Celio Redfly

Today is a good day – a new gadget arrived today. 🙂

It’s a Celio Redfly.

I’m gonna try and make the case for the Redfly. This could be a futile effort – to be honest, they’re after a fairly narrow niche of the market, and if this is your sort of thing, you probably already know what it is. But here goes!

IBM Thinkpad - from plakboek's photos on FlickrIf you want to work (keep in touch, access the Internet, refer to notes and documents, etc.), you can get a computer.


IBM Thinkpad - from plakboek's photos on Flickr Treo 650What if you also want to work when you’re not at your computer?

Get a computer and a smartphone/PDA to carry with you when you’re out and about.

Sync the two so you can access the same information whichever one you’re using.

IBM Thinkpad - from plakboek's photos on Flickr HTC AdvantageWhat if you want to work when you’re not at your computer, but the teeny tiny screen on a smartphone/PDA isn’t big enough?

Get a really big-ass smartphone / PDA with a huge screen and sync that with your computer instead!

IBM Thinkpad - from plakboek's photos on Flickr Treo 650 Asus EEE PC at StarbucksWhat if you want to work when you’re not at your computer, but don’t want to try and make calls on a phone roughly the size and weight of your first car?

Get a computer, a regular smartphone for quick tasks like looking stuff up on the go, and a mini-laptop/UMPC like an EEE PC for when you want to do more involved work that needs a bigger screen.

IBM Thinkpad - from plakboek's photos on Flickr Treo 650 Celio RedflyThe problem with that is that syncing two devices is bad enough. Keeping three in sync is just a major headache.

Sure there are some workarounds, like working off USB memory sticks or keeping everything online, but these aren’t ideal.

Enter the Redfly from Celio.

Celio Redfly and an EEE PCIt looks like a laptop, and is virtually the same size as the EEE PC.

But it’s a dumb terminal without it’s own processor or storage – it pairs with a smartphone (by USB or Bluetooth) and runs from there. It’s basically the same as plugging a monitor and keyboard into your laptop – you’re still using your laptop, just with more comfortable peripherals.

With the Redfly, you’re still using your smartphone, just from the keyboard and display of the Redfly.

I’ve only had a little time to play with it tonight, so here are my first impressions:

Celio RedflyBattery life is the key
Without needing to run stuff like a processor or memory, the battery life is supposed to be miles better than the EEE PC. Celio reckons 8 hours of usage is typical. I’ve not used it long enough to see this for myself, but most reviews I’ve read have said that this is a realistic figure. If it’s true, that is almost enough to convince me of the value of it.

(A drawback to this might have been that I wouldn’t get 8 hours of work out of my smartphones, but if you connect it to your smartphone/PDA by USB, it charges the smartphone while you work!)

Screen size… wow
Celio Redfly and an EEE PCThe screen is bigger than EEE PCs (mainly because of the fat border you get round the screen on the EEE PCs). And it’s a ‘proper’ big screen – they don’t just scale the smartphone’s display, the resolution is increased. So you don’t get same number of letters on a screen but bigger, you really get more letters on a screen.

The difference is striking – some of the core apps like Pocket Word and Pocket Excel become a thousand times more usable when you can see them through a 800×480 resolution screen. You can see what I mean if you check out the screenshots on Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite for Windows.

My mobile setup before this was using a smartphone with a folding bluetooth keyboard and small pocket mouse. This makes for a much more comfortable way to work than on the smartphones own keyboard. But you’re still staring at a very small screen, and it’s a pain to use if you’re not at a table – balancing the folding keyboard with the screen precariously perched on top is a nightmare on your lap. I’ve been on train journeys where it was easier to just work on the smartphone’s own thumbboard rather than persist with the balancing act. This solves both problems – a very usable screen, with a laptop form-factor that makes it usable on your lap.

It’s not all rosy
Before I start sharing my gripes, it’s only fair to point out a couple of things:
1) This isn’t a finished consumer retail product. This is proper early-adopter bleeding edge stuff – an

“…Evaluation/Demo Unit Pre-Order … offer[ed] … directly to enterprise customers for evaluation and mobile solution providers for demonstration…”

2) I’m using it on a smartphone that isn’t on Celio’s list of compatible, supported phones.
So take my moans with a massive pinch of salt, okay?

Right… with that out of the way.

It’s overpriced. I’m embarrassed to even admit how much I spent on it. I know it’s early adopter, I know they’re going for the enterprise market… but even so. Let’s just say I was having a bad day, and this was something of an impulse-related comfort purchase.

Celio RedflyNot all apps work. Because it’s not just reproducing the same display but bigger, but actually drawing a larger resolution display, some applications go a little funky. Many of them scale without any problems.

My most-used apps – for example, Pocket Outlook, Pocket Word, Pocket Excel, my own wiki note-taking app, SPB Finance, Pocket Informant – all scale perfectly. (I would say ‘phew’, but I’d already checked this – Chris shared a neat way to customise the Windows Mobile emulator to run at the larger resolution).

Unfortunately, a few apps don’t work. In particular, native (rather than managed, .NET, apps) and Java applications seem to struggle. I was especially dismayed to see that my mobile IM client of choice, Slick, is completely unusuable.

There are quirky video driver issues. This is massively in the territory of not-using-a-supported-smartphone, so this is really an unfair comment. Text is fine, but images on webpages and documents sometimes appear a little warped, icons can be distorted or be painted behind the background, that sort of thing. It’s not a major problem for me (I work with text more often than images!) but it’s something that I hope would get resolved when they get around to writing the drivers for the HTC Advantage. Update (13th Aug): Celio have released a firmware update which has resolved these issues!

Celio RedflyThe power cable sucks. Overall, the build quality of the Redfly is amazing – it feels like a sturdy and reliable piece of kit, and the finish on outside is lovely. With such attention to detail, I’m amazed that they ship it with this flakey little AC adaptor the end of which drops out of the Redfly if you so much as breathe on it. It’s a good thing the battery life is decent, because once you plug this thing in, you really don’t want to touch it again until it’s charged. Gah.

Install wasn’t entirely smooth. setup.exe installed the wrong driver on my phone – a driver for a non-touchscreen smartphone device – that crashes and breaks the Redfly-smartphone connection anytime you do anything that isn’t possible on a non-touchscreen device, like open a context menu. Again, this is entirely understandable – my phone isn’t on the list of supported devices that it knows about so when it queried my mobile for it’s make/model, it would have got back an unknown result. When I manually chose a driver from their website (I went with the driver for the AT&T Tilt, thinking it’d be the most similar to my device), those problems all went away.

These are minor quibbles. So far, I love my new toy. I’ve only had a quick chance to play with it, but it’s definitely gonna be getting a lot of use in the next few days and weeks, and I’ll write another post if my first impressions are way off. But for now, me like 🙂

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12 Responses to “Celio Redfly”

  1. dale says:

    Noticed something else that I like:

    Connecting to the phone – which is the device’s “boot time” if you think of it as a laptop/EEE PC replacement – is amazingly quick. So cool.

  2. dale says:

    It’s a bit heavier than the EEE PC. I’m guessing this is because the space that would otherwise be taken up by processor, memory, storage, graphics chip, et al. is free to make the big 8 hour battery.

    I don’t mind too much… given the choice between light as EEE PC with a flat battery in a few hours, or something slightly heavier that will run all day, I’ll take this.

  3. dale says:

    I’m noticing that the battery life of the HTC Advantage is much longer when it doesn’t need to run that big 5 inch screen! Even with the overhead of the Bluetooth connection to the Redfly, it seems to be lasting longer than normal. Neat!

  4. […] project materials, reference info, links, meeting notes, code snippets, everything. Run on the Redfly, it really shines – making it an awesome note-taking […]

  5. mortenb says:

    This is the exact same idea as the now abandoned
    Foleo from Palm. I believe this product will go the same way.

  6. dale says:

    @mortenb – While it’s true that there are some obvious similarities with the Foleo, I wouldn’t agree that it is the exact same idea.

    The Foleo was going to have it’s own operating system (Linux-based to be sure, but still a new and custom OS) and it’s own storage. It was something that would have been able to work as a stand-alone laptop. The intention was that it would come with a big sync button that would let you sync data such as emails between your Palm PDA and the email app on the Foleo.

    As I noted in my post, the Redfly takes a different approach and has no local apps, storage, processor, etc.

    The Foleo would have suffered from the three-way sync problem I mentioned in my post with the EEE PC. The Redfly doesn’t, by using the PDA’s own storage.

    The Foleo would have needed developers to write applications for it (in fact, I remember some developers porting their apps to the Foleo platform, only for Palm to then cancel the device!). The Redfly doesn’t – by extending the display of the PDA’s own OS rather than adding a new one, virtually any existing Windows Mobile app will run on it. Rather than a choice of a few apps for the Foleo, the Redfly comes with a library of thousands of third-party applications.

    The Foleo – needing to run it’s own storage, processor, graphics rendering, etc. – would have likely had a battery life similar to a typical laptop. (It was essentially a laptop with integrated sync). The Redfly – as essentially a glorified KVM – doesn’t have to support any of this, and ends up with far longer battery life.

    In these and other ways, I think Celio have come up with an approach that is distinct from the goals that Palm had with the Foleo. Ultimately, I don’t know whether the Redfly will succeed or not, but I can say that it meets my personal needs very well.

  7. Carl Clarke says:

    I keep taking a look at Redfly information on the web and thinking ‘should I – shouldn’t I? An good objective view like yours makes me think I should buy a Redfly but the one thing that holds me back is that it is priced higher than many of the existing and new UMPCs. Asus Eee ~ ?200, Dell E ~ < ?200, Advent 4211/MSI Wind < ?280, Redfly ~ ?310. I manage to sync my laptop, desktop and Pocket PC phone using a combination of folder redirection, the mobile device centre and Exchange server. For me the advantage is useability – I would love to do more with my PPC such as analysis design using a PPC UML tool, more serious photo editing and essential web browsing, wordprocessing, etc. I believe that a keenly priced Redfly would drive up the demand for more serious PPC applications…

  8. dale says:

    I admit that it is overpriced, but I think that can be largely explained away as an “Early Adopter Tax” – this isn’t really into retail yet, so until they get production up and running fully, it was always gonna cost a bit more.

    I love it – it goes with me everywhere now, and I get a lot of use out of it. It might be more pricey than something like the EEE PC, but it has a few benefits over it, too:

    Battery life – working online, I can get a couple of hours out of the EEE PC’s battery. Running by itself, I’ve had the Redfly going for 12 or 13 hours before needing a charge. Obviously, working online, my phone’s battery wont last that long, and using the Redfly to keep the phone’s battery up does knock it’s battery life – but even then I can get 8 or so hours out of it.
    The ability to get a full days work between charges is a massive difference between this and UMPCs like the EEE.

    Bootup – Full-fledged operating systems like the Xandros Linux on my EEE PC take a while to boot. The Redfly’s “boot” (the time to connect to the Windows Mobile PDA) is a few seconds. So it makes it practical for quick tasks in a way that the EEE PC (or those like it) just isn’t.
    While I know I can leave the EEE PC in standby to make bootup quicker, doing that and leaving it in my bag means you pay a big price in battery life, plus it gets pretty hot! I can’t leave the EEE PC on in standby all day, and expect it to still have any battery life left by the end of the day.

    These two alone justify adding an extra ?100 to the price for me.

    The price you pay is in power – I can’t do everything I might want to do on a smartphone. But I can do enough that it’s still worth it.

  9. […] panned the Palm Foleo. Alert Reader Dale Lane has actually answered this question pretty clearly on his own blog, but at the risk of being redundant, here’s my […]

  10. […] This change is possible because of the Redfly. […]

  11. Kurt Woodham says:

    Dale, Purchased a Redfly last week – agree wholeheartedly with your assessment: I think that this is a very elegant solution to a significant need: while the CPU capability and memory in recent phones has increased dramatically, there is still the I/O limitations imposed by the size of the device. Using the RedFly as a dumb terminal is a perfect solution.

    By the way – I tried bLADE out this evening – works extremely well on the big screen. Thanks for a great wiki.

  12. […] wont port to Android or Palm’s webOS so easily. Until I figure this out, I’ll keep the Redfly on me with a Windows Mobile phone for mobile access to my notes. […]