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Palm Centro - The Mini Treo For The Masses

After spending a couple of hours with the new Palm Centro – announced by Palm yesterday at the Digital Life show in NYC – my first impressions are that the device can successfully and proudly claim to deliver a revolutionary new form factor with the first, smallest and lightest smartphone in the world featuring both a high resolution touchscreen and full QWERTY keyboard in a candy bar form factor.

Palm Centro in Black & Red

Everyone in the smartphone ecosystem can clearly see that the combination of these hardware design features (size, weight, touchscreen, keyboard and overall form factor) make the Centro a truly innovative, unique even revolutionary device (along the lines of the original Treo 600) – one which it is important to note none of Palm’s much larger and more resourceful competitors (such as RIM, Motorola and Nokia) have been able to achieve to date.  

This candy bar smartphone form factor with a full QWERTY keyboard is actually a bit of a “Holy Grail” in the industry – one that finally allows Palm to have a device that will appeal to a vast audience that had heretofore been unwilling to consider buying a smartphone specifically because they were put off by the size and weight of the devices.  The fact that Palm’s stock rose by 6% in a single day following the announcement also clearly demonstrates that the market understands the potential upside of this.

Again, from a hardware perspective, the Palm Centro is a very attractive, solid and extremely well built device that has left me and many others impressed – the new rubber-sheet keyboard is not only a fantastic innovation but also surprisingly fast and easy to use; the microSD expansion slot is elegantly hidden by the side; the touchscreen may be small but it packs a full 320x320 resolution; lots of internal memory and additional memory expansion with microSD; EVDO wireless connectivity; the fantastic silent slider first introduced by Palm on the Treo 600 is still there; the dedicated hard buttons and 5Way navigation; there’s a new lanyard clip at the bottom right of the device and finally we have a smooth high quality plastic used for the body that feels great in your hands.

The Palm Centro is essentially a mini version of the Treo 680 or Treo 755p (which still annoyingly makes me wonder why they had to call it Centro instead of Treo) as it delivers all of the functionality of these higher end and more expensive smartphones without any hardware compromises (see specifications below) and actually a few unique additional software features such as Sprint’s IM client.  Given this fact, it’s actually very likely that I will be upgrading my Treo 680 to the Palm Centro as soon as a GSM version becomes available (I’ll explain my rationale for this in a separate post).

BASIC SPECIFICATIONS:

  • Form factor: Candy bar; slimmest form factor with full QWERTY keyboard, five-way navigation button and internal antenna design
  • Colors: Ruby Red and Onyx Black
  • Dimensions: 2.1” W x 4.2” H x .7” D
  • Weight: 4.2 ounces – 119 grams (with battery)
  • Operating System: Palm OS 5.4.9
  • Power: Intel XScale processor 312 MHz
  • Memory: 128 MB of ROM / 64 MB RAM
  • MicroSD Card Slot:  Accommodates up to 4GB SD card (sold separately)
  • Digital Dual-band: CDMA (1900mHz and 800 MHz)
  • Data: Sprint 1x-EV-DO (Rev. 0) and 1XRTT
  • Web Browser: Blazer v4.5.8
  • Battery Specifications: Standard rechargeable Li-Ion (1150 mAh)
  • Talk time: Up to 3.5 hours continuous digital talk time
  • Full-color touch-screen: Vibrant 1.56” x 1.56” TFT display with 65K colors and 320 x 320 color pixel resolution

FEATURES:

  • Sprint Mobile Broadband with Power Vision: Experience EV-DO Rev. 0 data speeds averaging up to 400-700 kbps and peak speeds up to 2.0 Mbps when accessing Sprint Power Vision services and content. Supported Power Vision applications include:
    • On-Demand: Retrieve customized, up-to-date web content such as sports, weather, news, money and movie information with the push of a button. 
    • Sprint TV: Sprint Power Vision allows you to watch live TV – from channels you know - on the go with full-motion video and vivid sound at broadband-like speeds
    • Sprint Picture Mail: Take, save, publish and share quality digital pictures and videos.
  • 1.3 Megapixel Camera/Camcorder: 1.3 MP camera with 2X digital zoom and video capture.  
  • Phone as Modem: Take advantage of Sprint Mobile Broadband on your laptop by using your smart device as a wireless modem (USB cable included). Requires appropriate service plan.
  • Built-in Bluetooth Wireless Technology (v. 1.2): When used with your Sprint Phone and compatible accessories, Bluetooth allows fast, secure transmission without cables or wires, even though the two devices are not in line-of-sight.  Bluetooth wireless accessories sold separately.
  • Software Applications: Includes standard Palm OS productivity tools such as calendar, contacts, memo and tasks. Also includes a world clock, calculator, memo pad and alarm clock.
  • Google Maps Mobile: mapping application so users can get directions, perform local searches and view moveable/scalable maps, location satellite imagery and traffic updates while on the go.
  • Instant Messaging: Sprint’s IM client delivers Yahoo!, AOL IM and Messenger IM available on the go. This is in addition to the SMS text messaging that is always included on Palm Smart Devices.
  • Enhanced Attachment Viewing: Documents to Go (version 10) offers Microsoft® Office compatibility. Download, view and edit Word and Excel compatible files; rehearse PowerPoint® presentations anywhere; consult important PDFs on the go.
  • Data Transfer Mode (DTM): Set in the default position allowing users in an active data session to be notified of incoming voice calls, rather than having them go automatically to voicemail. Data session is suspended when incoming calls are picked up.
  • Wireless Email: Supported email clients include Sprint Mobile Email and VersaMail. Send and receive email from multiple corporate and personal email accounts. Get wireless email access to popular commercial POP3 and IMAP accounts like AOL, Gmail, Earthlink and Yahoo! Versamail application right out of the box allows wireless access to Outlook email with a direct connection to Microsoft Exchange Server 2003.
  • On-Device User’s Guide: Located in the Quick Tour and My Centro sections, customers can view the full User’s Guide right from their device, providing convenient access to tips, troubleshooting techniques and how-to instructions.
  • Pocket Tunes Deluxe: Gives users more ways to access their favorite tunes on your Treo no matter where you are. Seamlessly integrated with your phone, users will find Pocket Tunes intuitive and easy-to-use. 
  • Mobile Voice Control: Use the Nuance voice control to respond to email, text messages, look up a contact or browse the Web. 
  • Voice/Memo Recorder: Record verbal reminders and ideas with built-in voice recorder.
  • Built-In speakerphone: Hands-free operation made easy
  • TTY Compatible: This phone connects to a TTY device, allowing anyone who is hearing impaired the ability communicate.

Having said all this, I can understand the main reason why existing Treonauts will be disappointed as the Palm Centro is clearly not the new high-end device that everybody is waiting for (with a new OS, GPS, WiFi, etc) and to a lesser extent also the fact that Palm has made only minimal software improvements to the Palm Centro from the earlier Treo 680 and Treo 755p.  These same existing Treonauts should nonetheless be excited to see that the Centro hardware design shows that Palm has not lost its edge and points to what future high-end Treo smartphone form factors (large and small) may also look like.

Overall the Palm Centro is a terrific device whose core achievement is undeniably the design of a revolutionary new smartphone form factor.  It’s true that its OS and software are a bit aged but it provides a robust solution that I still gladly use every day as well as access to a vast set of additional third-party software applications to further enhance your smartphone experience – a combination that few if any other competing devices can claim to have.

Treonauts are always revolutionary


Posted by Andrew on September 28, 2007 at 01:10 PM

Palm Centro

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Comments

1
by jaajaa | Sep 28, 2007 1:29:11 PM

What makes this less of a model and less expensive than a 755p?

2
by Andrew | Sep 28, 2007 1:47:55 PM

jaajaa - aside from a smaller form factor the Palm Centro is actually pretty much identical to the Treo 755p. What makes it less expensive are the smaller screen, battery and other components but aside from this Palm has definitely not "cheapened" this device.

Cheers, A.

3
by slumptin | Sep 28, 2007 3:33:01 PM

This looks pretty cool and all, but why do they always release so many products for the CDMA networks? Aren't there more GSM networks around the world? I thought we here in the US were just about the only ones with these CDMA networs. I'm asking because I'm a Cingulas customer, and I've been waiting (hoping? prraying?) for a PalmOS Treo with SDHC card support and 3G capabilities. Basically, a 680 with 3G is all I need! The 750 has 3G, but also has that horrible Windows Mobile, and those silly little microSD (mini? whatever!) cards that don't hold enough. I mean, really!! Sprint and/or Verizon here in the states have had the 700p/w/wx AND the doggone 755p. Now they get the Centro??!? What gives with that? Won't they reach more of an audience if they release the GSM version? I just don't get it...

4
by Andrew | Sep 28, 2007 3:46:59 PM

slumptin - this time there will definitely be a GSM version of the Palm Centro as leaked pictures of this have already appeared. In the US it will have to wait for 90 days after Sprint's exclusivity period (Oct 14 to Jan 14) and for the rest of the world it could be sooner. Additionally, I think that the release of so many Palm devices with Sprint just demonstrates the close partnership that both companies have. (Now if only Verizon could also get its act together...).

Cheers, A.

5
by signaldawg | Sep 28, 2007 3:59:53 PM

Andrew, I currently have a 650. Taking into consideration price, functionality, size and that I'm already a Sprint customer, this should be my next Palm smartphone. Unless the battery life is just dreadfully shorter than my 650, I don't see any reason not to go with this. These screens and keyboards are not meant to be full time media viewers and emailers/document producers. Am I missing some other shortcoming that this device might have compared to the 755(my other good choice for my next device)?

6
by Andrew | Sep 28, 2007 4:50:58 PM

signaldawq - your rationale for thinking about moving to the Palm Centro is very similar to mine.

I want and need a full keyboard for the increased ease-of-use that it affords but because I do not spend my time writing long emails or documents (something that the larger keyboard on the Treo 755p/680 is more suited for) I feel that the mini keyboard (perfectly usable) and overall smaller and slimmer form factor of the Palm Centro will actually prove ideal for me.

So far I haven't seen any other shortcomings compared to the Treo 755p.

I hope this helps.

Cheers, A.

7
by Cameron | Sep 28, 2007 4:58:41 PM

"Revolutionary"? Come on, Andrew, a little less hyperbole, please. The Centro appears to NOT be the brick we were all anticipating, but throwing around words like revolutionary seems a bit false.

8
by Andrew | Sep 28, 2007 5:10:16 PM

Cameron - I agree and disagree. The fact is that it's been literally _years_ that companies have tried to build a successful mini QWERTY keyboard device and they have all failed. Palm has certainly succeeded with the Centro (nearly all reviewers agree on this point) and you'll have to forgive me if I consider that to be revolutionary (I do). In fact, I believe that subsequent Centro form factor iterations will prove that this design is as revolutionary as the original Treo 600 was.

Cheers, A.

9
by tom./ | Sep 28, 2007 5:33:13 PM

Wasn't the silent slider on the 280? What resources make you assume that this is a 'holy grail' of smartphone design? Palm seriously need to get a software rethink fast - this has to be the last 5.x phone they can churn out...

10
by tom./ | Sep 28, 2007 5:35:18 PM

180, even :)

11
by Andrew | Sep 28, 2007 5:40:35 PM

Tom - I couldn't agree with you more. Palm definitely need to get the new Linux OS on a Treo device as soon as possible and hopefully it will indeed be the last Garnett device to be released.

As I mentioned in my previous comment, the Holy Grail for me is the incorporation of a full usable mini keyboard on a candy bar smartphone form factor.

Cheers, A.

12
by Bob Pfeiffer | Sep 28, 2007 8:22:24 PM

Is .2" W, .2" H, .14" D and 1.4oz weight really that much of a difference? You're calling it a "candy bar" phone but that still seems really big to me. I'm waiting for Palm to get their CenTreo V500 III+ out there that's really a slim phone with all the current Treo features. Gotta say, the $99 price point is really nice.

13
by Michael | Sep 29, 2007 4:09:24 AM

The tech specs sound good so far. But anyway, I don't like the design of the Centro and I don't think I'll ever get used to it. Of course that's a very subjective point of view, but tech specs are the one and an eye-catching design the other side of the coin.

My favorite's still the formfactor and features of a HTC Touch combined with the iPhone's design and gesture handling, the Treo650's battery lifetime and -of course- PalmOS instead of this shi**y WinMobile. As it would be the best of all brands.

But finally, it seems like I have to keep on waiting......

14
by Darlene | Sep 29, 2007 8:16:56 AM

I have the Sprint 755p. To me this new phone sounds identical. What doesn't it have that the 755p has? I paid 250.00 more for the 755p for what seems to me I can get for 100.00?

15
by Gary | Sep 29, 2007 10:18:34 AM

I've been extremely happy with my 700p. What would I lose in functionality by switching (upgrading?) to the Centro?

Thanks. Your insights are always invaluable.

16
by Andrew | Sep 29, 2007 10:38:33 AM

Gary - you won't be losing any basic functionality with the Centro at all as it is identical to your Treo 700p. You will have a smaller screen though (but still high resolution 320x320) and a smaller keyboard - a compromise to make if you're looking to have a significantly more pocketable smartphone.

Cheers, A.

17
by Pandinosauria | Sep 29, 2007 11:38:13 AM

Small screen. Isn't it?

18
by Andrew | Sep 29, 2007 11:53:28 AM

Pandinosauria - it's a smaller physical screen but retains the same large 320x320 high resolution of its larger Treo siblings. During all the time that I had to play with the Centro I did not at all feel that the smaller screen was getting in the way of getting the most important things done.

Cheers, A.

19
by Aaron | Sep 29, 2007 5:23:23 PM

Now all we need is... oh, wait... the same thing we've needed for the last 4 years:

A USEFUL WEB BROWSER.

I've gotta say, $99 is a great price point, but it's also a sad acknowledgment that Palm's platform is $300 per unit worse than Apple's platform.

A great smartphone requires both great software and great hardware. Palm and Apple took different approaches, and neither is completely successful:

Apple has fabulous design (both physical and UI) hampered by slow data and woefully limited functionality outside of the web browser.

Palm now has an impressive physical design, buoyed by fast data, an open platform, but dragged down by an absolutely awful browser and aging interface.

I've read that Sprint worked with Palm to improve the user experience for tasks like messaging and picture integration -- any chance of a detailed look at what's changed from a "stock" Treo 680/755?

20
by icoco | Sep 29, 2007 5:31:07 PM

Same old software stuff since years, just some new hardware design with a few mm and grams less and with the same old keyboard. That's "revolutionary"? Please!

21
by Andrew | Sep 29, 2007 6:35:49 PM

Aaron - your comment is one of the best synthesis that I have read on the pros and cons of the Treo/Centro vs iPhone.

I will provide you with a more detailed look at the physical improvements of the Centro on Monday and the software side will have to wait until I can my review unit from Palm within the next couple of weeks.

icoco - what is revolutionary is the fact that Palm has now been able to fit a fully usable QWERTY keyboard in a candy bar smartphone when no other company in the world has yet managed to do this.

Cheers, A.

22
by Nobody | Sep 29, 2007 10:17:21 PM

>>I've gotta say, $99 is a great price point, but it's also a sad acknowledgment that Palm's platform is $300 per unit worse than Apple's platform<<

Aaron, I am not sure that I agree with this statement. You are making the fundamental assumption that a higher price tag implies a better performing product. That couldn't be further away from the truth. Brand does matter, don't take me wrong, but brand doesn't always mean a better performing product. Case in point: a Corvette Z08 vs a Ferrari F430.

Is iphone a better performing product than a treo? the answer is yes, IF and ONLY IF you are willing to make the following tradeoffs:

- No physical keyboard
- No one-handed use
- No memory expansion slot
- No official third-party software support
- No 3G
- No removable battery
- Pay $300 more

Otherwise, the answer is no.

We all want a smartphone that has a big screen, 40 GB of storage, a large keyboard, a fast processor, a battery that last for weeks, wifi, kick-ass built-in software, and tons of third party software in a physical package not bigger than the Centro. While we are at it, let's make it free after rebates. Unfortunately, such product doesn't exist, and probably never will.

23
by NYC | Sep 29, 2007 10:32:11 PM

Andrew I saw your post on Friday and went down to DigitalLife myself to check out, hold and see this device. I have to agree with Andrew here this is a FANTASTIC device. I am a 650 owner and have not seen any previous Treo device that convinced me an upgrade was really necessary. Everyone has their own criteria and methods of use for their smartphones and that’s cool. This one knocked it out of the park for me. Over the years (since 2001) I have felt pretty comfortable with the basic Smartphone size which was a little chunkier than other phones. I had a Samsung i300, Treo 600, and a 650.

They let me play with the Centro at the show and wow I’m ready to upgrade ASAP. Here’s why.

Factor #1 - Honestly price point. If this device is $300-$400, while I like the size, I would pass.

Factor #2 fully usable QWERTY keyboard. Keyboard is a bit smaller that the 650 but I think I would get used to it pretty quickly. And the rubberized keys feel quite nice and are an improvement.

Factor #3 Size. It is a very nice mix of compact size and solid feel. Slim, sleek, stylish, smooth, special. I also see women liking to carry this device as well.

Factor #4 Palm OS. I can agree with many of you, maybe a new Palm OS version is due, but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I like the current OS. Slap this device in my hands and after a hot sync I’m back in business, no user manual reading required. Plus the many Apps I use everyday would still be available to me.

Factor #5 Sprint. I have Sprint, since 2001. I like them. Their new network is fast. I don’t travel international too often. I’m good.

Factor #6 It’s a cool looking phone. Look I saw the iPhone ads on TV and that is a cool looking phone with sexy moves, but what functions does it really bring to a business user like me besides people looking at me on the subway trying to figure out how to steal it. None. Centro won’t make people stand in line for hours like the iPhone but it will make all current Treo, Blackberry and other smartphone users give your phone a double take and ask you “Hey what version do you have there?”

24
by Richie | Sep 30, 2007 9:32:53 AM

Please bring out the GSM soon! The 680 didn't really do it for me and my 650 is really on it's last legs. There is no CDMA in my part of the world.

25
by 3nity | Oct 1, 2007 9:41:02 AM

The Palm Centro is no difference in size than the BB Pearl that I own. Although i like the Pearl alot Tmobile's service is not the best. I was a Sprint customer with the Treo 650 and 700p and guess what i'm going back. I get the same fuctions as the Pearl but with better service. I love Palm products they do everything i need them to do. LONG LIVE THE CENTRO CAN'T WAIT TO GET MINE. One thing Andrew it say's the release date is October 14th is this correct as this date is a Sunday please confirm for me........

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