My Palm Centro – A Step Back?

Nerd appeal and fashion must-have status – the new iPhone 3G seems to have everyone all a-jitter. With all the hype and praise being rained on this nifty little gadget, I couldn’t help it. I marched into my local AT&T store and bought a black Palm Centro. It was significantly cheaper, less in-demand and therefore available, and it also meant I didn’t need to hack it to make it work with my home PC. Because I run Ubuntu Linux (aka Umbongo, hehe) on my desktop and the supplied Xandros Linux on my laptop, and I don’t want Windows Mobile anywhere near them, and Apple won’t support Linux due to their “walled garden” style of software and hardware, that leaves Palm.

I’ve had a couple of Palm devices over the years. When I first started needing to keep track of contacts and events, I bought a cheapo WHSmith Filofax knockoff. This served very well until I started using more than one computer, and more and more email, so decided to go digital. I researched the various options, and ended up being given a Psion Siena with 512K of memory and a full QWERTY keyboard in a little pacakge the size of a glasses case. That suffered a bizarre fate at my hands and was eventually given away to a collector, who probably took one look at it and threw it in the bin. Still, it went to a good home.

What to replace it with? I wanted the ability to sync with a PC – that was the minimum. A lively freeware and open source software scene was important. After doing some research, I ended up with a Handspring Visor Deluxe off eBay. This was a pretty nifty little gadget, and I used it for a couple of years, gathering various bits of freeware and open source niceness. I was constantly worrying about the batteries, because the memory was volatile, so I kept emergency batteries in my bag.

I liked the Palm platform by this time, so my next upgrade was to a Palm Tungsten E, which I bought in 2004, again from eBay. This was great. Colour, sound (I even used it for an MP3 player for a while) and fast touch response. Eventually the power button stopped working, and the battery got so bad that it wouldn’t last more than half a day without a recharge. Not good, especially with volatile data and program memory. I still have the E, in a drawer somewhere, along with the infrared keyboard and case that I bought for it. But I didn’t use it for a while, and then in all the madness surrounding moiving to the US, it got forgotten, as I mainly used a paper notebook to keep track of what I needed to do.

When I arrived in San Diego, I needed to get a cellphone. In the UK, I had never had my own, because one was provided by my company, complete with no camera, web access and the best part, invisible bills. Cassie had an AT&T account, so I tried them first. At first, with my lack of Social Security Number and credit rating, all I could do was buy a $30 pay-as-you-go SIM and stick it in a battered old flip phone that had belonged to Cassie’s Mum. That served for a while, but when I received my SSN, I decided to go for it and dive into the smartphone world. So far so good.

But how long can I last with Palm? The company has been severely hit by lack of innovation, delays with its suspected vaporware Linux-based PalmOS 6, and of course that Jobs effort. They pinned their hopes on the Foleo, an irrelevant machine which has now been completed sidestepped by all the cheap netbooks you can get these days.

In August 2007, shortly before the Foleo was released to near-universal disdain, consumer electronics blog Engadget published an open letter to Palm, telling them to pull their finger out. I agree with pretty much every point in it, including the one suggesting they stop the development of the Centro. But the way things stand, I’m happy with my phone. For now. I saw Jon Stewart using a Centro on The Daily Show, so it can’t be all bad. As I said in a comment on one blog, PalmOS may be dead, but its corpse still walks the earth. Just recently, Palm released the WinMo-based Treo Pro, again to a lukewarm reception from the tech press. But the tech press isn’t the be-all and end-all. People will buy what they want, and I know that one guy in my office bought a Centro partially on the strength of my recommendation.

I find myself in a funny situation. I have a big desktop PC at home, which I haven’t switched on since I tested it after unpacking from its epic journey on the APL Egypt. There are a couple of things stopping me. The cable modem is the other side of the room, so I just need to buy a big long ethernet cable. The other is that I have my little EeePC on the sofa, and I am finding that is sufficient for my home computing needs. This means that my home comuting needs have vastly reduced. I guess recent life changes have meant I’m more busy, when I am at home. My iPod is several generations old, and I haven’t sync’d it up for ages. I don’t play games, apart from the odd round of Mahjongg. UT2004 is no longer the thing.

But don’t worry. I’ll always be a geek. Especially with the Centro clipped to my belt the way it is.