Luddite news: My new cell phone is…

I’ve owned one cell phone in my life – This Motorola something or other. I bought it in 2003 when I quit my job. Back then, I bought it mostly because my wife got the same one – she’s smart, and on average copying what she does works out well.

Motorola phone

When the recharge jack died and the phone overheated after a long plane trip, it was time to shop. I knew I needed the following things in a new phone:

  1. Dead simple ease of use for my 75% usage: calling and talking to people.
  2. High durability. I never want to worry about dropping something I carry in pocket. Look at the scars on the above photo: that’s the mark of a well used, well built piece of technology.
  3. Any fancy features never get in my way.

I spent 4 months looking at phones in person and developed the following simple test, knowing it represented 90% of what I’d use one of these things for:

  1. Make a phone call
  2. Send a text message
  3. Add a contact
  4. Type in a url, view it and add it as a bookmark
  5. Look up the map for an address
  6. Add an appointment
  7. Sync to my desktop PC

If any of the above took more than 30 seconds to figure out, or seemed like it would take 30 seconds to figure out every time, I gave the phone a failing grade. I looked at dozens of phones and 95% of them failed this simple test for me.

The only phone that passed, was the one I bought last month – The Palm Centro:

Motorola phone

I’ve had the phone nearly a month and I’ve been very happy. It’s slightly bigger than the Motorola, but still fits easily in my jeans pocket. The phone doesn’t have some of the latest super cool features and whatnot, but I really do not care – for what I actually do, its been great. Simple, simple, simple, with many thoughtful UI design elements. Hopefully the phone will last me, like the last one, another five years. While it lacks GPS, there’s a google maps update that gives you 300 yard accuracy by pinging cell phone towers, good enough for every situation I’ve been in so far.

Many friends point me to the Blackberry, but even the latest models were larger than the Centro, much harder to use, and their UI was downright ugly. The Palm UI, from fonts to layouts, has a superior level of care. As much as I wanted to like the Blackberry, by my standard above it wasn’t close.

I did look at the Apple i-phone, and while it looks great and has some excellent design aspects, it totally failed #2 above. I’d scratch that screen in a day, and drop the phone in a week, and after killing two apple nano i-pods (call me the screen destroyer), I wasn’t convinced it would survive my travels. I also had problems with the touchscreen keyboard: I just don’t like typing on touch screens (YMMV). It seemed designed well, but Centro’s keyboard, despite all my instincts against mini-keyboards, worked super well even with my extra-large hands.

(See my follow review months later)

12 Responses to “Luddite news: My new cell phone is…”

  1. David C-L

    Wow– I’m impressed with anyone who has had a cell phone last 5 years. I’ve never had a phone last more than two years, and most phones last me less than a quarter.

  2. Scott (admin)

    David: Is that ’cause they break, or you choose to get a new one? And if they break, what part breaks first?

    I’m convinced the power chargers for cell phones and like headphone jacks for walkmen: the 50cent piece is the first thing on the $50 gadget to break :)

  3. Richard D.

    I’ve had a Centro for a year and love it. The monthly cost for the data plan is about 1/2 of what you need to pay for a Blackberry. I also like that I can sync up w/ a Mac or a PC w/ it. I use L. Notes @ work and I sync my work calendar w/ the device as well w/ IBM’s EasySync Pro software.

  4. Suzanne

    interesting how your requirements krept . . .

  5. Gib

    Interesting that you define your main criteria, and then you reject the BlackBerry on two criteria that weren’t in your criteria — the size of the unit and the aesthetics of the UI.

    Although I love the iPhone and at some point will get one, it will be a breaking point where I decided that the visual web is the most important thing.

    For me, right now, typing, emailing/texting and easy social connectivity and WiFi blog reading are the most important, and the iPhone fails there because, as you noted, the keyboard.

    Although iPhone fans who are friends of mine say “I got used used to the keyboard” I counter that with “I’m not used to the illegible texts and emails iPhone friends send.”

    How did you determine the Centro was sturdy enough? Nanos are reasonably sturdy. Was it featured on as unblendable? (The iPhone becomes charcoal rather fast).

  6. Fred Schechter

    Heh,, interesting. I pretty much ran the same specs, I’ve had my centro for a little over 2 months now. More than that, I bought a blackberry pearl about 9 months ago, and took it back 48 hours later in utter disgust. I have had a palm pilot since the original professional back in 1997 I think, so I’m fairly ensconced in the palm way of doing things, and as I’ve been trapped in verizonland (and they passed on the iPhone way back when (grumble grumble)).
    That said,, it does what I need, very well, and aside from all the cutesy actions of the iphone, I am very satisfied with the centro, it gets things done (and occasionally I resort to using it online for google maps which work great).

    Best of all, it syncs on my computer and I can work on it from my computer (I don’t run outlook, so that doesn’t count).

    Glad to see another Palm fan using a real piece of technology well.

  7. Brian

    I’ve been a very happy Palm Treo 650 owner for 3 1/2 years. Though I’ve fought with getting the Treo to sync with Thunderbird for contacts (I don’t use Outlook), I am insanely happy with ChatterMail, which handles Google IMAP so well that it makes Outlook’s IMAP implementation look amateurish (which is why I don’t use Outlook!).

    Sure, the Treo’s Palm OS is dated and quirky at times, it’s extremely battery-efficient and does everything that I need it to do (which is pretty much the same things you need a phone to do) — and it takes a fair degree of abuse.

  8. Warren

    How good have you found the battery life to be?

  9. Scott (admin)

    Gib: Good point. To be honest I didn’t write down my requirements, I had them in mind, and somewhere along the way in actually handling all the phones they evolved. Handling the phones was very important and you can’t do it online.

  10. Scott (admin)

    Warren: I can’t give you hard numbers, but I can say it has not been an issue for me so far. I’ve had a few business trips with it, and despite heavy web/phone use, haven’t come close to running out of power.



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