voice/data simultaneously, which is how 3G GSM (UMTS and HSDPA) function. So it’s a software incapability that will never be fixed.

15 Judie Lipsett
Feb 20th, 2008 at 10:20 am
@questionfear – sorry, I was being cheeky when I said that and it didn’t translate well.

16 jessica
Feb 20th, 2008 at 10:23 am
@Judie, that’s what I was worried about. Husband has big hands and the Centro’s buttons looked pretty small. I guess if they do end up at T-Mo there will be extensive testing involved. And if they do end up at T-Mo and there’s a pink one, well, I may not be able to withstand the cuteness myself.

17 Judie Lipsett
Feb 20th, 2008 at 10:26 am
@jessica – the buttons are small…much smaller and closer together than those on your JAQ3!

18 Joel McLaughlin
Feb 20th, 2008 at 10:27 am
Batter battery life??? THREE of my recent Verizon phones have had EVDO on it. It’s just as fast as the Sprint card we use at work here. In fact, my new enV seems faster then my old RAZR. Battery life is even better on my enV then any other phone I have used in the last 2 years. Mobile Web browsing is pretty speedy too and downloads from Vcast music (some free stuff on it) is not bad. I don’t by the battery life argument anymore. Granted, when I am hitting Mobile Web alot, it does go down faster, but I have only ever had it drop to 2 bars and I just charge it then anyway so I don’t run out. I need to let it go down lower just to see how much I can get out of it.

19 jessica
Feb 20th, 2008 at 10:28 am
@judie YIPES!!! That *is* small!!! Sometimes I even mis-type on the good ol’ JAQ3, and I have tiny little hands. Now I just have to see how dwarf-like the Centro looks in my husband’s big paws. LOL

20 oops46
Feb 21st, 2008 at 6:38 pm
Wow…another Palm Phone; from a company that is almost dead. Same old operating system; which, in fringe areas, translates into dropped calls, dropped calls, dropped calls….

21 Judie Lipsett
Feb 21st, 2008 at 6:43 pm
“Same old operating system; which, in fringe areas, translates into dropped calls, dropped calls, dropped calls….”

That could just as easily be your carrier – not the OS.

22 oops46
Feb 21st, 2008 at 10:20 pm
Judy Lipsett says “That could just as easily be your carrier – not the OS”
Well……..I have had palm phones on both AT&T, and Verizon. On AT&T, if one removes the “sim” card from the Palm, and would put it into an HTC 8525, and makes calls for the exact same spot and the call goes through, is the phone or is it the carrier? This test was not repeated not only once, but several times in many locations; the same result.
On Verizon, the same test was completed with a Palm and a Motorola “Q.” S-S-D-D. At what point in time, does one stop blaming the carriers for everything?
When one pays for a phone whether it be Palm, Motorola, or Sony Ericsson, one has a reasonable assumption that an adequate transceiver would be implemented to do what a phone is supposed to do. One should not expect to exchange 4 or 5 phones in order to perhaps get one to work. And when one calls the carrier and inquires as to which phone brand causes the most problems and the responces forthwith are identical from each, one wonders, especially with Palm, what part of the word “Quality,” they don’t understand?
“Sponsor Love” is one thing; “Sponsor Blindness” is entirely something different.

23 Judie Lipsett
Feb 21st, 2008 at 10:27 pm
When one pays for a phone whether it be Palm, Motorola, or Sony Ericsson, one has a reasonable assumption that an adequate transceiver would be implemented to do what a phone is supposed to do. One should not expect to exchange 4 or 5 phones in order to perhaps get one to work.

You are preaching to the choir here, but you are also talking to someone (namely ME) who just dumped a carrier for crap coverage on several phones in a row. Sorry if I happen to think that sometimes it is the carrier…but sometimes it really is.

“Sponsor Love” is one thing; “Sponsor Blindness” is entirely something different.

Palm isn’t a sponsor, and you will find plenty of criticism here, as well as praise when it is deserved.

24 oops46
Feb 21st, 2008 at 10:57 pm
Judy says”You are preaching to the choir here, but you are also talking to someone (namely ME) who just dumped a carrier for crap coverage on several phones in a row. Sorry if I happen to think that sometimes it is the carrier…but sometimes it really is.”

I am not criticizing here, nor am I finding fault with anything you or anyone else states; I am merely stating an opinion that in my case, and in my case only, I have found Palm to be less than honorable. I am sure that your horror story with Sprint is indeed one that we should be made aware of and for that, I do thank you. I would not even bother to read this site if you were not writing for it; I have followed your missives from the days back at The Gageteer and have always enjoyed your writings. Many times, it becomes so easy to shoot the messenger rather than the message but I do believe that I have the right to dissent from a review or come with a different view from any expressed. It not done from meanness nor is it done from trying to “get even,” just done from honesty as I see it. As such, anyone has just as much right to critisize me, for my opinions.

25 Judie Lipsett
Feb 21st, 2008 at 11:04 pm
I do believe that I have the right to dissent from a review or come with a different view from any expressed.

Absolutely. I bristled at the sponsor statement in all honesty, but no harm done. Friends?

26 oops46
Feb 21st, 2008 at 11:09 pm

27 Wayne Schulz
Feb 22nd, 2008 at 6:38 am
– > “Sponsor Love” is one thing; “Sponsor Blindness” is entirely something different.…..he-centro/

The very first time that I laid hands on it, I think I was pretty critical that it wasn’t going to replace anyone’s Treo (see the final few paragraphs).

Also check out the comments of a lot of the Palm/Centro/Foleo reviews — as I remember those are no holds barred.

I would have to search but I think some of us were exceptionally harsh on the Foleo as well — most of that comes through in the comments section — unless a reviewer notices a problem with a device personal opinions are usually better left to the comments.

One of my big problems with smartphones — is you wind up loading so many third party add-ons (especially dangerous for an OS like Palm which may require a lot of tricks to make it jump through the hoops third parties want) — and it can make the phone unstable.

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