Redfly Review: A Laptop-Like Smartphone Companion

Wednesday Nov 5th 2008 by Amy Mayer
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Connect this peripheral to your smartphone (using USB or Bluetooth) to get a fold-open keyboard and a full-size monitor.

Utah-based Celio Corp. envisions a future in which we use our smartphones for all (or darn near all) of our computing needs. But that doesn't mean they're expecting us to type dissertations on cell phone keypads or even a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. The future they imagine has us relying on something like their introductory Redfly ($200), a "smartphone terminal" that connects via USB or Bluetooth to your handheld device, giving you a fold-open keyboard and monitor.

The Redfly unit in its current formation is a huge improvement over typing on a phone, but a far cry from a laptop replacement. Its biggest shortcoming is that a few improperly sized or placed keys render touch-typing hugely frustrating.

For example, the page-up key is where the shift key ought to be. Also, the semi colon and apostrophe keys are smaller than the letter keys, meaning the pinky inadvertently hits enter when it wants an apostrophe. Of course, for hunt-and-peck, one-finger typists, these problems will be unremarkable. The two-button touchpad functions up to expectations and can also be used in the "Tap and Hold" manner of a phone—just place the cursor on an object and press and hold the left mouse button to bring up a menu. Words and pictures on the keyboard indicate which buttons serve which phone functions (the F2 with an envelope takes you to email, the green word "send" over F4 tells you it's the way to place a phone call).


The RedFly Smartphone Terminal
The RedFly Smartphone Terminal.

An on-screen Redfly menu is activated by scrolling to the bottom-right corner. It offers indicators for battery life, caps/num lock and USB and Bluetooth connections. Note that while you control phone function from the Redfly, you still speak into and listen through the handset.

Perhaps the greatest asset of the Redfly is that its USB ports allow you to plug in a jump drive, instantly giving your phone more storage space, without the cumbersome task of inserting a micro-SD card; plus, a jump drive transfers more readily to myriad other machines than a micro-SD card does.
Setting up the Redfly with your phone is quick and easy. Celio maintains a list of tested phones, so check it to make sure your device is among them. For now, the Redfly is only compatible with Windows Mobile devices. A handy Quick Start Guide really does make the process fast and simple.

Download the Redfly installation file (you can do this directly on your phone or download it to your computer and transfer to your phone using ActiveSync). Run and install the file once it has downloaded. Then, on the first connection you'll have to connect your phone to the Redfly via USB cable. Turn on your phone, turn on the Redfly, then attach the cable. Your phone will detect the external device and your Today screen should appear on the Redfly. (Your phone will display the Redfly logo until the display times off.)

To connect via Bluetooth in the future, turn on your phone's Bluetooth connection. Be sure your device has Bluetooth Discovery turned on (or "make this device discoverable" checked).

With the two devices connected via USB, click the Redfly logo key on the Redfly to open the Settings window. Click the "Authorize" button on the Bluetooth tab. Click okay to pair the devices. Press F12 (Bluetooth).

You can now disconnect the USB cable and in the future to connect the devices, simply turn them both on and turn on the phone's Bluetooth. Then, press F12 on the Redfly and click "yes" on the phone to authorize a connection. You're all set.

The unit gives you the comfort of a much larger monitor than a handheld and since it doesn't heat up like a laptop, you can literally use it on your lap for quite a while.

Unfortunately, its battery while connected to a phone via Bluetooth doesn't seem to last much beyond an hour and a half, and that's with only basic internet browsing and Office programs running, not audio or video.

It comes with an AC adapter that has such a giant connector it hogs space on a power strip (very retro!). On the upside, when the Redfly is plugged in, you can connect your phone via USB and charge its battery. That's one less outlet you'll need. Celio recommends that for data-intense uses you connect via USB rather than Bluetooth.

Making Windows Mobile easier to use did bring out some of the platform's idiosyncrasies. Word Mobile, for example, doesn't default to having an active Spell Check. If you rely on autocorrect, or just the red underscores on misspelled words, be extra careful before sharing anything you type on the Redfly. (Or run spell check manually by clicking Menu'Tools'Spelling.) Wallpaper files often aren't compatible with the expanded monitor—a quirk Celio knows about.

Our test unit has a mountain vista for its wallpaper and the image repeated three times on the Redfly's background. No harm and not a problem, but if you don't like the look Celio recommends you select Guava Bubbles or Windows Mobile Green for your background to maintain the appearance you're used to on your phone.

It's lovely to have the Windows Alt-Tab function available to really see what all is running on the unit, and toggle among them.

Some applications, like the communications manager, don't expand to fill the monitor. But in general, e-mail, web surfing and using Word Mobile documents proved way more comfortable on the 800 x 480, 7 x 4-inch screen.

It's easy to imagine some scenarios in which the Redfly would boost comfort and productivity for workers on the go. Since it has no hard drive, it can be left in a car, hotel room or other unsecure location without the threat of company data being lost or stolen. This makes it a smart choice when on-the-road computing needs don't require the full might of a laptop.

And since it also can be plugged into a projector, even giving a PowerPoint presentation is possible (though modifying a PowerPoint isn't, so you'd have to have your presentation ready to go before leaving your computer behind).

Certainly traveling without a laptop will be liberating for certain people who make day-trips by plane or cover long distances on foot or public transportation. The ability to type faster and more comfortably will also improve communication for people who are often texting or typing emails from their phones.

The Redfly also apparently works well for connecting to remote desktops, servers or cloud apps, according to the company, though these are not features we tested.

Celio says this unit is just the first in what it expects to be a series of devices for both on-the-go and stationary expansions of a smartphone. Full-sized keyboards and monitors that would reside on your desk are other peripherals they expect to develop to expand the utility of smartphones into all-in-one devices. Perhaps a pocket until like this for the road and a full size keyboard and monitor for the office truly could allow your phone to replace your computer.

But for now, the Redfly isn't quite ready for prime time. Its successors, however, seem destined to play a part in the digital, mobile, workplace of the future.

Adapted from SmartPhoneToday.com.

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