It may be a few weeks before I get my hands on this latest gadget, but I'm intrigued by a new mobile companion for Windows Mobile devices called the REDFLY. Made by Celio, REDFLY is like a mini-laptop computer, weighing just two pounds, which connects via Bluetooth or USB to your Windows Mobile smart phone, providing more onscreen real estate and a true keyboard.
I know what you're thinking: You've heard of something like this before, Palm's ill-fated Folio, which the company announced a year ago amidst much fanfare and then dropped unceremoniously a few months later in recognition of the fact that proceeding to market would have stretched the struggling company too thin. And sure enough, from a mile high view, the Folio and the REDFLY seem pretty similar. But it is the differences, not the similarities, which have me interested in REDFLY.
Like the Folio, the REDFLY is a mobile companion, a product that must be used in tandem with a smart phone, in this case, six compatible Windows Mobile 5.0- and 6.0-based smart phones--the HTC Mogul (Sprint), HTC Tilt (AT&T), HTC XV6800 (Verizon), Palm 700w/wx (both Sprint and Verizon), and Samsung SCH-i760 (Verizon)--though more will be supported soon. It works by triggering an orientation reset on the device on connection, causing Windows Mobile to become aware of the new screen and thus adjust its display resolution accordingly, to 800 x 480.
This is low-res compared to most notebook screens, but it's a vast panorama by smart phone standards: Celio tells me that a typical Pocket Excel spreadsheet view expands from 5 columns and 6 rows on the smart phone screen to 13 columns and 16 rows on the REDFLY, enough to get real work done, not to mention actually make sense of pie charts and other graphics.
Because the REDFLY can be used wirelessly via Bluetooth, you can actually use the device while your smart phone sits in your pocket or briefcase: Just open up the REDFLY and get to work. Performance over wireless, I'm told, is seamless, but I'll need to wait on a review unit before I can verify those claims.
The big difference between the Folio and the REDFLY is that Celio's device, wisely, doesn't try to do too much. Unlike the Folio, which would have run a custom version of Linux and duplicate Palm OS-based applications via software emulation, the REDFLY doesn't have any onboard OS or storage. Instead, the REDFLY simply includes enough BIOS-like logic to connect to the smart phone. The phone does all the heavy lifting, though that's less problematic in this age of PC-like smart phones. The result is a simpler and less complex companion device.
The advantages of this system are important. The REDLY is small (1 x 6 x 9 inches), lightweight (2 pounds), and garners fantastic battery life (about 8 hours). If you tether a smart phone to the REDFLY, the device will also charge your phone. Its small keyboard is large enough for touch typing, I'm told, though I may personally have issues with that thanks to my enormous hands. Based on the measurements of the device, I'm guessing most normally proportioned people will have little trouble typing away.
In a world in which the line between smart mobile devices and portable computers is blurring, the REDFLY could very well fill a need. Like most frequent travelers, I'm on a seemingly never-ending quest to balance my computing needs against the size and weight of the devices with which I travel. The REDFLY is interesting because smart phones already include pervasive connectivity, PC-class OSs and functionality, compatibility with PC-created documents, and, increasingly, decent storage opportunities. All that's missing, really, is a keyboard and a decent screen.
It's too early to say whether the REDFLY is mobile nerdvana or the latest in a long line of flawed attempts at bridging the PC/smart phone gap. But I'm intrigued. I'll let you know when I find out more.
This article originally appeared in the March 18, 2008 issue of Windows IT Pro UPDATE.