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Palm Centro

Tue Oct 16, 2007 - 1:09 PM EDT - By Dieter Bohn

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Would you recommend Palm Centro?
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Product Info


Hardware, Specs, and Performance

Hardware Specs


Centro and the Treo 680, 700wx.

Let's run down the specifications for the Centro:

  • Display: 320x320 pixel Transflective color touchscreen, supports 16-bit color (up to 65K colors)
  • Radio: Dual-band CDMA2000 EvDO backward compatible with 1XRTT and IS95
  • Operating System: Palm OS 5.4.9
  • Processor: Intel® XScale™ 312MHz processor
  • Bluetooth: Version 1.2
  • Memory: 64MB available user storage
  • Camera: 1.3 megapixels with 2x digital zoom and video capture
  • Battery: Removable 1150mAh, lithium-ion 3.5 hours talk time, up to 300 hours standby time
  • Expansion: microSD card (up to 4GB supported)
  • Connector: "Athena" Multi-connector
  • Dimensions: 4.22" (L) x 2.11" (W) x 0.73" (D); 4.2 oz

...Now let's compare it to the specs on the Treo 755p, also on Sprint, showing the differences in bold.

  • Display: 320x320 pixel Transflective color touchscreen, supports 16-bit color (up to 65K colors)
  • Radio: Dual-band CDMA2000 EvDO backward compatible with 1XRTT and IS95
  • Operating System: Palm OS 5.4.9
  • Processor: Intel® XScale™ 312MHz processor
  • Bluetooth: Version 1.2
  • Memory: 128MB (60MB persistent user storage)
  • Camera: 1.3 megapixels with 2x digital zoom and video capture
  • Battery: Removable 1600mAh, lithium-ion 4.2 hours talk time, up to 240 hours standby time
  • Expansion: miniSD card (up to 4GB supported)
  • Connector: "Athena" Multi-connector
  • Dimensions: 2.3" W x 4.4" L x 0.84" D; 5.64

The first thing to note is that, as has been said time and again, the Centro is practically identical to the 755p in every way. The only significant differences between the two are size and battery life. The size we've mostly covered - except to say that the Centro feels very light. The difference is even more dramatic when comparing it to a 700-series Treo.

As for the rest of the specs they provide decent performance. The PalmOS is just as snappy as it has always been (more on that below), the RAM is adequate if perhaps a bit lower than I'd like -- but this is a low-end device so I'm not complaining. I would have preferred Bluetooth 2.0 (or at least A2DP support) and a slightly better camera, but again neither concerns me too much on a $99 phone.


Centro, 680, 700wx; Centro Screen vs. 680 screen

We won't discuss the lack of WiFi. Ok, we will. There is no WiFi, a decision that makes sense on the Centro but still stings a bit nonetheless given my suspicion that even if Palm wanted to include it, they would not have been able to given the PalmOS's networking limitations.

The Centro supports microSD cards and seems to transfer data back and forth from them fine. It also worked just fine with my 4GB SanDisk microSDHC card, which was a nice surprise. Palm says that it supports cards up to 4GB, but I suspect that larger "High Capacity" cards should work.

Battery Life and Reception

In my testing, the Centro appears to fall just short of the claimed 3.5 hours of talk time and well short of the 300 hours of standby time. The primary reason for this, however, is likely the low signal strength Sprint has in my area. Especially at the very borders of Sprint's coverage area, where signal is somewhere between 0 and 2 bars, the Centro struggled to maintain battery life. In my office, for example, I get virtually no coverage whatsoever and the Centro went from 80% to 10% overnight while just grabbing email once an hour.

The battery is only 1150 mAh - which I take to be the primary reason for the relatively poor battery life and the Centro's very light weight. It's also notable that the battery has its connectors in a different place than on previous Palm batteries - an entirely new set of extended batteries will be necessary for manufacturers to make for the Centro.

In other areas with stronger coverage, however, the Centro did perform much better. I would say that that reception is about on par with other CDMA-based Treos.

Lag?

Readers familiar with the Treo 700p (and less so the 755p) likely have one single question about the Centro: does it lag? In a word: no. In more words - not that I've been able to significantly reproduce in just under a week of testing. With pTunes running and a very light set of applications installed, I've managed to get a delay of up to one second while switching between the phone app and Blazer. It's usually much less and only noticeable when I'm staring at the screen and counting off.

Time, and PalmOS users who are harder-core than I, will probably be able to tell if the Centro suffers from 700p-style lag issues. My early indications are that the Centro is as fast and as stable as a 755p.

Data speed, Bluetooth

Sprint's EVDO network is a joy. Data is snappy. I have poor coverage in my city and I was still able to average around 200 - 250 kb/s (outside) with two to three bars. Sprint was probably the perfect network to launch the Centro on for a few reasons. They seem to be genuinely excited about the Centro and serious about promoting it. The Sprint exec I spoke with at the Digital Life Conference said that they plan to make a serious push to promote the Centro. Even better, Sprint still has the most competitive data plans out there, $15 per month for unlimited access.

Dial Up Networking is relatively easy to set up - especially on a Mac with Bluetooth. PalmOS is still the most Mac-friendly smartphone OS out there. Sprint does require that you sign up for their tethering plan at $39.99 for 40mb or $99.99 for unlimited. Using software like PDANet (be sure to get v4.11) will allow your phone to appear to not be tethered, however. Do that at your own risk - Sprint, like Verizon, has been known to keep a close eye on Smartphone users and their data consumption and it just may violate your contract with them.

I wish this was the review where I got to say that a Palm smartphone's Bluetooth performance finally exceeded my expectations, which are fairly low at this point. Bluetooth range and quality is average for recent Treos - which is to say it's "good enough" but nothing to write home about. Of course I wasn't able to get to the "33 feet" that Bluetooth is supposed to allow, but with a JX-10 I could avoid static within 10 feet. Bluetooth stereo (A2DP) is not supported without 3rd party software.

There's also an infrared port on the side, for people that still actually use the thing.

Phone Quality, Speaker

Phone quality is slightly better than with Treos, but still nothing to write home about. The most pressing issue for most Treo owners is the volume of the earpiece and I'm here to say that while it's certainly better than the Treo 650's, it's not significantly louder than 700-series Treos. Reception and sound quality are fine.

The great news, however, is that the speaker on the back of the Centro is simply stupendous. It's loud, clear, and "bright." For ringtones, music, and speakerphone it's the loudest and clearest of any Treo I've ever used. If there's a knock on the speaker at all it's that when sitting flat on a desk the Centro lies flat and flush on top of the speaker, muffling sound. Still, the speaker is grand and kudos to Palm for making it so.

Camera

The Centro's 1.3 megapixel camera was also a welcome surprise. It is, of course, far better than the Treo 680's camera, but I also found that it seems to perform ever-so-slightly better than 700-series Treo cameras in terms of exposure and white balance. Best way to show that - some sample images:


Left to Right: Centro, 680, 700wx.
Taken under typical, oppressive office florescent lighting



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