My product review for today is of the Celio Redfly “mobile companion”. The concept behind the Redfly is surprisingly easy, yet not always easy to explain, so I’ll do what I can to keep things simple.
The Celio Redfly works in conjunction with many Windows Mobile powered PDA’s and smartphones, and essentially provides a large display, keyboard and trackpad for your device. What you normally see on the small screen of your PDA, will appear on the high-resolution 8″ display of the Redfly. Still with me?
You can connect to your PDA using a USB cable or Bluetooth. What this combination delivers, is a large screen and keyboard that lets you work with the applications on your PDA, without having to carry a large laptop, or work off a 3″ screen.
How does this work in real life use? Surprisingly well actually.
I’ve been using the Redfly with my PDA for a few weeks now, and it has become quite an invaluable little machine.
Of course, when you look at what the Redfly does, and at the price ($199 till October 31st, normally $399), you’ll be forgiven if you thought that a regular small laptop would be a better solution, even I assumed that when I first read about the Redfly. In reality, the Redfly does several things much better than most ultra portable laptops on the market.
- The device is “instant on” – within 4 seconds it is on and connected to your PDA
- You can use the Internet connection on your PDA without having to add a tethering plan or invest in a 3G modem
- The device has no drivers or settings that can become corrupted or that require updating
- There is no need to synchronize with your PDA, as you are working with information from just one source
- The Redfly has no moving parts and a low power CPU, so battery life is outstanding (up to 8 hours)
- Theft is not a concern as the Redfly does not store any data
If the concept sounds familiar, it is because it is almost the same idea behind the canceled Palm Folio mobile companion, don’t let that put you off though, Celio really have managed to develop a winning machine with the Redfly.
The hardware is nice and sturdy; the case is deep red (of course) and has a rubbery texture. On the right hand side is the power button and 2 power status LED’s, on the back is a VGA port and 2 USB ports for connecting to your PDA. The USB port can also charge your device when connected.
Before you can connect to the device, you have to install the Redfly client. This app can thankfully be downloaded directly when you point your mobile browser to Celio’s website. The client application is pretty straightforward and offers several handy features like the ability to connect automatically when you plug your PDA into the Redfly.
In the client application you can also configure the Bluetooth connection and program the home, mail and web hotkeys on the Redfly keyboard.
For my review, I used the Redfly with all the same applications I use on a regular basis on my PDA (the Sprint Mogul). During the review, I did discover several applications that did not work right. The first of them is the newest Opera browser (version 9.5). The previous version (8.65) works perfectly so this was not a major problem. I also ran across several games that did not like being used on the Redfly. Surprisingly, graphics intensive apps like Google Maps functioned perfectly. Celio have published a list of recommended (and tested) applications on their site.
Other than that, it ran everything perfectly, including the popular mobile office package Softmaker. Being able to switch from the tiny screen of my PDA to a comfortable 800×480 display for word processing or spreadsheet editing is fantastic, especially when combined with the keyboard of the Redfly.
Email and Internet browsing are equally impressive, but if you value a comfortable online experience, you’ll want to stay away from Pocket Internet Explorer and switch to Opera 8.6 instead.
One of the other advantages of the device is its external VGA port; with this port, you can connect your PDA to the Redfly, and connect the Redfly to a larger monitor or video projector. The Redfly even has support for a USB mouse. Once you install Pocket Powerpoint or any other presentation application of your choice, you suddenly have access to a 2lb portable presentation companion.
The Celio Redfly is currently being sold for just $199; at that price point I really can recommend anyone with a compatible Windows Mobile device to consider ordering one. After October 31st it goes back up to $399.
That price is a little trickier as it enters the realm where it is no longer an impulse purchase, and really only becomes suitable for people who actually need it, and not just those that want it. I have already managed to convince several of my friends to try it out, and not one of them has been disappointed with their purchase.
The device is not without a few minor flaws; the USB connectors on the back look pretty cheap, and they could use a little plastic to surround them. The device does not have a replaceable battery, which could prove to be annoying for long trips. And finally; there is very little information about the availability of spare parts or accessories for the device. I have not been able to find a car charger or spare AC adapter.
Despite those minor shortcomings I have been very impressed with the device. To steal a phrase from Apple; it just works. It always works, and it has never let me down. I’ll be the first to admit that it is logical to compare the $399 Redfly with a $399 Netbook and assume the Netbook would win, but if you just need something that you can bring along without having to worry about poor battery life or software issues, then you really should check out the Redfly. And remember, if you order by October 31st, you’ll be able to get one for just $199!