Palm’s latest in its long line of smart phones is also its smallest, and probably its best looking.
It’s also returned to the Palm operating system that the company seemed to temporarily abandon with its recent run of Windows-based handsets (that would be the Treo 750v and 500v, in case you’re wondering).
Slim phone, streamlined features
It’s about time the company updated the Treo look, but while this comparatively sleek model has the good looks and petite proportions to look like a proper smart phone (as opposed to a PDA workhorse with a few phone apps tacked on), many of the features leave a lot to be desired.
There’s no 3G or Wi-Fi, for example, the 1.3-megapixel camera is below the standard you’d expect on a mid-range phone in 2008 and the music player could be kindly described as basic.
The screen is noticeably smaller than previous Palms but it’s plenty big enough for web browsing or viewing documents. A shame then that with 64,000 colours it’s not a bit sharper, though it’s certainly bright enough.
It’s touch-sensitive too, which gives a greater amount of options when scrolling through the menus, but it can be a nuisance switching between the hard keys and the virtual ones.
A closer look at the Centro's design
The Centro doesn’t feel as sturdily built as Treos of yore, the plastic battery cover on the back of our sample being creaky and feeling a bit loose. It can handle up to 4GB of MicroSD memory card, although you won’t find one of any stripe in the box.
The slot is on the side, fairly well camouflaged (we couldn’t find it until we took the back off) and quite fiddly to get into – but at least you don’t have to remove the battery. The too-flexible plastic stylus, meanwhile, which slips into a pocket on the top, is certainly practical but feels inexcusably cheap.
In typical Treo fashion, the snug QWERTY keypad includes the numerical keys and though the keys are crammed very close together, their protruding bulbous shape made from a sort of spongey plastic makes them distinctive enough to be easy to use.
They feel quite good too, and the D-ring with its central ‘Palm’ button and surrounding four soft keys are equally easy to use, with a minimum of slippage.
A switch on top switches off the ringer for meetings or other times when you don’t want to be disturbed.
Pressing the call end button brings on the key lock, which also comes on automatically if you leave the phone for 30 seconds, and there’s instant access to voice memos via the dedicated button on the side, below the volume buttons.
Camera and music player
The 1.3-megapixel camera with 2x digital zoom feels shabby and underpowered next to even the 2-megapixel models which already feel like minimum spec on a midprice phone.
There’s no flash and no quick access button to the camera either, which makes quick snaps more awkward than they should be, though at least there are various Palm picture-editing apps available if you’re prepared to go looking for them.
The pTunes music player will handle MP3 music files and allow you to sort them by artist, album, genre and playlist, but other than that it’s a very basic player.
The built-in loudspeaker on the back is actually pretty good – louder than most with a reasonable amount of bass, though it does come with a warning about its internal magnet, which could conceivably affect credit cards.
The supplied mono headphone however seems to have been hardly worth the effort – if you go to the trouble of including a music player on a phone, stereo headphones are a must, though you can always add a pair since the Centro uses a standard 3.5mm jack plug.
It also has A2DP Bluetooth for wireless listening.
Palm's excellent OS
Browsing the internet using the Blazer browser was surprisingly quick, although it took a little bit of getting used to – pressing the bottom rim of the D-ring for instance allows you to scroll down the page, but you’ll need to press the sides to move the cursor.
Finding the browser was a bit awkward too, since you have to scroll to the bottom of the menu page to find it.
Palm’s distinctive OS still has some things going for it. It is still awesomely easy to use and to find your way around, and of course there are masses of additional apps that you can add.
The provided software includes all four flavours of Office documents and Google Maps, which works perfectly well, though it’s with applications like this that the lack of a 3G or Wi-Fi connection becomes noticeable and irksome.
As with the Treos, Palm’s Versamail system is present and correct and a joy to use.
Will it win over the Treo users?
Battery power has been an occasional problem on various Palms, but the Centro’s seems decent enough, getting within spitting distance of the claimed four hours of talktime and 12-day standby.
The Centro could provide a better looking and more lightweight alternative to Palm Treo users with distorted pockets, but its underpowered spec is unlikely to win over new converts.
Ease of use