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Breaking out of iPhone jail

Fri Apr 24, 2009 - 2:01 PM EDT - By Jay Gross


Now and then the voice of reason creeps into the techie press. A PCWorld reporter has owned up to breaking out of the "iPhone jail," by using a Palm Centro. The article, by Stephen Lawson, appears in the magazine's online edition. He explained that his problem with the iPhone was the same as mine: AT&T - namely a slow GSM network touted as 3D (big whoop), outrageously high cost, and an interminable contract that amounted to captivity.

The solution, Mr. Lawson reported, was a GSM-flavor Centro running PalmOS. He found plenty to rave about, though he didn't hook up the data services to save money.

Quoting the article:

Those who would point out that the Centro is not an iPhone would be indisputably correct. The Centro, introduced in 2007, is essentially a smaller version of the Treo, with a small, built-in QWERTY keypad and a 2.25-inch (57mm) screen. It's attractive enough, with gently rounded corners and fake brushed aluminum details, but not the kind of thing you'd sit and admire. There's no Wi-Fi or 3G, only EDGE. It runs the Palm operating system -- not the sexy, new WebOS that powers the upcoming Palm Pre, but the old OS that's due to be phased out.

The Centro cost the same as AT&T's iPhone, but came with no contract, no commitment. "Pick any carrier using GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), get their SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card, and slide it in. There's no jailbreaking to do, because there's no jail for this Centro, nor for me. The phone has a four-band radio (850MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz and 1900MHz), so it will work in most countries´┐Ż I've been quite happy with this setup." In some ways, Mr. Lawson liked the Centro better:

Yet in some ways, I like the Centro better. The OS, though it's old, single-tasking, and not very up-to-date, is stable and familiar. I've used variants of PalmOS since about 1997, which is something you can't say about much of any handheld software. The Centro's keyboard, though small, is easier to use than the virtual one on the iPhone. The calendar lets me aim for a time and enter an event directly (as long as it starts on the hour) rather than spinning virtual wheels to get there. It fits better in my hand because it's narrower and deeper than the iPhone. The built-in polyphonic ringtones are nicer than anything that came with the iPhone. There are also plenty of applications out there for PalmOS -- more than 100,000, according to Palm -- though they lack an easy-to-use channel like the App Store. I've already loaded's elegant book reader, as well as some maps from DeLorme's Street Atlas USA. The DeLorme interface isn't as slick as Google's, but the maps work fine with a third-party Bluetooth GPS (Geographical Positioning System) unit to show me where I am. And the maps will stay with the phone even outside the carrier's coverage area.

I couldn't agree more. I'm happy with my Centro, and way not willing to put up with AT&T jail to get a keyboardless iPhone. Besides, my Centro is red!

One more quote from the article, its summary: "The iPhone, with its tight-jeans-friendly slim case and colorful display, looks like fun because it is. But the Airstream-like unlocked Centro, while it's still available, represents something that may be even more exciting: freedom."

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