Well, I’ve been
playing with working with the Celio Redfly smartphone companion for just a few hours but I’m already getting beaten up to give my first impressions of the unique device so here goes. This will not be a full review and will only touch upon the things I have tried with the Redfly and what I think about those. There will be additional coverage coming from both Kevin and I so take this as a very quick and dirty overview of the Redfly.
First up, what is the Redfly? It is a small (almost the exact size of the EEE PC) laptop form device that does only one thing- it connects to a Windows Mobile smartphone or Pocket PC and extends the display and the keyboard of the phone. That’s all it does and it does it very well. There is no processor onboard, no memory, no computer of any kind. It uses the phone as the processor and simply gives you better input/ output capability for the Windows Mobile phone. There is a short list of currently certified WM phones that will work with the Redfly but Celio is working on adding to that list. The folks at Celio supplied an AT&T Tilt to use with the Redfly evaluation but I will not discuss the phone at all at this point. Read on for my impressions of the Redfly.
The Redfly has an 8 inch screen that extends the phone’s display to 800×480. It’s not just zooming it up, no it is increasing the WM resolution to 800×480 and doing so very well. You connect the Redfly to the phone by USB (mini) or by Bluetooth once it’s been configured to do so and it can be paired wtih more than one phone (but only used with one at a time) since it’s just extending the display. I have connected it to the Tilt and also to the HTC Advantage with no problems. The connection is a one button operation via Bluetooth and runs just as fast as it does via USB which is impressive. Note that if you connect via USB then the Redfly charges the phone. Pretty handy for travelers.
Once the Redfly is connected to the phone the phone’s display goes blank and the Redfly display goes active and it’s very cool to see what is in essence a giant Windows Mobile Today screen. Since the Redfly is simply displaying the phone’s output there are no compatibility issues, anything that runs on the phone is displayed just fine on the Redfly. I find no lag in the display or the keyboard, it is as fast as the phone it is connected to.
The keyboard is the same size as the EEE PC keyboard and I have no trouble touch typing on it. It couldn’t be smaller and work but it’s the perfect size to capitalize on portability and still be functional. The top row of keys are Function keys that are also preassigned to perform a lot of the Windows Mobile functions like go to the Today screen, fire up Email, hit the browser, etc. It is all very well thought-out and functions intuitively with the phone. There is also a small trackpad with two mouse buttons and it is cool to use with the Windows Mobile interface. It works pretty well and takes up little room so it’s a good addition to the keyboard. Of course, since there are two USB ports you can hook up a mouse if you don’t like trackpads, something I haven’t done yet but will try later. The USB ports also let you hook up flash drives and bring files into the phone with ease which is very, very cool. No fumbling with the mini-SD cards and the like, just plug in a USB key drive and get busy. There is also a VGA port for using with projectors so presentations can be done with Mobile PowerPoint.
Using the Redfly couldn’t be easier nor more intuitive. You turn on the power, connect the USB cable to both the Redfly and the phone and you’re connected. Or just turn on the Redfly, hit the Bluetooth button on the keyboard (F12) and select the phone from the valid paired list. You go from off to on in about 2 seconds which is very cool. You instantly see the Today screen on the Redfly that is now a biiiggg Today screen. You can interact with the interface via the touchpad or via an external mouse or by keys like a smartphone. Whatever works best but I usually find the touchpad to be the best way to work with it.
I configured my Exchange Server and one POP email account on the Tilt and I’ve been using the Redfly for my main email machine since I’ve had it. I have to tell you it’s a joy to work with email using the screen and keyboard and it’s worked well for me. I have received via email several Word docs, a spreadsheet and several PDFs and they open and display well on the Redfly. This could easily be a good travel device for professionals who live in email. You can also send text messages, remember the phone is the core device here. The Redfly email experience really shines with the push email and the Exchange Server. Compare it to using a real PC in the field. I take out the PC, connect to 3G with my modem, tell Outlook to go get my email. I wait for it to download and then process my email. With the Redfly, since it’s using the WM phone, I turn on the Redfly and connect in a couple of seconds and already find my email waiting for me due to push email. I can start processing my email right away. It doesn’t sound like much but if you do that numerous times a day it can add up to a lot of saved time.
Surfing the web is very nice too. I am using Opera Mobile and it works very well. I’m getting good bandwidth using the AT&T 3G network but also am using the WiFi on the Tilt for web work. Nice and fast and a lot of fun. Using the Redfly is a lot like having an expanded Advantage although much better for data entry. Everything has worked just like you expect it to and I’ve experienced no problems so far.
I installed the trial for Pocket Informant and working with my PIM data on the 8 inch screen is just super. PI works well with the expanded resolution of the Redfly and I can see so much data on a single screen it’s like using a computer. That is the key ingredient the Redfly brings to the professional. It basically turns your smartphone into a real computer for $499. Some feel that is too expensive for a device like the Redfly that isn’t a real computer but I can see paying this for the functionality it brings if you already have a WM phone.
So far I am having a blast using the Redfly, I think Celio has produced a very airtight user experience. To me that is the advantage of the Redfly over what the Palm Foleo tried to be. There is a distinct advantage to not providing a processor and an OS on the Redfly, it keeps things drop dead simple and trouble-free. This approach will work well for those who work for mega-corporations who have provided them with WM phones. Those locked-down IT departments won’t even know if you’re using the Redfly so you can buy one yourself and not worry about running afoul of the IT police. The connection to the network is done strictly by the approved phone so the Redfly can be added at your end with no problems. That could be a big deal to the professional that the Redfly targets.
UPDATE: Fellow podcaster and ZDNET blogger Matt Miller has a Redfly too and has posted some first impressions with a short video and lots of photos.