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Palm Centro

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



PalmOS 5.4.9 is a capable and robust smartphone operating system -- an operating system that hasn't seen an important update in several years. This lack of updates shows - the OS as it currently stands was essentially designed in the mid to late 90s and it shows. While it's able to perform nearly every task I need it to with a snappiness I had forgotten about (coming, as I do, as a convert to Windows Mobile), it certainly looks tired doing it.

Still, that the PalmOS does the job and does it very well is a testament to just how great it was when it was first created. Palm certainly has some catching up to do with their in-development Linux-based PalmOS, but they might just yet be able to pull another year or so out of this version. They're going to have to.

What is disappointing to me is that the Treo 680's excellent phone-dialer application still has not made the jump to CDMA devices. I find it rather difficult to swallow that Palm thinks it's not worth the (relatively minor) investment in adding at least a good-looking new skin to the OS. Applications like ZLauncher and GX5's UltimatePhone show that the PalmOS has enough horsepower to handle running a better-looking interface. Even a minor refresh to a few apps - like they did with the Media-centric apps some time ago - would be a very welcome change and really help them hit their target audience more squarely. Palm is sticking with this version of the PalmOS for another year - it would have been nice to see one last push to make it look like it belongs on a phone released in 2007, i.e. post-iPhone.

UltimatePhone, an example of a great "skin" on PalmOS



Versamail still does the job of handling many different email accounts well. The version on the Centro is 4.0.1, meaning that it supports full Push Email with Microsoft Exchange servers right out of the box - including contact, calendar, and task syncing.

Even better is the built-in "Sprint Mobile Email" for Palm, which is based on Seven's client for push email. It essentially allows you to use Sprint as a "push proxy" - setting up your email via the Sprint Mobile Email app makes any email provider - from Gmail to Yahoo to MSN - essentially a push email provider. I used to not like using carrier email solutions like Sprint Mobile Email or Cingular/ATT Xpress Mail, but I've changed my tune completely. These two solutions, at least, are based on technology by Seven Networks and are very reliable.


Blazer is still Blazer. It renders pages decently if somewhat slowly. It still has the very nice one-handed scrolling feature (up and down for page up and page down, left and right to scroll through links). It still sports the same PalmOS interface that's really annoying until you remember you can hit the space bar to jump up to the URL bar and the top buttons.

Blazer and Windows Mobile's Pocket Internet Explorer are in a tight race for "biggest smartphone headache I have." They both do the job, but they do not do it remarkably well.

3rd Party Apps

The Centro comes absolutely loaded with great 3rd party apps, right out of the box. This is great news for consumers, as it means some cost savings and less time doing setup. Here are my personal favorites included in the ROM:

Google Maps: Google maps is grand. It's great getting directions and traffic information and the interface is snappy and easy to use. It's not up to the iPhone's Google Maps app, but it's still very very good.

Documents to Go (Version 10.0): Documents To Go handles the office documents (Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, and straight text) for the Centro and it does a great job of it. You can view, edit, and create office documents and sync them relatively easily back to your desktop. You can also use it for email attachments. Most surprising - the Centro is the first smartphone to support Office 2007 documents - something even Microsoft's own smartphones cannot do yet. DataViz deserves a ton of credit for their wonderful series of "To Go" applications. They can't handle everything that an office document can throw at them, but they can handle tables, some charts, bullets, and more without scrambling up the desktop formatting.

Astraware Sudoku: I prefer crosswords myself, but I know I'm in the minority lately. Sudoku is built in (instead of Bejeweled :( ) and many people will be happy about that.

Pocket Tunes Deluxe (that's the full version): Palm has finally realized that they need to get really, really serious about media on the Centro and so they've begun including the full version of Pocket Tunes deluxe. This means internet radio streaming, which is incredibly cool and I'm happy to see it.

SprintTV: SprintTV is also included and a nice app, if a bit choppy with slow connections.

Nuance Voice Control: Nuance is an incredible app. You record a short command and the Centro does it - "Call Jim Mobile" calls Jim on his Mobile phone, "SMS Jim Sorry I can't talk right now, I am driving" automatically opens up a new text message and fills it in with that text. It's super cool, although it does require that you upload your command to Nuance's servers in order to work so there's a slight delay. It's also prohibitively expensive at $7 a month.

IM: The built-in instant messaging client works with AIM, Yahoo, and MSN. I have to say, though, that there is a significant lag time in sending and receiving messages. I haven't been able to determine yet whether or not this is due to my relatively poor coverage, but anecdotal reports from a few others imply that the delay is a real problem everywhere. On the bright side, the application is clean and fast and works in the background.

On Demand: Sprint's On Demand application (powered by Pocket Express) is also built-in and pretty nice - giving up to date information on news, weather, stocks, and more. I generally find it to be a little resource-heavy and don't particularly like the UI myself, so it's not something I'd pay to get the full version of. Some folks like it though, so more power to 'em.

The rest of the applications are standard PalmOS and I am still happy with them, specially (surprisingly), Calendar and Tasks. Being able to make a new appointment or task just by starting typing is incredibly convenient and the way it should be.

Next Page: Conclusion >>

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