Celio Redfly C8 Review

by Reads (35,930)

The Celio Redfly C8 is a laptop-shaped device that greatly extends the capabilities of many smartphones. This upcoming product can be used to give a Windows Mobile device a larger display, full keyboard, trackpad, and USB ports.

When this device is connected to a smartphone, either by Bluetooth or USB, any application running on the smartphone is enlarged to show on the Redfly’s display, without it needing to be modified or synchronized. The user is then able to interact with that application through a large keyboard and trackpad or mouse.

It’s not on the market yet, but its creator Celio Corp. loaned me a pre-release version, and I’ve put it through its paces.

 

Celio Redfly Mobile Companion
(view large image)

Overview

There are two groups I can see reading this review, hoping to learn if the Redfly is right for them: business users and power users.

There are plenty of business people whose jobs center around a smartphone and a laptop. These people would like their laptop better if it were more portable and more connected and generally more like their smartphone. And they’d like their smartphone more if it was easier to type on and had a larger screen and was generally more like their laptop.

The Redfly is just about perfect for this group. Because it expands your smartphone into a laptop, you get the best of both worlds. The tasks that you do now with your smartphone — email, web browsing, maybe some word processing — you can do easier with a Redfly, thanks to the larger screen and keyboard. All your files can be stored on your phone, and so you can leave the larger unit behind and not have to worry that you won’t have a document or contact you need with you.

Things are less rosy for the other group I mentioned, power users. These are people who are doing everything they can with their current device, and see a large external screen and keyboard as a way to take their smartphone use to the next level.

Unfortunately, the Redfly probably isn’t well suited for this group. Or at least it isn’t now. It handles the everyday stuff just fine, but chokes on many of the advanced task I have thrown at it.

There’s an additional factor in this equation, though, that will change things for many people; LogMeIn works beautifully. This allows you to remotely control a PC, and do many of the tasks on the Redfly you otherwise couldn’t.

Table of Contents

Hardware

The physical description of the Celio Redfly is easy: it’s a little laptop. It has a clamshell design with an 8-inch, WVGA screen on one side and a slightly reduced size QWERTY keyboard and trackpad on the other.

This accessory is 9 inches wide, 6 inches deep, and 1 inch thick. It weighs 2.0 pounds (plus a 4 oz. adapter). It’s too big to put in even a cargo pocket, but it fits easily in a backpack or briefcase.

The screen size and resolution are well suited for a mobile user. It’s big enough for you to be able to see what you need to see, but small enough to be easily portable.

The keyboard is a little more problematic. Because it’s a smaller than a typical laptop keyboard, you’re going to need a bit of practice getting used to it.I had several people try out the keyboard, and there was a clear trend: the bigger your hands are, the less you like it. Touch typers also complained that there is a slight lag between hitting a key and it appearing on the screen.Still, it’s good enough that I’m typing this whole review on it.

The trackpad works well, even if it’s the smallest I’ve ever used. Together with the left and right button, it’s quite serviceable, but if you’re going to be somewhere that you can plug in a mouse, I’d suggest you do so.

Celio RedflyThat brings up the Mobile Companion’s two USB ports, which are located on the back, next to the Video-Out port.

Aside from the power switch and charging lights on the right side, there are no other buttons or ports. The Mobile Companion doesn’t even have a catch to hold it closed, depending instead on its hinges for that job.

Connecting to a Smartphone

One thing some people have a hard time understanding about the Redfly is that it’s an accessory for a smartphone, not a standalone computer. It adds to a smartphone, it doesn’t replace it.

Hooking the two devices together is easy. Once you’ve installed the software driver on your smartphone, you just plug the Redfly into one of the USB ports and it becomes the display for your HTC Tilt, Palm Treo 700wx, etc.

Your smartphone’s touchscreen is shut off, but the buttons aren’t. And your phone’s speaker will continue to handle any sounds, as the Redfly doesn’t have one of its own.

I’ve already mentioned that you can connect your Windows Mobile device to this accessory via USB. The main advantage of doing this is it allows the Redfly to charge your phone, but it requires you to carry around a cable.

To save you this hassle, you can also connect these two devices wirelessly via Bluetooth. I can’t see much of a performance difference between these two options as long as the devices are very near each other, and it’s less gear to carry around on short trips. Plus, if you’re working in a tight place, like an airplane seat, you can have your phone in your pocket and the Redfly on the tray-table.

Performance

The Redfly does a good job of making many of the standard smartphone activities easier to use, but it’s not up to the job of handling some advanced uses. I’m going to run through a list of tasks and describe how well the Redfly handles them.

Its relatively large display and keyboard make reading and responding to long emails is a breeze, far easier than it is with any pocket-size unit I have ever used.

The same is true with word processing, or entering data into a spreadsheet. I’ve spent many hours writing documents in Word Mobile, and the Redfly’s large screen makes this noticeably easier than even a smartphone and external keyboard. But the really big benefit comes when you’re using Excel Mobile. Working with a large spreadsheet on a 2.8-inch, QVGA screen ought to be outlawed under the Geneva Convention, but the Redfly makes this a cinch.

Device Overview

The Redfly’s performance drops off when using Internet Explorer to access rich web sites. Pages load very slowly. This isn’t the fault of Celio’s device; the mobile version of Internet Explorer is — if you’ll excuse me — rat excrement.

Fortunately, there’s an easy solution for this: Opera Mobile 8.65. The WVGA screen on this device tempts you to go to the versions of sites created for PCs and laptops, and these look great with Opera’s browser. They also render much faster than they do on IE.

I spoke with the people at Celio about this, and they are looking into offering a Redfly/Opera Mobile bundle, which sounds like a good idea to me.

The situation will be even better when Opera gets the next version of its mobile browser out. The current one lags a bit behind its desktop equivalent.

Even on business trips, it’s not always work, work, work. Everyone needs some down time, which for me often involves watching a TV show or movie, and this accessory’s large display immediately made me think it could improve this experience. Unfortunately, the Redfly is moderately horrible when it comes to video playback.

Celio tells me that its developers have put virtually all their attention on the business-oriented features of this device, and multimedia has been left to languish. I believe them, as the beta version I’m using now won’t play video at all in Windows Media Player, and TCPMP is equally a bust.

The closest thing to a bright spot in this area is SlingPlayer Mobile. This runs, and you can watch TV shows streamed from your home, but the best it can do is slideshow mode.

Celio promised me that the Redfly’s video performance will improve when its developers can find some time to work on it. I certainly hope so.

As for the whole range of Windows Mobile third-party applications, there’s something important to keep in mind: for these to run on the Redfly they have to have been written to support WVGA. If they don’t, they simply won’t run.

Performance Demonstration

Now here’s where an application comes out of left field that might renew some people’s flagging interest. There’s a version of LogMeIn for Windows Mobile, and it runs very well on the Redfly.

If you’ve never used LogMeIn, it’s a free service that lets one computer remotely control another. In this case, the Redfly’s screen and keyboard can act as if they were the screen and keyboard of your PC at home or the office, greatly extending the things you can do with it. You can run an in-house application, for example, or access files available only on your company’s network.

There are limitations, of course. The screen refresh rate isn’t up to video, and many companies don’t like remote control software. And using LogMeIn takes a bit of practice before it gets comfortable, but I still think it’s a very useful tool that makes the Redfly much more powerful.

Peripherals

I mentioned the two USB ports earlier. You can use these just like you would on a PC, to plug in a mouse, or a thumbdrive, or even an external keyboard.

There’s no set up or drivers required for any of these peripherals. You just plug them in and they work. The Redfly even supports the use of USB hubs.

If you would like a bigger screen, you can hook this accessory up to a monitor or even a projector if you want to give presentations. But don’t think this is going to give you a higher-resolution display; the maximum resolution the Redfly supports is the same as its internal display: WVGA. And you’re not getting a dual-screen setup; it’s one screen at a time.

With all these connection options, you can plug an external keyboard, mouse, and monitor in and turn your smartphone into a desktop.

As for other types of peripherals, like Bluetooth headsets, if you can connect to them with your smartphone, you can use them when you’re also connected to the Redfly.

Awesome Battery Life

The Redfly’s battery life is nothing short of amazing, and is easily one of its best selling points.

I kept track of the time I used this peripheral while testing the device and writing this review. For my first test, I had the two connected by Bluetooth. I occasionally has a mouse hooked up, but not all of the time.

With this arrangement, the Redfly lasted a dumbfounding 9.25 hours. With most notebooks of comparable size, you’d be satisfied if you got half that.

And because the smartphone’s screen is off, demand on its battery is reduced, even if it’s using its 3G and Bluetooth capabilities at the same time. For example, after 1.5 hours of continuous use my HTC Tilt is down only 25%.

That’s why connecting your smartphone up so the Redfly keeps it charged drains the battery so little. The power requirements of different models very, but with the Tilt connected, the Redfly went for 8.5 hours. That’s enough for a whole workday on a single charge.

Redfly vs. Subnotebooks

Whenever the Redfly gets discussed, there are always people who say that a subnotebook like the Eee PC is a better option for everyone. Their argument is that there’s no point in getting a Redfly for $500, when you can get a stripped-down Windows laptop for about the same price.

I disagree with the idea that a full laptop is the best solution for everyone. There are people for whom a full laptop is overkill, and this group could save themselves quite a bit of time and hassle by getting a Redfly.

Most technorati do their own tech support, and so tend to discount the time, effort and — for many people — cost of this. Owning a laptop essentially costs them nothing but the purchase price, and many of them actually enjoy tinkering with their devices. Most of these people will never be happy with a Redfly.

However, there’s a big group of people who don’t want to go to the hassle of maintaining a full laptop unless they have to, and the Redfly is good option of many of them, especially if they like the idea of 8 hours of battery life.

After you install the driver on your smartphone, the Redfly just works. It’s just about as easy to maintain as a PC’s keyboard. There’s no virus protection to install, you don’t have to keep updating the OS, there are none of the day-to-day hassles that come with Windows. You just use it.

The difference is even bigger for corporate users. To them, the yearly cost of maintaining a laptop is greater than the purchase price. Companies who are considering giving their employees laptops for email and even sales presentations when on their road — and would like to find a way to do this in the least expensive way possible — should look into a solution that combines smartphones and Redflys.

Still, as I said earlier, this isn’t for everyone. If you genuinely need all the power of a notebook PC, then the Redfly isn’t going to be enough.

Conclusion

If you’re a Windows Mobile smartphone user looking for a small laptop to help you with tasks like email and web browsing when you’re on the road, and you want to save yourself the hassle of dealing with Windows, then the Celio Redfly is right up your alley.

But the device has a few limitations that keep it from being a good choice for many hard core smartphone users. In short, the Redfly is a useful device for getting work done, but it’s a little weak when it comes to fun.

The Celio Redfly is expected to hit the market at the end of April for $500.

Update: The Redfly is now available for $300.

 


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