After Palm launched the Treo 500, it was apparent that the once business-focused company was starting to stretch its legs and make a run for the consumer world. The Centro is a further move into the consumer domain but is this smaller Palm device what consumer users really want? We spent some quality time with it to find out.
It's currently available SIM-free from the Palm Web site for around £200 and we've been informed that it will also be available soon on a major network for free with a monthly contract.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that the Centro was just a carbon copy of the Treo 500, but it's much smaller. It's not as thin as phones such as the RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8110, HTC S620 or Samsung i600, but it feels comfortable to hold while texting or making a call. It's also not too heavy or light and slips comfortably into a pocket.
Although the Centro's layout is almost identical to the Treo 500's, the full Qwerty keypad has a much more squashed design. While it's not difficult to use, the keypad isn't for the large-thumbed and you need to use the tips of your thumbs to type properly.
We like the large navigation key and large dedicated function keys but as with the Treo 500, we feel it's unnecessary to use up so much space for these keys. They could be smaller and free up some space to make the keypad larger. Interestingly, there is a well-sized on-screen keypad for dialling but not for texting.
The Centro's interface is straightforward: most of the icons make sense and they're all labelled clearly. You can navigate the menu using the Centro's navigation key or touchscreen but it's not always finger-friendly and you might find using the provided stylus is easier.
Although this phone is aimed squarely at the youth market, the Centro still has all the Palm features that you'd associate with a business phone including access to email -- Gmail and Yahoo -- as well as support for Microsoft Exchange and a third party document app that lets you view and edit Microsoft documents.
On the consumer front, there's a basic 1.3-megapixel camera that doesn't do anything spectacular. You can shoot pictures and video and send them to friends via Bluetooth, email or MMS. Palm hasn't included an LED photo light or a xenon flash, which is unfortunate for those wishing to take pictures in less than sunny conditions.
We were equally disappointed with the Centro's MP3 player. It isn't very intuitive but does let you set your music to shuffle and create playlists. There's no built-in 3.5mm jack for a standard pair of headphones or an adaptor in the box. It's also a shame that there's no stereo Bluetooth, but we can live without it.
Other apps include the Blazer browser, which is perfectly fine. We would have preferred to install Opera Mini, which you can't do as the Centro doesn't come with Java as standard, meaning that it won't initially support Java apps or games. We think it should've come preinstalled.
That said, there are a variety of apps that are specially designed for the Palm OS, which you can download instead of Java ones. Google's Mobile Maps comes preinstalled and we also tried a Garmin mobile sat-nav app, which worked well and allowed us to connect the Centro to a GPS receiver and use it as a sat-nav, which is useful.
What really lets the Centro down is the lack of Wi-Fi or 3G, which makes everything run slowly and cuts out a lot of potential functions, such as VoIP.
No muffling or distortion was apparent in audio quality during during calls or while using the loudspeaker. There were no surprises with the audio quality from the MP3 player either. We used a pair of Sennheiser CX 300s, which are great if you can only access a 2.5mm headphone jack.
Unsurprisingly, pictures from the 1.3-megapixel come out blurry and don't show up well in low light. Video is of an equally low quality. We really think Palm needs to up its game in the camera department if it's positioning itself as a consumer brand. The ability to take good pictures with a mobile is increasingly becoming a must-have feature.
Battery life is quoted at 4 hours talk time and 300 hours on standby. We found that it lasted for over two days before needing to be recharged.
While the Centro has had great success in the States, we just don't think it can compete with the plethora of smaller camera and music phones on offer in the UK that offer email functionality too. It's a nice device if you're a Palm veteran looking for a smaller phone or if you want a simple email phone, but in terms of its consumer features, we still think that Palm has a way to go before the Centro will attract young consumers in the UK.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday