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Review: Palm Centro is satisfying, cheap and a bit chunky

It's easy to use, with the features most of us need

By David Haskin
October 11, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Go back five years when Palm handhelds ruled the mobile device market, before smart phones began their ascendancy. It's easy to imagine that Palm's new Centro -- the company's first smart phone not named Treo -- is the device Palm envisioned as the future of handhelds.

That's not damning by faint praise, either. Centro is far smaller than those old handhelds. For that matter, it's significantly sleeker than Palm's Treo, yet it provides most of the Treo's capabilities and, at $99 (with a two-year contract from Sprint plus rebates) is quite inexpensive.

And with its simple-to-understand Palm OS and touch-screen/stylus interface, it retains some of the feel of those old handhelds. Overall, Palm's Centro, initially offered only by Sprint in the U.S., is a pleasing device that its

<br></br>The Palm Centro

The Palm Centro
intended audience -- newcomers to smart phones -- can easily embrace with enthusiasm.

Out of the box

Centro is a candy bar-style device that comes in two colors: bright red and black (my review unit was red). The first noticeable thing was its somewhat unorthodox size.

If you absolutely must have the sveltest smart phone available, you won't be interested in the Centro. Still, this device is hardly a heavyweight and, at 2.1 by 4.2 inches in size and weighing 4.2 ounces, it fits quite comfortably in the hand. In fact, I found it more comfortable to hold in my largish hands than smaller devices such as the BlackBerry Pearl. But part of that comfort came from its thickness -- at .7 inches thick, Centro hardly qualifies as a slender device.

Palm appears to have carefully thought through the size of the device. For instance, it was just small enough to stow comfortably in a jeans pocket. And it is just barely large enough to have a full QWERTY keyboard.

The keyboard, however, was a mixed bag. In testing, it was more difficult than usual to do thumb-typing because the keys are so close together. It was also a bit confusing that most of the keys were the same red color as the entire phone, making it harder to visually find a key. That was particularly true with the space bar, which has no markings on it at all; rather, this red key blended into the phone and was hard to find.

Getting started

Say what you will about the long-in-the-tooth Palm OS, it is extremely simple and intuitive to use. And over the years, the platform has been refined to work well with phones. For instance, when you're in phone mode, buttons for contacts, voice mail and the call log appear at the bottom of the screen.

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