A few days ago I commented about the Celio Redfly adding support for BlackBerrys. I came across that bit of information first while researching to purchase a Celio RedFly myself and then while I’ve been using it with my Windows phone. It certainly extends the usefulness of my HTC Touch HD, and it should do the same for you if you have a Blackberry. In this review I will tell you, my thoughts and experiences with this product.
While my review was using a Windows phone, the device features are the same when using a Blackberry phone except for some minor details I will explain later on.
For all of you who don’t know what the Celio RedFly is; let me tell you that it appears to be a Netbook, but the appearances are only on the outside… literally. It certainly does look like a Netbook, but it has no CPU nor storage… so then, shat is it? Simple: its most obvious features are that is acts like a terminal for your phone which means that it acts as a replacement keyboard that can be touch-typed on, a higher resolution screen even if your phone has less resolution than the RedFly, an interface for thumb-drives of any kind and a multimedia tool.
You may ask yourself why on earth would anyone want to have this type of device instead of a cool Netbook then??? Read after the break for the answer to this question and more…
The answer is simple, I already have a notebook, I use it instead of a desktop so that I can be more mobile with my work and personal information. I mostly carry my notebook with me and take on my vacations. I also wanted a smaller device that I could bring with me on my quick outings away from my computer, but having a 17 inch screen notebook; I just wasn’t willing to haul that much weight everywhere all the time. I was faced with several options… a UMPC, a MID, a Netbook… Then I suddenly realized I already had everything I wanted to have with me on my phone, it just wasn’t practical to use during extended periods of time; especially if it only had an on-screen keyboard. So, would a bluetooth keyboard be enough? Not really, that only resolves the issue of how to enter text but did not apply to screen size, battery life, a mouse pointer, etc which would be normally available with a netbook/notebook.
The RedFly comes in two flavors: C7 and C8N. The main differences between them are screen size (7 inches vs 8 inches), battery life (5 hours vs 8 hours) and some multimedia capabilities that I will get into later on. The devices are essentially the same except for the differences I mentioned and some other minor details that I will explain further on. These devices are a great complement to your smartphone where they extend to a full keyboard (I am touch-typing this article on it) and they reset the resolution of your smartphone to 800×480 if you have a smaller resolution. Your phone remains at it’s current resolution but, when you are connected to this device, you have so much more real estate to see your applications. Because most applications are designed to use up small resolution screens, they look and feel very spacious on this device. Almost all applications resize nicely. I have not found any incompatibilities with all the apps I’ve been using so far. Software developers are adding support for higher resolutions to their applications. If you keep your apps current, you should not have any problems at all. Please the the image at the beginning of this paragraph where I am using Opera Mobile for browsing into Mobilitysite.
This image shows the pixel detail on the RedFly screen. It is clear, crisp and most important a bright screen. My HTC Touch HD was already 800×480, so there is no resolution reset, but most Windows phones and Blackberrys are not this resolution, therefore you will certainly notice the additional space in your screens. You could also connect to an external monitor (with the standard VGA connector on the back of the RedFly). While connected to an external monitor, you can further extend the resolution up to 800×600 pixels. Not enough of an enhancement to justify connecting to a monitor, but attractive enough when you are considering using this as a full replacement for your PC for a period of time.
The RedFly has no processor nor any internal storage. While this may puzzle you at first, it turns out this is one of it’s greatest strengths. It has no processor, because it is not a standalone computer or smartphone, all it does is connect to the device you already have. By not having an otherwise power hungry CPU, battery is extended considerably. At the same time, not having any storage may sound like a huge drawback at first, but there are several up sides to it that make this device ideal. You can connect a thumb-drive and it will show up as an external drive on the phone (just as if you had inserted a memory card to the smartphone). This means that you can use any USB memory drive no matter what type of memory card it uses, or even the more compact ones that have no memory cards at all. I have tried an 8Gb drive so far, and had no problems at all. Transfer is seamless and it works just as fast as the micro-sd card I already have in my smartphone. Additionally, not having your data on the RedFly means that you will not risk any personal or business information if you misplace the RedFly or it gets stolen.
Both RedFly models come with a touchpad that lets you control it with a pointer, just like your typical netbook/notebook would. The touch pad feels responsive and works nicely with his device, but I personally prefer to use a mouse. This is another minor but important feature. In my case, I have a Microsoft Arc mouse that works great and keeps bulk to a minimum when travelling but any USB mouse will work just fine. Only the basic mouse functions are supported (left click, scroll wheel, right click on the apps that provide support for it) but I rarely use more than that.
The device comes with two standard USB 2.0 ports. You can connect your smartphone with it’s USB cable or you can use bluetooth. If you want to use your mouse and external storage, you can stay connected to the RedFly via bluetooth or you can get a special cable that will connect to the device on a third connector that acts as a regular USB 2.0 connection. This special port is the media port that allows you to watch movies from many media devices (more on that later). Because these USB ports are powered ports, if you connect to your smartphone with a cable, then you are charging your phone, therefore extending the amount of effective connection time.
Going back to the connection between your smartphone and the RedFly; if you choose the cable option (both the regular USB cable or the multimedia cable) instead of the bluetooth connection, the device feels a bit more "snappy", it seems to react a bit faster and apps seem to switch faster. I believe that this is because the data transfer rate with the cable is faster than the transfer rate over bluetooth. Remember that the contents of the screen needs to travel from the smartphone to the RedFly as opposed to an almost immediate refresh when using your smartphone’s screen. In any case, the difference is minimal and if I need to use an additional device (such as external memory) I can more than certainly live with that.
The guys at Celio Corp paid attention to the little details that make the experience on this device worth it. One of the many examples of this is the implementation of "Alt-Tab". While you are using the RedFly, you can use the Alt-Tab keys to switch between the running applications. This seems like a trivial feature, but when you are used to it on your PC it really matters. The Alt-Tab form shows the icon of all the Apps running plus the name of the one currently selected. Another detail is that you can turn off the touch pad when a mouse is detected. This feature is not even standard on all netbooks/notebooks, it is a smart and useful feature. Especially when using a small device where you can accidentally touch the touch pad setting the focus on some other object on your screen.
WiFi, broadband and any other type of connectivity (other than Bluetooth and USB) are not needed on this device. This is because your smartphone provides them for it. This has a few great advantages that you soon get used to. For one, you are no longer bound to a WiFi hotspot; although you could use the faster access speed if you are near one and your phone has WiFi… another benefit is that the use of WiFi does not affect the battery life of your phone as your phone can go for 8 hours now when connected into the RedFly via USB. Compared to a regular netbook/notebook, you can go for 4 or 5 hours more. Compared to netbooks only; you still have 2 or 3 hours longer battery life than the most extreme netbooks can provide. Back to your smartphone providing connection to the web; I can now enjoy more of the outdoors while still working on my RedFly… it gives me the ability of enjoying family life no matter where we decide to go, and I no longer have to select specific locations where we can go simply because of no WiFi access. If I wanted to do the same thing with my laptop, I would have to pay an extra fee for tethering to the web via my smartphone. With the RedFly, I only pay for web access because there is no tethering. The phone is accessing the web and is not having the connection “shared” to the RedFly, because the RedFly is an accessory to the smartphone.
The following is not a feature; but it helps the device’s drivers work much more consistently with all supported smartphones: The standard Windows Mobile today screen is displayed regardless of the app you use and what you have running on top of it. While your RedFly is working, the drivers installed on your smartphone unloads TouchFlo 3D (what I have running in my HTC Touch HD) or any non-standard UI enhancement tool. While this may not be ideal; it’s a reasonable compromise since we couldn’t possibly expect it to be 100% compatible with all applications that use non-managed code in Windows Mobile.
The RedFly software installation on your smartphone is very quick are simple, you simply install it as you would any other application. Even better, when you try to connect between your smartphone and the RedFly it never takes more than 2 or 3 seconds (yes seconds) making this an "instant on" type of device. On your smartphone, you will find a RedFly settings application where you can control how your smartphone looks, feels and behaves while connected to your RedFly. The newest version of this settings application has a much more improved UI. The image in this paragraph is a detail of the settings tool that is installed in your Windows phone.
The RedFly has an "on screen system tray" type of widget. With the press of a key, it shows the type of connection -USB 1/1.1/2 or Bluetooth-, battery charge, Num Lock, Caps Lock. This is a nice addition that complements a smart design. The right side of the RedFly has a battery indicator LED that changes color based on the amount of battery power left. Goes from Green-Yellow-Orange-Red and it is a good indicator if you plan to go for several days without recharging the device.
The RedFly can be used in an airplane as long as Bluetooth is not being used and your phone supports airplane mode. Even though support for video is still not 100% supported when playing from your smartphone, when a new version of the drivers for your smartphone is released, you will be able to see video. The RedFly comes with a multimedia port that can be connected with a custom cable (purchased separately) to a PMP, iPod, Zune or any other video source (even a portable DVD player). The aspect ratio of the device is suitable for 16:9 widescreen, so it would be much better than many of the portable video screens out there right now. The video formats supported are NTSC and PAL, which is all you need when connecting with the composite video/multimedia cable.
The drivers that need to be installed on your smartphone are provided free for anyone to download and there are no restrictions as to how many smartphones you can connect to the RedFly because the drivers are installed on the smartphones themselves. The only restriction is that only one smartphone can be connected at any given time to the RedFly. The RedFly Settings application will detect a RedFly device with an older firmware and will upgrade it to the most recent one you have on your smartphone. This helps keep your device in tiptop shape for supporting the most advanced features added to their software like the recent Blackberry awareness.
I love this device and it is certainly extending the functionality of my Windows phone.