Palm Centro Review

Michael’s got something in his trousers that he’d like to share with you…

When I put my hand in my pocket I tend to find myself fondling something very special to me, something that the more I use, the more I like. Now, I know what you're thinking and quite frankly you should be ashamed of yourself, what I'm talking about here is the Centro - a low cost, simple smartphone from Palm.

I have to admit that for years I've avoided these kind of devices, I tend to use an average mobile phone normally until it falls apart. I've not ever felt the need to have an office away from the office so the appeal just wasn't there. And it's users such as myself that Palm are targeting with the Centro. Lets have a closer look.

First Impressions

The first thing that struck me when Palm introduced the Centro to me was the gadgets size, it's visibly smaller than a normal smartphone, in fact it's not that much bigger than my normal mobile. Palm has obviously spent some time thinking about the Centro's styling, important when targeting the 16-30 year old market as it needs to stand up to the standards from both ends of the spectrum.

Palm have approached this by concentrating on the phones styling and feature set, the most ephemeral being producing the Centro in several different colours, my model sports a nice professional looking black finish with silver trim. Other colour options are red, navy blue and an all white/grey. It is clear though, that when designing the Centro Palm took the stance of making its styling as simple as possible, so while the Centro has a full qwerty keyboard as well as other shortcut keys it almost appears to have a minimalist design, which is a good thing.

The second and possibly the most striking part of the Centro's appearance I noticed was the size of its screen, being so used to the relatively small screens used on the majority of mobiles the Centros looks massive. And to be honest, it is quite large - but with good reason.

In use

The Centro, being from Palm has a heritage of smartphones with a feature rich history to look back upon, and the Centro hasn’t been left out, even if it is a more consumer targeted device. The Centro has a touch sensitive screen, to be controlled by the included stylus.

The screen is clear and bright and the ability to roam around the Centro's menus and functions via the touch screen makes usage easy and intuitive. But I do feel that Palm could have done more with this feature. Considering that there are other devices out on the market that use touch screens - the iPhone being the most widely known of them - and use them to their full advantage I find it surprising that Palm didn't invest a little more time into making this the Centro's killer feature. A good case in point is surfing the internet, with a good connection the Blazer browser works perfectly, rendering most websites properly, or at least to a good enough standard but when the page is loaded it scrolls off screen both sideways and lengthways. While it would have been nice to have the page scale down I can live without it, what I did expect to be able to do is drag and scroll around the pages, to me this appears  the most useful way of navigating a page using the stylus and seemed odd that I couldn't do this, instead it's down to the scroll bar arrows - a slow process. Perhaps I wouldn't have missed this feature if I hadn't already used it, after taking a photograph on the Centro and viewing it afterwards using those very methods.

Now, anyone within the 16-30 age bracket that Palm are targeting with the Centro will be more than aware of text messaging and emails. Well, if you do either on a regular basis you're in luck as the Centro not only comes with the usual mobile technologies such as bluetooth but also comes with email software (you'll need a contract that allows data transfers), so you'll be in touch with those that matter twenty-four hours a day - sounds like hell.

If however, this sounds you’re your idea of heaven, you'll also be pleased with the full qwerty keyboard that comes with the Centro. Palm have boasted the Centro is their smallest ever smartphone and this is in no small part down to the size of the keys. They are tiny but while I had reservations about them at first it quickly became apparent that the keyboard is in fact very easy to use and also has backlighting so writing that all important email to yourself at the dead of night is a snitch.

The simplicity of the Centro’s design has been extended to the user interface, especially the desktop which consists of an area providing you with the basics – such as time, date, battery Bluetooth and the phones flight mode status (on or off). A large area is given to a wallpaper design and below that is a menu bar made up of five buttons, these are: Keypad – so you can dial using the touch screen, Favourites – a menu that provides access to the most commonly used applications on the phone, such as the music player, camera, web, google search email, etc. The middle button brings you back to the default desktop, the fourth is your contacts list and the fifth provides a call log. All nice and simple.

Added Extras?

As with all mobiles today the ability to just make calls and send messages isn’t enough. The Centro is no exception to this rule and comes loaded with extras as part of the Palm OS that lives at the very core of the phone. These however, consist of extra functions, things that you may use everyday rather than just for fun such as google maps, camcorder, calendar. Missing are the apps that will appeal to the younger market such as games and ridiculously, the ability to turn a music file into a ringtone. Although there is a basic music player. All is not lost though because as the the centro is powered by the palm 5 operating system and there are hundreds, if not thousands of applications available to download from the web.

One application that we should keep an eye on however, is VoiceDial, which as you’d expect allows you to dial people and command the phone via your voice. OK, nothing new there, this technology has been around for quite some time now but has had a tendency to be a bit poor. VoiceDial is actually quite good at it though and while I still reckon it’s quicker to navigate via the stylus this does have some potential. Although it does struggle with my English accent a bit, chances are that if you originate from the other side of the pond your experience of this will be much smoother.

The Centro is a good, easy to use smartphone. Features such as the touch screen, expansion of storage and the ability to get your email on the move go a long way to making this an incredibly desirable product. It's let down though by a sense that the thinking behind it didn't go far enough, to market a mobile to the mid-teens through twenties and not include the ability to turn an mp3 into a ringtone is just shortsighted. Overall, the Centro deserves its four stars, it is a very good phone and anyone who gets one will wonder how they got along without one before and may even find themselves upgrading to a pricier model. If Palm went that bit further though this would have given contenders such as the iPhone a real run for their money.