Palm Centro Preview

This week, Palm announced the new Centro smartphone at the Digital Life Conference in NY. While this smartphone might carry a new name, it’s not all that different from the Treo.

Introducing the Centro

The Centro represents the smallest, lightest and most inexpensive smartphone from Palm. There is nothing groundbreaking in terms of specifications, but rather it’s a neatly packaged smartphone and more importantly it ships at an attractive price point. Palm is positioning the Centro as a device that toes the line between work and fun. As a business phone, you can use the Centro to open access a Word or Excel document, access your work email and more. With the new form factor, Palm is banking on individuals who wouldn’t necessarily carry a BlackBerry or even Treo for that matter due to the size or even association that comes with those brands. Palm’s site proudly proclaims the Centro Smartphone is "your shortcut to happy hour". Texting has become increasing popular among young people and Palm’s reknowned threaded SMS client comes bundled on the Centro. The integrated IM application that debuted on the Treo 755p also comes standard making the Centro an excellent all-around communication device. Essentially, when work ends, Palm believes Centro customers will still find it is still a "cool" phone.

Palm Centro
Palm Centro

Click to enlarge.

Why Centro?

Palm explained the Centro name revolves around the new smartphone being the "center of your life". At the heart of the Centro is a Treo, so why the new name? In attempting to capture a new audience, in many ways Palm is distancing themselves from the Treo brand. The marketing surrounding the launch of the Centro is erily similar to that of the Treo 680. While the Treo 680 has experienced moderate success, despite the lack of advertising from AT&T, it also is a "perfect smartphone for the CEO of the household" or a "young professional" who might not be able to afford a Treo 755p or Treo 750. Changing the name to Centro allows Palm and Sprint to shed any pre-conceived notions that a potential customer might have about the Treo brand. RIM has done a remarkable job (no pun intended) with the marketing of their consumer devices and BlackBerry is directly associated with being a business phone. The Curve and Pearl have fun names and consumers have responded as both devices has seen great success in the marketplace. Same software, different marketing message. Both of those devices are a success in part to the slick marketing done by RIM and the associated wireless carriers. Personally, I believe Palm should have leveraged the brand equity of the Treo name and used Centro as the model name. Oddly enough, there is nothing on the new device that labels it a Centro? If you are going to build a new brand, then you need to promote it "on the device". I suppose most who see this new device out at a happy hour will call it the "new" Treo.

Palm Centro
Comparing the size of the Palm Centro to the iPhone

Click to enlarge.

Stacking Up the Centro Software Bundle vs the Treo 755p

The software bundle included with the Palm Centro is virtually identical to the Palm Treo 755p. Outside of some minor tweaks to the OS, the inclusion of Soduko and an upgrade to Versamail (now known as Mail) and Docs To Go, you’d be hardpressed to find many changes from the Treo 755p bundle. Disturbing is the lack of the Phone application that shipped with the Treo 680 last year. Clearly, this phone is being marketed to the same demographic as the Treo 680. There is nothing more "central" to a smartphone than the Phone application. The Treo 680 Phone application offers such a vastly easier (and most would say better) user experience. Apple’s iPhone uses a similar phone application offering tabs for favorites, recent calls, etc. When questioned about the ommission, Palm’s was non-committal as to the reason why they could not include it in the Centro. Clearly, this is a missed opportunity.

Threaded SMS on Centro
Palm has included threaded SMS on the Centro

Click to enlarge.

Centro Design

The Centro design is a mixed bag. The back of the phone is slick and appears to be very scratch resistant. The finish is glossy and both colors (Ruby Red, Black Onyx) feature a sparkle which might not appeal to everyone. The phone is definitely smaller than previous Treo smartphones. Critics will claim it still doesn’t compare to the ultra-thin Moto Q, but the Centro features true one-handed operation. Rubberized finishes seemed to be the fad in smartphones, offering individuals more grip and potentially saving your smartphone from drops. According to Palm, the decision to go with a glossy finish was to make the Centro more "pocket friendly". The keyboard uses sheet key technology, a first for Palm, but this has been seen in Sony Ericcson phones and the new Moto Q 9. For my money, the Treo 750 has the best QWERTY keyboard, but with a smaller form factor comes compromises. All in all, Palm has done a good job with the keyboard given the size of the device. Treo owners will find it cramped, but remember Centro was created for a new audience, one that probably is coming from a standard 12-key phone. Similar to the typical iPhone user, the Centro will represent a vast improvement over their previous phone’s input.

Palm Centro keyboard

Click to enlarge.

Palm Centro vs iPhone
Not the size of the smaller Centro vs the iPhone

Click to enlarge.


I’ve only spent 20 minutes or so with the Centro, but the last five years with a Treo. There is no mistaking the bloodlines between these two products. The user experience is no different when it comes to software as the bundle is virtually identical to the Treo 755p. The device is smaller, yet lacks the sex appeal of the similarly priced Moto Q (Sprint Moto Q retails for $149 after rebates) and even the larger Treo 755p ($199 after rebate). Although it’s thicker than the competition, the Centro boasts true one-handed operation. While thin might be in, it’s not the be all end all. The Centro does not feel clunky and Palm has delivered a truly pocket friendly device. The Palm OS is in desperate need of an update, but still offers ease-of-use not found in most smartphones, outside of the higher priced iPhone. Legendary ease of use, pocket friendly, fast network and aggressive pricing strategy aside, the Palm Centro’s success lies in Sprint’s committment to generating awareness of this new breed of smartphone and acceptance of this new design by the new demographic Palm is targeting. Discuss this new smartphone in our Palm Centro forums.

The NEW Palm Centro smartphone is now available for pre-order for $99 at

Speak Your Mind