Celio Corp has just taken the wraps off a new version of its Redfly Smartphone Terminal that adds multimedia support.
I’ve been a fan of this accessory since its launch, but its inability to handle video has been a strike against it in my book. It’s primarily aimed at traveling businesspeople, but even the hardest workers like to kick back and watch a movie on the plane. The upcoming Redfly C8N will take care of this problem.
Standard Redfly Functionality
Although at first glance this model resembles a subnotebook, the Redfly works completely differently. It serves as an accessory for a smartphone, and does not act as a stand-alone computer.
When Celio’s device is connected to a Windows Mobile phone, either by Bluetooth or USB, any application on the smartphone is shown on the Mobile Companion’s 800-by-480-pixel (WVGA) display without modification or synchronization. The user is then able to interact with that application through a large keyboard and trackpad or mouse.
Aside from a new video-in port, the latest version of the Redfly is essentially identical to the original. Rather than re-run everything I wrote about the first version, I’m going to point you to my review:
Just ignore the parts where I talk about the Redfly C8’s lack of video support.
A few of the buttons have been moved around on the C8N’s keyboard, but I don’t think this is significant.
And this is a good time to point out that Celio has changed the external color of the device. The Redfly used to be red but now it’s black. The grey color of the interior hasn’t changed.
New Video Functionality
The Redfly can take anything on a smartphone’s screen and display it on its larger and higher-resolution screen… except video. Celio had originally hoped to add the ability to its accessory through software, but it proved to be too much of a challenge.
So it decided on a different solution. The Redfly C8N will include a Video-In port that will let you play the video from an iPod, iPhone, Zune, digital camera, or anything with Video-Out.
It’d important to keep in mind that the typical Redfly functionality — acting as a display and keyboard for your Windows Mobile smartphone — is completely separate from the multimedia playback. You don’t even have to have a smartphone connected to the Redfly to watch movies off an iPod.
Videos show up in a completely separate window from the session you’re having with the smartphone. This window can take up the full screen, postage-stamp size, or completely hidden. Even at full-screen the video often doesn’t take up the whole screen. If the video’s aspect ratio is different from the Redfly’s display you’ll get a letterbox effect.
Video quality is decent. The Redfly’s 800-by-480-pixel display isn’t going to give you the kind of video quality you’ll get on a larger, more expensive laptop, but it’s vastly better than watching a movie on a 3-inch smartphone screen.
The Redfly doesn’t have any built-in speakers, so you’re going to need to either use the ones built into your video player or — better yet — use some headphones.
There’s a cable you’re going to have to get in order to connect your Redly to whatever gadget you’re using to supply the video.
This won’t come with the C8N, and will set you back $20. In some ways this seems like jacking up the price, but Celio pointed out that not everyone wants to watch video on their Redfly, and increasing cost of the device for everyone is unfair.
The cable has a single component video plug — the yellow one. You’re going to have to get whichever cable you need for your video player on your own. There are too many non-standard options for Celio to try to handle this.
The Redfly cable also includes a USB port, bringing the total up to three. I’m not sure why it’s there besides being gravy. But I’m not complaining, more USB ports is always better.
Getting Video from a Smartphone
I hope everyone understands at this point that there’s no way to play movies from your Windows Mobile smartphone unless it has a Video-Out. There are a few that meet this requirement, like the new HTC Touch Pro and the HTC Advantage models.
I have an Advantage, and it is able to play video on the Redfly, but there’s a small quirk. I can’t have a normal Redfly connection to the smartphone at the same time I am using it for video playback.
|Celio Redfly C8N Video Overview|
When the Advantage is hooked to the Redfly via USB, everything on the smartphone’s screen is transferred to the Redfly’s screen. All that’s left on the Advantage screen is the Redfly logo. So if I hook up the Video-Out cable at this point, all that shows up in the Redfly’s video window is a blank screen with the Redfly logo on it.
So I have to disconnect the USB cable from the Advantage, and leave the Video-Out cable connected. This will mirror the Advantage’s screen in the Redfly’s video window, and you can play video this way.
I know some of you are thinking, “You could use these two devices together this way all the time!” This is true, but there are drawbacks. One, video playback is slightly smaller than a regular connection, and two, you would have to use an external keyboard and mouse connected to the Advantage’s USB port, not the Redfly. Remember, you are only getting video from the smartphone, you’re not fully connected to it via USB.
External Display for a UMPC
I have a UMPC made by Sony that I take with me when I can’t avoid bringing a laptop on a business trip. It’s a great device, but the screen is a bit small. I’ve often wished I had an easy way to use the Redfly’s screen as a second display.
Now I can. The UMPC has Video-Out, which I can hook to the Redfly’s Video-In, presto, and I have a dual-screen portable PC. I can’t use the Redfly’s keyboard, but the extra screen space is welcome.
The same holds true for non-Windows Mobile smartphones that have Video-Out, like some of the high-end Nokias.
The Redfly C8N will debut at $300. I think this is quite reasonable — I paid more than that — but some people still think it should be lower.
Let me try to put the price into perspective. A decent Bluetooth travel keyboard costs $110. A good external rechargeable battery runs about $50. There aren’t any accessories aside from the Redfly that will add USB ports to a Windows Mobile smartphone, but I’d say that’s worth at least $20.
There also aren’t any other options for adding an external screen to a Windows Mobile smartphone unless it comes with this built in, but being able to get real work done on an 8-inch display instead of a 3-inch one is easily worth $100 to me. Add in $20 worth of convenience for having all these accessories packaged into one and you get the price for the C8N.
If you still think $300 is too much, then you might be interested in the version Celio is going to offers that’s $220. The Redfly C7 will have a 7-inch display and a lightweight battery that provides up to five hours of performance. This version will weigh less than 1.5 lbs.
The original Redfly C8 was a good deal for IT managers looking for a cost-effective way of making their smartphone investment go farther, but its lack of video support made it less interesting to consumers. That’s why the C8N is such a welcome arrival.
Still, I’m sure there are going to be people who have the original Redfly who will be disappointed that the only way to get video support is buy a new device. Sometimes, it’s hard being an early adopter.
I’m equally sure there will be people unhappy with the need to carry around an additional device to get video when their smartphone can handle the job, but try to look on the bright side. Used iPods are fairly cheap, especially when you don’t care how scratched up the screen is, and you won’t have to explain to your boss or IT manager why your work phone is filled with personal videos.
And you have the option of getting a smartphone with Video-Out support. The HTC Touch Pro has it, and this device is already available from Sprint and AT&T and Verizon is expected to offer it soon.