- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Palm Centro, first introduced four months ago in a then-exclusive deal with Sprint, is branching out. Now, you can get one at your local AT&T; store for $99.99 with a two-year contract. I’ve always felt that a GSM-based Centro would be quite useful.

AT&T;’s wireless network is based on the Global Standard for Mobile (GSM) used worldwide. A GSM phone should function as easily in Sweden as it does in Springfield.

As with the Sprint version, there’s some extra multimedia available, which helps the phone compete in some measure with Apple’s IPhone.

The Centro’s screen is smaller than the IPhone’s. But it’s not unreadable or unusable for video. You don’t get the same experience as the IPhone, which can switch from portrait to landscape mode automatically.

However, it’s good enough for many applications, such as the mobile TV service AT&T; offers for $9.99 per month. Like Sprint’s, AT&T;’s Centro offers a 1.3 megapixel camera, essential for a mobile phone these days. That’s about one-third less resolution than the Iphone, but it’s sufficient for many purposes.

Multimedia and photos are nice, but the main purpose of a phone is voice and data, and the Centro scores well here.

The AT&T; network is getting better all the time; in and around Washington, I’ve had few problems making or receiving calls.

Using Palm’s Blazer Web browser, I could retrieve most Web pages easily, as well as access my e-mail using Web portals. For $9.99 per month, one can also utilize a Global Positioning System navigation feature that includes turn-by-turn voice directions.

There are three e-mail options for the Centro, including AT&T;’s own, XpressMail, Good Mobile Messaging and Palm VersaMail. My personal preference has been to use Palm, but all three seem good options.

Palm devotees will find the usual array of software, including that for contacts and calendar management. These can sync with Windows and Mac computers, a not-unimportant asset for the mobile worker.

And how is typing on the small, QWERTY-esque keyboard of the Centro? It’s not as thumb-friendly as your average Research in Motion BlackBerry, but it’s not bad, and the notion of using a separate key to invoke the numeric keypad, the only way to type numbers, quickly becomes second nature.

In terms of price, performance and portability, the Centro from Palm is a winning product. Many users already know its interface, and the price $349 without a new contract, $99.99 with a two-year pact — is reasonable. I liked the Centro before, and now am more enthusiastic since its arrival on the GSM platform, which makes it a world phone.

Read Mark Kellner’s Tech blog at www3.washingtontimes.com/blogs.

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