September 28, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Bringing smart phones to the masses

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In addition to being priced lower than other smart phones, the Centro has tried to address design issues. In essence, the Centro is a smaller version of Palm's Treo 755p. It works over Sprint's 3G wireless network. It supports Microsoft Exchange Direct Push to allow users to get work e-mail. And Sprint has provided easy access to Web-based e-mail such as Gmail, AOL and Yahoo, along with access to common IM platforms.

"The Centro is a very nice form factor that is small enough to compete with a standard feature phone," Colligan said. "It's also priced like a feature phone. Yet it has all the power of a Treo."

Analysts say they expect the Centro to resonate well with some price-conscious consumers, especially as it's introduced following the major hype of Apple's iPhone. On the one, hand these products don't compete with one another at all. Priced at $400, the iPhone addresses a totally different market segment. From a features perspective, the phones also won't likely compete. Not many people will buy the Centro as a combination phone/media player. And it's unlikely that longtime Palm users, who may want a sleeker design, would give up access to their corporate e-mail for an iPhone.

But the frenzy around the iPhone this summer has certainly elevated the conversation around smart phones, which Palm's executives hope will help sell Centros.

"There's no question that the iPhone has sparked the imagination of people who would not have otherwise looked at devices like this," Colligan said. "Apple did a beautiful job executing on the design of this product, but when people really compare them side by side, they'll see they can get a lot of advanced features, like 3G wireless access, in a product that is a quarter of the price."

The iPhone operates on AT&T's slower 2.5G network, but unlike the Centro it also offers Wi-Fi access.

While it's true that the Centro is on a faster network than the iPhone, in many respects the device's design is still way behind Apple's iPhone. For example, Centro's touch screen doesn't even approach the functionality or design of the iPhone's screen.

But Palm's biggest problem is the perennial thorn in the company's side: the ancient Palm OS Garnet. That operating system was originally designed for PDAs, not Treos, and while Palm has done a great deal of work to make Garnet into a smart-phone OS, the company still hasn't released a major update since 2004. Palm has been trying to release a new operating system that preserves the Palm heritage, but it has been delayed several times, and now won't be available until next year.

Until Palm comes up with an operating system that rivals Apple's OS X, Symbian or Windows Mobile (which Palm also offers), it might have trouble attracting smart phone converts looking for something new and cool. The Centro at least updates the industrial design of Palm's products, but beautiful and useful design involves more than hardware.

"The iPhone has raised the bar in terms of what a cell phone could be," said Sean Ryan, a research analyst with IDC. "In a way, Apple is educating the market. And people see what a cell phone is capable of."

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16 comments

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Kinda cute
I always liked the Palm interface. Nice to see a unit priced in the low range with most of the PDA capabilities. Now, all those young drivers will be holding the steering wheel with their teeth while they use two-hands to send text messages.
Posted by Kings X Rocks! (89 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not phone price but service
I have a smart phone that is not used anywhere near capability because of the service cost. Individuals can afford decent handsets, just not all the additional cost of the individual services offered by the carriers. Maybe they could use some pointers on lowering cost.
Posted by becareful (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Completely agree - the issue is service cost and not device price
I can see myself getting a so-called "smart" phone, as there are lots of devices based on Windows Mobile and blackberry that can be had for free or small cost of you sign up for a contract.

However this article completely misses the major barrier, which is the $30 odd additional per month that providers charge for e-mail and web surfing. Not worth that for me, given the crappy web experience and for personal e-mail on weekends, when out.

The other thing I have a peeve about is that these "smart" phones have not changed at all in 5-6 years in terms of what you can do, except adding cameras and mp3 players. Calendaring, todo lists, note taking, address book and e-mails are still the same, and not very usable with keyboards.

Calling something a smartphone just because it has e-mail and an address book is a bit much IMO
Posted by cemptor (31 comments )
Link Flag
For some it is phone and not service
I have a good service plan but I can not upgrade my phone without "upgrading" the plan for $20 more a month. With 2 year contract that is $240 extra for basically nothing. $99 for new, unlocked smartphone is a great deal. Palm has a great opportunity here.
Posted by pauliusp (4 comments )
Link Flag
What about Windows Mobile smartphones?
Why did you leave a whole category out of this article? Doesn't seem like the writer was doing his job by ignoring a whole category. Just mentioning that Palm has WM versions of their phones is not enough of a mention to claim they were in the article, in my opinion.
Posted by dondtus (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Full web browsing?
"While other mobile smart phones allow full web browsing the
iPhone has taken it to a new level."

Other cell phones allow you to surf the stripped down cell phone
version of the internet. The iPhone just surfs the regular internet
version your computer at home uses minus flash. Cnet looks the
same on the iPhone as it does on the home computer, just on a
smaller screen.
Posted by Nodack (198 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Cnet looks fine on my Motorola Q
Not to say that Nodack is talking out of his fundament, but Cnet
looks pretty much the same and unstripped down on my Q-phone.
The layout is sometimes reformatted to make it look better on the
small screen, but it is all there. I do occasionally use a "mobile" web
site like the weather underground's mobile version because the
formatting works better. Of course, I use the phone for
information, not infotainment which seems to be the market of the
iPhone.
Posted by wylbur (110 comments )
Link Flag
Bluetooth
Just about every product these days have Bluetooth and every
review that I have read mentions whether a device has Bluetooth.
THE PROBLEM: Very rarely is there ever mention of what CLASS of
Bluetooth a device has. You have people with Class 2 devices
(mainly cell phones/pdas buying Class 1 dongles and can't figure
out, why in the world they don't have and can't get the advertised
range of the dongle.
Posted by hht311 (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ok
I like the idea behinde the centro but they missed the os and the easy solution would be to skin it so that it is more apealing to teens like myself. In the process of skining the os as long as the layout of the buttens stays the same then there is no problm. I would also like to point out that even some phones like the razor and not the moto q use a dumbed down web that is usualy suported by the service provider like verizon their service sucks. The sites have adds and It is a paid service and you can't get any of the reall mobil sites like the one for g--mail or google talk or even google search. And then SMART phones like the moto q use the reall web with the option for use of the mobil web.
Posted by tehrani625 (157 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Good replacement for OLPC - Perfect for Asia
As some bloggers have also pointed out, (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://techlahore.wordpress.com" target="_newWindow">http://techlahore.wordpress.com</a>), this phone is perfect as a replacement to the OLPC. In fact, in many ways it would be more useful. In large quantities, I am sure it would be available for $50-60.

The only problem, as pointed out elsewhere as well, is the lack of GSM. Hopefully Palm will come out with a GSM enabled phone. And I am sure Nokia and others will follow with equally capable phones in the same price range.

Big move forward for mobile computing at a global scale!
Posted by jamal_shah (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Perfect replacement for OLPC - Perfect for Asia
As some bloggers have also pointed out, for instance at <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://techlahore.wordpress.com" target="_newWindow">http://techlahore.wordpress.com</a> this phone is perfect as a replacement to the OLPC. In fact, in many ways it would be more useful. In large quantities, I am sure it would be available for $50-60.

The only problem, as pointed out elsewhere as well, is the lack of GSM. Hopefully Palm will come out with a GSM enabled phone. And I am sure Nokia and others will follow with equally capable phones in the same price range.

Big move forward for mobile computing at a global scale!
Posted by jamal_shah (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
For $100 bucks = iPhone killer
The features of the Centro seem just as good if not better than my Treo 650, and it's priced $400 dollars cheaper that the Treo 650 cost.
With a nice 4GB SD card thrown into this device, you could make it into a nice portable music or video player.
I hope Palm markets this device strong because I think with the right push, Palm can recapture the PDA/phone market with this device.

Only $100 dollars, that's too good to pass up for anybody.
Posted by clsmithj (89 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Availability in Philippines
Hope it will be available in Philippines, i think filipinos will embrace this product. specially the budget conscious once
Posted by decnet (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Bomjpacket - an open source mobile browser
You can browse Internet on a low-end cell phone using OperaMini which requires Java. If your cell phone does not have enough resources than try out another Internet browser called Bomjpacket:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://research.alexeysmirnov.name/bp" target="_newWindow">http://research.alexeysmirnov.name/bp</a>
Posted by alexeysmirnov (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
What about Windows Mobile Professional Phones
The article in question seems to have left out the Windows Mobile Professional and Smartphone segment. I know that CNET loves anything Apple, but sheesh give credit where credit is due. Palm could sell millions of these to the "Sidekick", and "Helio" crowd. Personally it's a little stripped down for my tastes but for the price I may just buy one because it's cheap and use it as a backup for my Windows Mobile Professional HTC branded Athena.
Posted by ~Neo~ (24 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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