Palm Centro

Not the flashiest phone around, but its jaw-dropping price, ease of use and vast software ecosystem, make it a good choice for first time smartphone buyers and Palm OS aficionados alike.

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Derek loves nothing more than punching a remote location into a GPS, queuing up some music and heading out on a long drive, so it's a good thing he's in charge of CNET Australia's Car Tech channel.

Priced at just AU$299 on prepaid with Telstra and running Palm OS, not Windows Mobile 6, the Centro is pitched at first time or budget-conscious smartphone buyers. It may even pick up the odd, long and frustrated Palm OS devotee.

Depending on your view of design aesthetics, the Palm Centro is either unerringly cute or bares too much of a resemblance to a bar of soap. We fall into the former category, but we suspect that if you're of the latter disposition then none of the praise we're going to heap on the Centro will change your mind.

Casting aside its snow white hue — the only colour currently available in Australia — the Centro looks like a Palm 500/500v that's been left in the dryer for too long. Weighing 124 grams, while measuring 55mm wide, 18mm deep and 107mm tall, the Centro is a smidge shorter, a tad thicker and about the same weight as its Windows Mobile sibling. Most telling, though, is that it's 6.5mm narrower, making it far more pocketable. It does, however, make pressing keys on the Centro's QWERTY keyboard, initially at least, tougher, with the odd mis-pressed key an inevitability. With a little practice using the keyboard with your thumbs becomes second nature although certain tasks, such as typing and walking, should never be attempted.

Above the thumb-board is a five-way controller surrounded by a cluster of four buttons — home (applications), phone, messaging, and calendar/organiser. These are flanked by pick-up/call and hang-up/power buttons. On the left-hand edge there's a volume switch and a user-programmable button, while along the top there's a switch that lets you quickly flick the smartphone to silent.

The Centro's 2.2-inch touchscreen boasts 320x320 resolution and, as such, is sharper than the 240x320 displays on most Windows Mobile devices. Visually, Palm's OS has changed little since its inception. Yes, yes, there are now more pixels and colours than before, but the essentials are practically the same. That means an uncluttered interface that's easy to use but lacking the gee-whiz factor of products breathed upon by one Steven P. Jobs. Many of the on-screen buttons are large enough to be finger-clicked, however there are some teeny buttons, on say the Web browser, for which many users will find the included stylus invaluable.

In terms of hardware specs, the Centro isn't terribly impressive — for instance, there's only 64MB of available memory. But with Palm OS's simpler design, lower overheads and smaller app sizes there should be plenty of space. Those wanting more space for photos, music or other electronic trinkets can supply more memory in the form of microSD cards. Responses are always speedy — something that can't be said about most Windows Mobile 6.0 devices.

On the phone's box there's a picture of three sassy, suitably photogenic lasses, primed for a night on the town, snapping a photo of themselves on their Centro with the tag-line "your shortcut to happy hour". How they managed to take that shot of themselves is beyond us, as the Centro's 1.3-megapixel camera can charitably be called basic, at best. Capable of taking both stills and video, the camera has a self-portrait mirror and best left for taking photos of friends for easy caller identification ... in good light. With no flash, any ideas that you'll be capturing your friends' drunken escapades should be banished.

Other spec-sheet features include Bluetooth 1.2 and an infrared port, but no Wi-Fi. Standard software included are the Blazer Web browser, Google Maps, Versa Mail, Pocket Tunes for MP3 playback, and Documents To Go 10. The latter allows you to create, edit and view Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. Those who have used Microsoft Office Mobile will be surprised by how much more fully featured and easier-to-use Documents To Go is. We were able to sync up, via the supplied cable, our Outlook calendar, tasks and contacts but not our email.

Those unfamiliar with Palm devices may be surprised with the Centro being always on. The phone can be switched on and off by pressing and holding the power button, however, the device is always on unless you remove the battery. That said, battery life is good; the Centro just managed to last an entire weekend of intense use on a single full charge. Although, we do reserve a poisoned dart to the smart alec who designed the SIM card tray; its location and design means that you'll need longish nails, and a willingness to break them, in order to retrieve said card.

Being available only on Telstra prepaid — not to mention the prominent on-screen Telstra branding, most of which can thankfully be disabled — the Centro is locked to Sol Trujillo's cash cow unless you pay an unlocking fee of AU$100. Note that this is contrary to what's stated in our video &mdash our review unit was shipped to us in an unlocked state.

Voice quality is good via speaker, handset or the included hands-free kit, which plugs into the phone's 2.5mm headphone jack. Using mobile mail and Google Maps on the Centro is only for the patient. That's because the Centro is only a 2.5G phone, albeit a quad-band one — this is no doubt a consequence of the phone's eye-popping price. Download speeds, even when using EDGE, are pretty tragic and more akin to dial-up modem speeds than broadband. Stick to mobile specific websites which are graphically light, such as those offered by the New York Times or — gratuitous plug warning — and ZDNet Australia, and you'll be fine.

We're not entirely certain that the comely lasses like those on the Centro's box would actually be that interested in this smartphone. It's not particularly flash but those looking for a cost effective entry into the world of smartphones or those wanting to upgrade from their phone-less Palm PDAs will be more than satisfied by the Centro. With the wealth of free or cheap Palm OS applications available on the internet, the Centro is far more powerful and useful than its AU$299 price suggests.

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KyelC Facebook

KyelC posted a review   

The Good:compact, cheap, tons of programs

The Bad:ugly, fairly old tech

Had this phone for a while then upgraded to LG optimus win phone 7, lets just say I am missing my old Centro, the music out of the speakers alone is amazing and good on battery, no fancy features but working as a nurse it has mimms and a lot of other medical programs available (as well as great music, vid players, games etc) and to be honest still better than my new flash toy...think I am gonna dig it out of the desk draw and dust it off...


yada posted a review   

The Good:...for a month

The Bad:technology

i had this phone for 4 months and it started to not tell me when i was getting a phone call and then the 'k' key broke so i got it replaced. the replacement was broken to begin with, the key board didn't light up, and now it is doing the same thing as myu first one. On top of that the screen turns white and is not usable for at least 4 hrs. i am not happy with this phone at all. i know 3 people who have this phone and the same things happen to theirs. DO NOT BUY IT IF YOU WANT A PHONE THAT WORKS!


Ash posted a comment   

The Good:Easy to use, touch screen and qwerty, threaded messaging, cheap smartphone

The Bad:Thick, feels kind of frumpy

I've had this phone for 18 months now... The first one broke after a month, (the metal message button bent out - I have no idea how!) but it was replaced. It was a pretty good price ($230) and has been a really good phone! Since the first one was replaced it's been good. Now that I've had it for so long it feels kind of frumpy and old, especially compared to the new phones on the market.


goodie142 posted a comment   

The Good:easy to use. lots of apps. cheep price. QWERTY keyboard.

The Bad:no 3G :(

this is my 2nd phone, deffently the best. easy to use.

i sugget to get one!


Maggie posted a review   

The Good:shape, form factor, price

The Bad:camera could be better

OK hubby is a palm officiando, so I'm used to the os but this is one cute little phone. Cheap upgrade, got it on special at a run out price from a Telstra dealer. Easy to unlock and only $27.50 so I'm wrapped.
Love my ereader and mobipocket books on a sweet little camera phone.
Loved hubby's so much I bought myself one the same week.


gen posted a comment   

The Good:Threaded Messageing, Good Battery Life, Small, the best speekers

The Bad:can't turn off easily, freases a bit, Bad camera

my palm centro has just broken now after a year. i loved it verry much and still hope that it will come back to life as i am so attached. though if it got anything near where the cradle gose in it would try a decet a cradle or cable.


walt posted a review   

The Good:form factor, ease of use, well to hand

The Bad:none thus far

The keyboard does take a pass to get used to with its size, but is easily managed, and works very well. good little phone! It's packed with thoughtful features, great price, very good call quality.


DavidG posted a review   

The Good:Size, Battery, Performance

The Bad:No Wi-Fi, Some applications failed, No reset button

After suffering for a year with an HTC Touch, returning to Palm was welcome. Performance and screen was considerably better and the built-in keyboard a bit small, but better than losing screen space.

Due to its age, the price was really good, GSM vesion direct from US via eBay unlocked. Should have gotten blue instead of white though.

And a library of legacy software from previous palm kept the additional cost down.

It will keep me going until Android or WebOS gets established. Never going back to WinMob with its daily reboot requirements.


lou posted a review   

The Good:edit andc veiw ms word, powerpoint, excel documents, qwerty keyboard, looks half decent, good personal organizer

The Bad:sometimes freezes, locked with telstra,died after two months

I adored this phone it did everything i needed as a student in highschool nothing that i didnt. After buying it i was constantly pleasently surprised by its different capabilities for its price. on the downside it did freeze up a little but if you were patient it would fix itself without too much time lost and sadly it did die after two months which i expected considering the price and would have been ok if i didnt have to deal with telstra - it took 6 months for the phone to sit in their shop and never be sent off to be fixed so i got a refund and was very cranky


LogMeOff posted a comment   

The Good:Easy usage, good battery life, nice layout, decent camera considering the MP size.

The Bad:Shocking MP3 player, too small keypad.

I bought the Palm Centro on a limb one day for about $100 from Telstra. I thoroughly enjoy the phone, the call quality is good, as is the camera quality. The worst parts about this phone are definitely the small keypad, I have long nails and it is hard to press the keys, and the quality of the MP3 player, the constant jumping is rather annoying.

My advice to other people, the Palm Centro is more of a beginners phone to get you used to the idea of having and using a mobile phone. I wouldn't suggest it as a long-term thing because it doesn't have a lot of features to prolong the desire of using it.

I'll be upgrading to a WebSlider soon, so I'm hoping that that phone will give me more for my money.

9/10 for the Palm Centro though.

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User Reviews / Comments  Palm Centro

  • KyelC



    "Had this phone for a while then upgraded to LG optimus win phone 7, lets just say I am missing my old Centro, the music out of the speakers alone is amazing and good on battery, no fancy features b..."

  • yada



    "i had this phone for 4 months and it started to not tell me when i was getting a phone call and then the 'k' key broke so i got it replaced. the replacement was broken to begin with, the key board ..."

  • Ash


    "I've had this phone for 18 months now... The first one broke after a month, (the metal message button bent out - I have no idea how!) but it was replaced. It was a pretty good price ($230) and has ..."

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