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Hype Check: AT&T Palm Centro

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Hype Check:
Palm Centro

What it is: Palm's Centro smartphone is the PDA pioneer's longest leap yet into the world of consumer phones, sporting the functionality of the larger Treo 755p in a smaller candy bar form factor. It has a full QWERTY keyboard, and supports all the features (and third-party applications) Palm users have come to enjoy. A version of the Centro has been out on Sprint, but Palm has turned it into an slower (for data) EDGE device for its AT&T debut.

Why it's different: The phone is considerably smaller, sleeker, and cooler than past Treo devices. There's a huge difference between the feel of the Centro and any other Palm phone: The keys are softer, the body is cleaner, and the interface is even a bit more intuitive. It comes in a rainbow of fruit flavors, and it fits much better in your pocket.

Price:
$99 with a two year contract, on the AT&T Web site.

What we like: The Centro is a pretty cool-looking phone -- sorta like what would happen if you cross-bred an Xbox 360 and a Sony Ericsson (in other words, it looks like a business-ready phone that knows how to have fun). Besides being one of the smallest phones on the market with a full QWERTY keyboard, the Centro also has a touchscreen -- not multi-touch, mind you, but still a touchscreen -- which is still a rarity on consumer smartphones (though it should be noted that the touchscreen is better suited for use with the included stylus than with your finger). It's a Palm, meaning it has had most of its quirks ironed out over the years. In addition, Palm has included instant messaging, video, and music applications, as well as easy access (and setup) for your e-mail provider(s) of choice. It's also quite a bargain -- just $99 with a two-year contract.

What we don't like: There's no doubt about it: The keys are too small, and too close together. If you've got modestly-sized fingers, you probably won't find the keyboard be an issue, but for those of us with normal-sized honkers attached to our hands, typing can be pretty tricky. And while the design is nice (especially for a Palm device), it's still pretty thick: Beefier than the BlackJack, iPhone, and Pearl. And while the Palm OS interface is improved over previous Palm devices (particularly the phone part), it's looking increasingly dated. The Web browser, while serviceable, still uses AT&T's EDGE network instead of the faster 3G. There's also a noticeable lag when using the phone: Sometimes you'll wait a full five seconds for it to respond to your input. Annoying.

Does it live up to the hype? If you're riding the AT&T train and want a smartphone that doesn't scream "I wear a suit to work" -- and, for whatever reason, you don't want an iPhone (like, say, its $400 price tag, or perhaps the even more difficult touch-pad typing) -- the Centro may very well be your best choice. It's a more open platform option than Apple's product, which means it has loads of developer- and user-created applications available for download. There's plenty of room for improvement with the Centro, but it's a good step up to the world of mobile e-mail and productivity for anyone who's been using a standard cell phone that only makes phone calls, sends text messages, and takes pictures.

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Tags: Hype Check, HypeCheck, Palm, Palm Centro, PalmCentro, summerreviews

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