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REDFLY for the BlackBerry — Not the Solution You Were Looking For

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REDFLY BB BOLDThe REDFLY from Celio is a product like no other, and can be a good fit for road warriors. The REDFLY is built to do only one thing, extend the screen and add a full keyboard to supported smartphones. The little laptop has no memory, no storage and no processor; it uses those on the connected smartphone. All it does is display the phone screen on the 8-inch display of the REDFLY, and makes the keyboard and trackpad available to interact with the phone.

I was impressed with the original REDFLY when I tested it over a year ago. That model worked with Windows Mobile phones, and I found it worked very well. That is important, as a special device like the REDFLY built to do one thing has to do it well. I was excited to hear a new version was available to work with the BlackBerry, as that would be the perfect target audience for the REDFLY. An evaluation unit arrived late yesterday, and in just a short time I must say this is not a solution I would recommend to BlackBerry owners.

There are some road warriors who are now leaving the laptop at home, using the smartphone for all computing needs while traveling, and the REDFLY is aimed directly at these folks. While it is now possible to do many things on the phone that previously would be done on a laptop, there are still some times that a bigger display and keyboard would be great to have in the bag.

That’s the theory, anyway, and this new model that works with some models of BlackBerries falls short. The problem is in the interface of the BlackBerry itself, and it falls so short the question must be asked why should Celio even produce this REDFLY model. The problems with this model are two-fold, the terrible interaction with the BlackBerry interface and the horrible display rendering. Since those are the two basic functions of the REDFLY, you understand why I question producing this model.

There is a trackpad that is impossible to use with the BlackBerry Bold Celio sent for testing. The Bold is not designed to be used with cursor control, and the trackpad is erratic to use as a result. I quickly found the only way to interact with the phone interface was to use the arrow keys on the REDFLY, hardly the desired method.

Worse than the interface interaction, I found the BlackBerry screen rendering on the big 8-inch display of the REDFLY to be unusable. I can explain all day why that is, but these photos do it simply and clearly:

These are not special cases, this is the display quality I found in all apps I tried. I admit I gave up after ten minutes, as I found the display to be unusable for any practical purpose. I realize that the BlackBerry is not designed to work with the REDFLY, and that is the reason for the lousy experience. But I have to question, given how well Celio gets the REDFLY to work with Windows Mobile phones, if the limitations of the BlackBerry are too great then why does this model even exist? I respect the folks at Celio, and still believe the Windows Mobile REDFLY is a great mobile solution.

I should point out that the REDFLY has two display modes. The pictures above were taken with the REDFLY set to stretch the screen as big as possible. You can turn off the stretching, but when you do that only a third of the REDFLY screen is used. The resultant display is only slightly bigger than that of the phone itself, which totally defeats the purpose.

21 Responses to “REDFLY for the BlackBerry — Not the Solution You Were Looking For”

  1. I’m still waiting for Redfly to release their promised version for Android phones. That, and their “Redfly Software” (letting you use your own devices, instead of their “netbook”-ish device).

  2. I can’t help but wonder if the interface would be improved if you were using the Storm or the Storm2 instead of the bold, or other half screen / half keyboard blackberry’s.

    My contention is that the screen quality would actually improve since the landscape mode is more close to the redfly screen dimensions, as well as the cursor handling given the touch feature.

    I’m tempted to try it, but I would love to see if anyone else has tried.

  3. As a user of the Redfly/BlackBerry combination, I have to disagree with much of this review.

    It’s true, when the image from the BlackBerry is expanded to fill the Redfly’s screen, pixels are enlarged, giving them a blocky look, but I’d hardly call it “unusable”. In addition, there’s a work-around for this: you can turn off the function that stretches the image to fill the screen. You still end up with an image that about twice the size of what’s on your Blackberry, and it’s as crisp as the smartphone’s own display. I prefer the expanded version, but the other option is there.

    I also disagree with the characterization of the cursor control as “unusable”. There’s a learning curve, but once you get familiar with it, it’s much easier. If you don’t want to work through the curve, the arrow keys are always there, which I think is decent option. True, it’s not ideal, but it’s not that inconvenient, either.

    And finally, I think it was a mistake to ignore the advantages of the large keyboard, one of the major strengths of the Redfly. I know people have grown accustomed to tapping out messages on their BlackBerry’s tiny keyboard, but this accessory brings a a nearly full-size one to the mix. It lets me type much faster.

    • Ed, I respect your opinion of the REDFLY and I understand what you are saying. You and I have both used the WinMo version of the REDFLY, which handles the display and trackpad perfectly.

      The fact is this BlackBerry model, and the shortcoming is clearly in the RIM OS, offers a fraction of the functionality of the WinMo version, at the same price. As for the unusability of the display, I’ll let the photos I took of the screen speak for themselves. That’s what the user sees, and in my view that is not usable for a device like this.

      I agree with you that the addition of the larger keyboard can be important to BB owners, and the REDFLY delivers on that front. It’s a tad too small to be a true touch-typable solution, but it’s much better than the little phone keyboard.

      As for the trackpad comments, again I appreciate what you are saying. But the fact is, due to the limitations of the BB OS itself, the trackpad will not function like a trackpad. Why have one, in that event? Takes up space, currently not used by the display, and adds cost.

      As is always the case with mobile gadgets, everyone is different. I appreciate your lending your POV, but mine is as stated.

      • Is there a way I can submit some photos of what I’m seeing on the Redfly? Because mine looks far better than what is in your images. We’re both using the Bold, so is it possible there are settings that are different?

      • > But the fact is, due to the limitations
        > of the BB OS itself, the trackpad will not
        > function like a trackpad. Why have one,
        > in that event? Takes up space, currently
        > not used by the display, and adds cost.

        Are you suggesting that Celio should have made special hardware just for BlackBerrys? I prefer the current setup, where a single Redfly can be used with Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, and eventually Android. Making a version without a trackpad just for BB would remove that advantage.

      • The screen looks better if stretching is turned off on the REDFLY, as I indicated. This only uses about a third of the 8-inch screen, and while it looks sharper it is only slightly bigger than the Bold’s screen. Again, why have an 8-inch screen if only a portion of it can be used?

        My conversations with Celio say they are working with RIM to allow interaction directly with the OS. When that is enabled, the display can be done properly (their word) as it is with WinMo. My take on that is that they should have waited.

        If you are getting good use out of the REDFLY as it is currently implemented, I am happy for you. I couldn’t use this longer than 5 or 10 minutes myself.

        Celio also told me that Android will allow them to work with the display properly, so perhaps that should have been their second platform to release.

    • why would you need that ? typing long text messages ? They’ve invented email for that..

      word processing ? internet browsing ? powerpoint presentations ? image slideshows, watching porn…I think the netbook is gonna do all of those better then this “magnifying glass for BB” :)

      I don’t get it, why does somebody need to blow up 3″ screen to 8″ and still use the same crap resolution ?

      • Goathog02

        “I don’t get it, why does somebody need to blow up 3″ screen to 8″ and still use the same crap resolution ?”

        Why? B/c I am already paying $30/month to use data on my phone. To pay an additional $30 to tether to my laptop (and not use any more data than my phone uses) is the insane part. All we want is a bigger screen.
        Plus, with no RAM/HD/etc internal to the RedFly, TCO is lower over the long run.

    • Celio does have a Windows version of the Redfly (called the Redfly viewier I believe) that lets you connect to a WinMo phone from a notebook, netbook, or desktop. It can give it up to an 800×600 display in a window. I trial tested it a while back, and it worked very well.

      If you always travel with a small notebook, the software version is well worth it because it does let you do “phone” things on a bigger screen. (like those people that do a LOT of text messaging, a full keyboard is much nicer)

  4. Really? There are roadwarriors who take a Redfly and a smartphone instead of a small laptop/netbook/call-it-whatever-you-want?

    I could see myself going on short trips with just my iPhone (or Pre or Android phone) if I knew I’d not need a computer. But if I were to take something the size of a the Redfly, I’d just take a real computer…

    Color me shocked that the recession hasn’t killed off this company.

  5. oh yeah, the photos of the Blackberry OS on the Redfly screen do look like crap. Geez, what were they thinking? This should have been a case of half-assed isn’t good enough, and concentrate on a different OS that would translate.

  6. It looks to me like the blackberry isn’t capable of working with any screen resolution other than the default. This is unfortunate because it means they have to stretch the image to fit the redfly screen. Windows Mobile, on the other hand, can adapt to various screen resolutions, so when you connect your Redfly, the redfly drivers tell WinMo what resolution the new screen is, and the experience is quite pleasant.

    If this is truly the case, then there really isn’t anything that the Redfly can do to give you a better experience. It is all because of the poor design of the blackberry operating system.

    Many people knock Windows Mobile these days, but as an operating system it is full featured and flexible. Sure, the UI needs some updates, but the core OS really can’t be beat.

  7. James Morman

    It is unfortunate that the Redfly isnt working well with a Blackberry. I got a Tour a few months ago and was hopeful. The other issue for those of you with the original C8 Redfly, which isnt even two years old, is that they are no longer supporting it. They issued one last driver for it that includes BB drivers but
    it works exactly as you describe. Oh well.