Verizon Wireless Launches $99 Palm Centro

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And on Thursday, Verizon Wireless said it plans to start offering the latest device from Palm, the Palm Centro smartphone, for less than $100 come June 13. The Centro is Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Palm's foray into the touch-screen craze and since its debut last September has become the struggling device-maker's bread and butter, based largely on the small price tag.

According to Basking Ridge, N.J.-based Verizon, its version of the Centro will be decked out in a crisp cobalt blue casing and available in Verizon's online store and at Verizon Wireless Communications Stores and retailers like Circuit City. The Centro, which Palm said has sold more than one million units since its debut last September, was previously made available from other wireless carriers like Sprint, AT&T and some international operators that also offered the $99 promotion.

The Palm Centro is the latest device in Palm's smartphone lineup, following in the footsteps of the Palm Treo, which received mild popularity but struggled to keep up with the evolving market of slick smartphones. The Centro takes Palm's chunky and clunky device model and streamlines it for the pro-sumer, the mobile user that needs a device that blurs the lines between work and play.

The Centro hits all the typical marks of a true smartphone, offering voice, text messaging, mobile email and Web access on the go with a full-color 320 pixel by 320 pixel touch-screen and QWERTY keyboard in a lightweight design -- it weighs in at 4.2 ounces with the battery and measures 2.1 inches long, 4.2 inches wide and 0.7 inches deep.

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According to Verizon, its wireless customers can also use the Centro as a modem for their laptops when they subscribe to Verizon Wireless' BroadbandAccess Connect service plan.

Palm's Centro, which runs Palm OS 5.4.9 and supports EV-DO wireless, also offers built-in Google Maps that gives users access to directions and lets them perform local searches and view moveable and scalable maps, along with satellite imagery and traffic updates. Users can also map a contact's address directly from the contact application just by hitting the "maps" button.

On the mobile email side, Verizon's Palm Centro users VersaMail 4.0 with built-in Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync support for Microsoft Direct Push Technology. Direct push delivers email and calendar updates from a home or office PC using Outlook and pushes it directly to the handset. Centro users also have the option to enable Wireless Sync, Verizon's proprietary email solution to access personal or corporate email, contacts, calendar and tasks for their PC. Verizon said Wireless Sync supports both POP3 and IMAP email accounts and it supports major corporate email accounts through Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Notes and IBM Lotus Domino.

Other features of the Palm Centro include text, picture and video messaging, through which text messages are presented in a chat style view so users can see their entire conversation. The device offers one-touch speakerphone and conference calling and the ability to respond to a call with a text message and the option to use the touch-screen dial pad. One-touch access to key applications is also available.

The Centro uses Blazer for its Web browser and features a media player with Pocket Tunes Deluxe. The handset features a two times digital zoom camera with video capture; Bluetooth 1.2 with support for hands-free car kids and headset profiles; 64 MB available users storage and a microSD memory card slot that can support up to 4 GB.

According to Verizon, the Palm Centro smartphone will be available for $99.99 after a $70 mail-in rebate with a new two-year customer agreement. For $29.99 per month customers can add Verizon Wireless' Email and Web for Smartphone service, an unlimited monthly data plan for Web browsing and email support, including personal email accounts.

Additionally, to use the Centro as a model and tether it to a laptop with a USB cable, Verizon is offering the BroadbandAccess Connect plan for an additional $30.