13 - Palm OS Mobile Phones
Palm Makes Stable, Easy-to-use Phones Like the Centro, Which Work Well on a Boat.

While there is no doubt that a mobile phone can be an asset aboard your boat, helping with everything from navigation to blogging, going mobile presents a universal problem: Which phone should you buy?

With multiple products available on Palm OS, Windows Mobile, Blackberry, iPhone, Symbian and now Google/Android platforms, the choices are vast and there are few good sources of information to help buyers sort it all out.

The good news is that, as the universe of mobile phones grows and matures, there is almost certainly a product that will meet your needs - in fact, probably more than one. Finding the one that is right for you requires some research, but the effort will pay off in the form of a product that meets your needs and matches your level of technical skill. Palm Centro Palm phones are stable and reliable options, especially for first time users.

Before you start shopping, assess your needs by answering a simple question: What do you want to do? Are you mainly interested in accessing weather and tide information, or do you want to use navigation software too. Are you keeping a blog? Do you require a camera? By listing your needs you are also listing criteria, and that can help you narrow the field of products. For some common criteria to consider, see How to Buy a Phone.

Assess your situation too. Do you have deep experience with a particular platform? Is a mobile phone provided through your job? Are some brands not supported by your mobile provider? Do you have family or friends who can offer technical help? All are factors that may further influence your decision.

When you understand your needs and constraints, then it's time to research what's out there - and that's where we can help. Over several articles, we look at all of the major platforms and highlight the pros and cons of each as they relate to use on a boat. Some of the information will be factual, and some will be opinions based on our experience. All should combine to arm you with the information you need to research your options more quickly and make a smart selection.


Palm is an industry leader in developing handheld computer products. The first Palm Pilot appeared in 1997, and these early devices were the precursors to today's mobile phones. We have owned, used and developed for Palm OS devices for many years and there are many reasons to consider a Palm OS device today.

While it is true that Palm OS has lost market share in recent years, there are still millions of devices in use today and new Palm OS mobile phones continue to be released. We believe Palm phones will be around for a long, long time and that they are an excellent choice, particularly for the new mobile phone user.

Palm's longevity in the market and experience with these small devices has created some of the easiest to use and most reliable mobile phones available. While some critics point to Palm's maturity as evidence that the company and its products are outdated, our experience is that they provide a solid, dependable device that rarely freezes or crashes. Palm_Pilot The Palm Pilot was released more than a decade ago, making Palm a pioneer in hand-held technology.

While Palm OS may lack some of the bells and whistles of Windows Mobile products or the iPhone, a Palm OS mobile phone cannot be beat when it comes to speed and responsiveness. Their touch screen technology has set the standard in the industry, allowing users to easily use their finger for tasks instead of pulling out a stylus. Palm devices also come with some nice features not found on other mobile phones, such as the ability to program the keys of the QWERTY keyboard to perform a variety of tasks.

Because Palm has been around so long, there are also lots of applications to choose from, including thousands of useful shareware and freeware applications. Tide Tool, an application offering tide and current predictions, and SmartList To Go, a list program, are examples of Palm applications that are hard to beat.

The main downside to Palm OS mobile phones is the lack of multitasking, meaning you can only run a single application at a time. While this is a major reason Palm OS mobile phones are so reliable and easy to use, it is also a limitation that can lead to some frustrating interactions, particularly for more experienced users.

For example, you may need to exit your navigation program in order to check your tide program. While the speed at which these programs load will limit the wait, there may be times when you want something to continue running in the background. For example, you may want your email program to download while you are navigating. On a Palm, you could not perform these two tasks simultaneously. If it is critical that your mobile phone be able to multitask then a Palm OS mobile phone may not be for you. Three Palm Centros Palm's Centro is economical and comes with a bright, daylight-viewable screen, making it well-suited to marine applications.


Our favorite Palm device is the Palm Centro, which was released in early 2008. It was our go to device for many years and is still our favorite for running ActiveCaptain Mobile. The Centro is inexpensive - available on Amazon for as little as $50 - and has the best screen quality of any mobile phone we have looked at. The brightness makes its visibility in sunlight excellent, which is a critical feature for use on a boat.

The Centro comes with a small QWERTY keyboard that is easy to use; within a day or two you'll be typing like a pro. It also comes with an adequate built-in camera, probably not what you want for a formal family portrait but just fine for snapping a photo for your blog. The Centro is no longer offered through the major cellular providers but is still a good inexpensive phone for your boat. Palm Treo Palm's Treo is a capable phone, though the Centro may be a better marine option.

Sprint is the only major cellular provider offering Palm phones. The Treo 755p has the same basic functions as the Centro but is bigger, heavier and typically costs more money. You can purchase a Treo 755p through Sprint for $99.99 with a two year contract. If you already own a Treo, they will work just fine. If you are looking to purchase a new device, we would recommend the Centro over the Treo. Palm makes phones which run the Windows Mobile operating systems which we cover in the Windows Mobile article.

Palm also makes non-phone handhelds, which may work for some boaters. Maybe you have a phone you love, or one is provided for you through work, and you don't want another. A Palm OS handheld can offer you many of the advantages of a mobile phone without another mobile bill. Many of these, like the Palm T2 and TX can be purchased on eBay for about $50 to $150.


We can't leave a discussion about Palm OS without talking about the future. There has been a lot of speculation about Palm's new devices and the company's new operating system, webOS. Palm has publicly stated that it is moving to a Linux-based operating system while maintaining compatibility with the existing base of software applications. This makes a lot of sense. There are tens of thousands of applications available for the Palm OS and the company would be crazy to just let that go.

The much anticipated Palm Pre, released earlier this year, has been getting industry recognition, winning Best in Show and the People's Voice Award at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show, but has lagged in market share. It has a built-in GPS, touchscreen, slide out keyboard, Bluetooth, WiFi, and unlike Palm OS phones, supports multitasking. The price is only $199.99 through Sprint with a two year contract. The Palm Pre consistently receives high marks with its biggest drawback being a lack of native applications. Now Palm has announced its next webOS phone, the Palm Pixi, a smaller, lighter version of the Palm Pre. These are phones to watch.

Since Palm is also producing their own Windows Mobile devices some have speculated that the company is giving up on the Palm OS. We don't see that happening yet. Palm's market share will continue to decrease as other manufactures like Apple create more products in the mobile phone space, but the overall future of Palm looks pretty stable.

The bottom line is that a Palm OS device may not be the phone you'll be using 5 years from now, but for a new mobile phone user, it might just be the one you should have for now.