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Palm Centro vs. BlackBerry Pearl: Business Casual or Not Safe For Work?

Mon Apr 21, 2008 - 11:23 AM EDT - By Mike Guccione


With all of this talk about the (now disproven) Sprint 755p being rumored EOLed, a new crop of discussions about what devices potential power users and business-types might turn their gazes towards has surfaced. In the first post of the aforementioned End-of-Life discussion, forum member Damigs mentions:

This has forced us to skip on the Centro (its not a business device) and start pushing the HTC Mogul device...

Admittedly, I am a Centro user but I do use it both for business and for fun (my 5 year old daughter will never let me get another device that doesn't play The Suite Life or Hannah Montana unless they are available on demand.) I have, however, used Treos and other smart devices over the course of the last 7 or so years - which brings me to my question - why can't the Centro be used as a business device? To better understand this notion that the Centro is not right for business users, I thought I'd take a look at how the Centro stacks up to a close competitor - the BlackBerry Pearl. I'll be focusing on the issues I thought might matter most to a suit - email, size, battery & ease of use (namely the keyboards.) One thing I will point out - to be fair - both devices I will be looking at will be on the Sprint network utilizing their EVDO network.


To start off with, the Pearl, being a BlackBerry, will undoubtedly appeal to users that are already running BlackBerry servers. Those servers aren't cheap and IT departments certainly frown on having various different platforms to support. However, to some, the fact that it is a BlackBerry will turn them away from it. Smaller companies and power users have muttered under their breath for years about the additional $30-$40 a month tacked onto their monthly plans. This has been a huge advantage to Palm for years, the shear openness to the OS has brought about a plethora of options, and email is no different. If you're a Palm user and haven't heard of ChatterEmail, it's well worth your time to take a minute and get acquainted - Palm liked it so much they hired the developer and bought the program. It's been the best thing since high speed internet for the adult entertainment industry.


Realistically, the physical size similarities between these two devices are uncanny. Currently, both devices are available for $99.99 for new users via Sprint's online store, though the Pearl does list a higher retail (by $100) to the Centro's MSRP of $399.99. Size difference almost isn't even worth mentioning, both are easily pocketed in suit coats or pants pockets, though the BlackBerry does manage to come in quite a few feathers less at the tune of .8 ounces lighter (which may not sound like much, but when the Centro is 4.2 ounces, well, you try losing 19% of your weight. I'm talking from experience here, it ain't easy.) Kinda makes my Centro feel a little more brick-like now.

Battery Life

Battery Life. If there's one thing we absolutely, positively cannot do without, it's the battery. I've found that comparing manufacturer specs on battery life is much in the same realm of comparing those EPA estimates for MPG posted on new cars. Not to be cliche, but your mileage may (read: will) vary. So in the spirit of fairness, here the Pearl shines brightest with an estimated talk time of "Up To" (again, read: Under optimal conditions in a vacuum) 4.6 hours.

The Centro is rated for over an hour less at 3.5 hours. However, for all intents and purposes, neither one of these devices have very good battery life, but either one should get you close to a full work day. If you can top off any during the day, this should really be a non-issue. Die-hard road warriors, however, will surely find this to be a big disadvantage. For a little extra juice, OEM-sized extended batteries are available for the Pearl but have yet to surface for the Centro. My humpback extended battery for the Centro gives me several days of use, but only in extreme situations will I pop that thing on - it gives it some serious junk in the trunk (don't fret Pearl fans - you, too can get that extra hump for your baby's rump for extra long talk and stand-by time.) Bottom line here is that this will probably be the biggest deal killer for those serious emailers away from a charger longer than 12 hours, the battery will die on you. But if slim matters to you, just bring an extra OEM battery along.


Fat thumbs need not apply, for you are not welcome. That may be a bit extreme but it will definitely apply to some digits - these smaller devices have even smaller keyboards. And this is where we get into two different ballparks - SureType vs. QWERTY. The Centro's keyboard is small. There is really no other way around it - it's the smallest that Palm has ever put onto a device. But it comes with the familiarity of QWERTY and that helps with the learning curve. This is a single piece molded keyboard that is actually quite usable (all of Palm's other devices have separate buttons for each letter/character) and responds better in my opinion to finger nail presses. Whereas on previous models the harder plastic was more prone to sliding on a key press with your nail, with the new keys I've actually improved my speed. So for a person with moderate emailing and/or messaging, this is something you can get used to fairly quickly.

The Pearl's SureType keyboard combines multiple letters into fewer buttons so the buttons are individually larger than the Centro's. This layout more closely resembles that of the standard numeric keypad with the numbers centered on the device, which may feel more comfortable to some. Having used SureType in the past, it works and it works fairly well once you get used to it, but it does take some time to get cookin'. This boils down to one thing, personal preference. Larger keys and SureType or QWERTY and small keys - either one will get the job done.


In looking over the topics discussed here, the greatest advantages can also be interpreted as disadvantages depending on your vantage point. Size does matter when it comes to devices, but what matters even more is how you individually rank the importance of the aforementioned qualities. This will in-turn decide if these can be true business devices for you, because under the hood, either one packs the same amount of horsepower (or more) than their larger siblings, Palm and BlackBerry just wrapped them up in smaller packages for you. Choice...it can be a beautiful thing.

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