Palm unwraps the $100 smartphone

Palm has unveiled its newest – and cheapest – smartphone, the $99.99 Centro. The Palm OS-based device combines voice, text, instant messaging, email, web browsing, contacts and calendars into the “ruby red” or “onyx black” handsets, with both touchscreen controls and a full qwerty keyboard.

Palm unwraps the $100 smartphone

Available in the US from mid-October, the Centro is Palm’s response to the expected five-fold increase in the number of smartphone users by 2011. As for the rest of the world, Palm would only say that it “doesn’t know” when or if the Centro will become more widely available.

As far as the handset itself is concerned, comparisons with the iPhone are inevitable. Like Apple’s device its touchscreen is fingertip rather than stylus controlled. Unlike Apple’s button-free, on-screen keyboard, Palm has opted for a more traditional approach, with one-touch buttons for contacts and calendars in addition to the full keyboard.

The result, says Palm CEO Ed Colligan, is a fully-powered, but not fully-priced, smartphone. “Palm Centro has the power of a broadband smartphone at the price of a standard 12-key phone,” Colligan claims. “People looking to have all their contacts and calendar at the touch of a button, plus YouTube streaming videos and the internet can now get it in a small, cool design with the trademark Palm ease of use. If you’re thinking about stepping up to a smartphone, the Palm Centro should be your choice.”

Other services included in the US version of the handset include the ability to directly order prints of pictures taken with the 1.3 megapixel camera, a restaurant guide and Google Maps.

However there is no Wi-Fi support, so internet access is limited to Sprint’s CDMA2000-based network. Like the iPhone, there is no battery-hammering 3G, but Bluetooth is included.

As a result the removable lithium-ion battery can provide up to three-and-a-half-hours of talktime. That’s significantly less than the larger-screened iPhone’s eight hours.

On-board storage is just 64MB, with a microSD card slot providing an additional 4GB if required. There is a music player, with support for DRM music purchased from Yahoo’s and Real’s US downloads stores.

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