The Celio Redfly Mobile Companion is an accessory that turns a smartphone into a netbook by giving the phone a large external screen and keyboard. Until now, this handy device was only compatible with Windows Mobile, but BlackBerry support was added today, opening it up to millions of more potential customers.
There are a couple of different versions of the Redfly, both of which look like a small laptop and include a nearly full-size keyboard.
My favorite is the C8N, which has an 8-inch screen and and a media port. It sells for $250. The less expensive option is the C7, which is the same overall size as the C8N, and uses the same keyboard, but has a 7-inch screen. It costs $200.
There is almost no learning curve with the Redfly, because all it does is give your phone a bigger screen and keyboard. It has no operating system of its own; it just makes your BlackBerry easier to see and easier to type on.
Once you install a driver onto your phone (which takes about a minute) you connect the Redfly to your BlackBerry and you’re in business. Whatever is on your handset’s screen is enlarged and appears on the external display.
The first thing I suggest you do is open your e-mail app. Now, feel free to use the large keyboard to type out as long a message as you want. I know, you’ve probably become surprisingly proficient at entering text with your BlackBerry’s small keyboard, but the Redfly’s allows actually touch typing — if you’re any kind of typist, you’re going to be much faster.
As mentioned earlier, the Redfly expends what’s on your BlackBerry’s screen to make it fit its own, larger, higher-resolution display. The Windows Mobile version can actually change the resolution the smartphone is using, but the BlackBerry version can not. All it can do is enlarge it — there aren’t more pixels, they are just bigger. As a result, fonts and images often have rough edges.
This doesn’t really bother me, but if you don’t like it, you can turn this expansion off. The resulting image is still about 50% bigger than what’s on the BlackBerry’s screen.
Transferring what’s on the smartphone’s display to the external one is actually rather quick, but not instantaneous. I’d say it takes somewhere less than half a second. And this is a general figure. It takes that long for a single letter to appear on the display or for the entire screen to be refreshed. And input and output are separate, so you don’t have to wait for your last action to appear on screen before starting your next.
The Redfly has a nearly full-size keyboard, which is big enough for me. As evidence, I’ve written this entire review on a BlackBerry Bold with a Redfly and DataViz’s Documents To Go, something I wouldn’t dream of doing with a smartphone’s thumb-keyboard.
However, if you’re someone who is very picky abut keyboards, you might not like the fact that this one isn’t full size.
Trackpad and Mouse
As I said earlier, there’s only a very small learning curve with this accessory, and it’s all in getting used to the mouse and the buttons.
BlackBerrys don’t have an on-screen cursor in exactly the way a PC does, so Celio had to adapt. The Redfly’s trackpad– and mouse if you plug one in — acts like a 5-way D-pad. This can move the selection point up, down, left and right, but not diagonally. Hitting the left mouse button is the same as pressing in on the track-ball on the BlackBerry.
The Redfly has a set of Up, Right, Left, Down buttons, and I often find these easier than the mouse or trackpad.
The exception to this is the web browser. This does have an on-screen cursor like a PC, and the Redfly’s mouse and trackpad work beautifully with it.
The functions of the control buttons on the front of the phone are assigned to appropriate ones on the Redfly’s keyboard. The Menu button is the BlackBerry button, the Esc key does the same thing as the Back key, and so on.
The best advice I can give is if there’s something you think is more awkward to do on the Redfly than on your phone — this sometimes happens when tinkering with settings — just pick up the BlackBerry. It’s right there.
You connect the Redfly to your smartphone with a USB cable, which also lets this accessory charge the BlackBerry.
There is also Bluetooth support, but Celio doesn’t recommend you use it with the first version of this software. The performance isn’t very good yet.
There is an area where Celio’s gadget completely drops the ball: video. There is no way to play video from your BlackBerry on the Redfly. Celio tells me this is because the USB connection just doesn’t allow enough bandwidth.
There is an option, albeit a kludgey one. The C8N model has a video-in port, and you can hook up a device that has video-out to this. If you carry a high-end iPod for music, you can hook this to your Redfly and watch video, too.
I like the Celio Redfly, and BlackBerry support is a welcome addition.
Still, RIM’s OS isn’t as flexible as Windows Mobile is, so there are a couple of features missing from this version, like USB thumbdrive support. Still, the basics that are the real strengths of of this accessory are there.
And you can’t beat the price for the software: free. Of course, you have to have a Redfly to use it, and those start at XXX.
Redfly vs. Netbook
Whenever the subject of the Redfly comes up, someone always chimes in to say that this accessory is pointless because a netbook is a better option. I have to disagree. It’s true that some people need the power of a PC with them, but not everyone.
Celio’s device has some distinct advantages. It requires little power but has a large battery. That let’s the C8N version go 8 hours on a single charge. I regularly take mine on overnight business trips and never have to plug it in. And it’s recharging the phone the whole time I’m using it.
If that’s not enough, the Redfly is less hassle than a laptop. There are no viruses or OS upgrades to worry about. You just plug your BlackBerry in and it works.
If you frequently go on trips with just your BlackBerry, and all you want is something to make writing e-mails or other basic tasks easier, the Redfly is perfect for you. The larger screen also makes virtually everything more pleasant, from web browsing to word processing to just checking your calendar.