Redfly Mobile Companion
Wednesday, June 11, 2008; 12:19 AM
If you'd like the functionality--but not the high price tag--of a smallultramobile PC (UMPC), Celio Technology's $500 Redfly Mobile Companion may be the device you've been waiting for.
On the outside, the 1-inch by 6-inch by 9-inch, 2-pound, clamshell-style Redfly looks like tiny laptop or a handheld PC, similar to the NEC MobilePro. But the similarity ends there. Unlike a handheld PC, the Redfly lacks an onboard processor and any preloaded applications. Instead, it relies on the power of your smart phone, harnessed by an interface driver that you install on the handset.
You connect your smart phone to the Redfly via USB or Bluetooth, and then you use the Redfly's QWERTY keyboard and 8-inch display to operate the phone. (At launch, the Redfly will work with a limited number of Windows Mobile-based smart phones:the AT&T Tilt; the Palm Treo 700w/wx (from Sprint and Verizon);the Palm Treo 750;the Samsung SCH-i760; the Sprint Mogul; and the Verizon XV6800. The company plans to add support for more phones later this year.
In my tests with a Verizon XV6800 phone, the Redfly's setup was simple. I downloaded the drivers over the air; alternatively you can download the files from Celio's Web site to your PC (or use the enclosed installation disc) and then transfer the needed files from your PC to your phone. I then ran the Setup.msi and followed the on-screen prompts on my phone, which automatically reset once the installation process finished.
Even if you intend to connect the Redfly via Bluetooth, you must first establish a USB connection between the phone and the Redfly by plugging the included USB cable into both devices. After that, setting up the Bluetooth connection went smoothly. Though the Redfly cannot connect to two smart phones simultaneously, it can accommodate other Bluetooth connections, such as a headset.
The Redfly's bright 8-inch wide, 800-by-480-pixel display is impressive: Several times while using it I forgot that a device sitting several feet away was powering everything. The Redfly is specced to run for 8 hours or more on a lithium polymer battery; it can even charge your phone when connected.
The Redfly's 80-key QWERTY keyboard is coated in slick, wine-colored rubberized skin, and my medium-size hands had no problem typing on it. If you find the keyboard too restrictive, you can connect a full-size external keyboard to the one of the Redfly's two USB 2.0 ports (it has one VGA port as well). I easily navigated the device using the touchpad and mouse buttons located below the keyboard. The keyboard provides 15 hot keys preprogrammed for such tasks as displaying e-mail, launching a browser, or controlling screen brightness, but you can change these defaults. Some of the shortcuts didn't work with my Verizon XV6800, but all of them functioned properly when I tested the Redfly with an AT&T Tilt. (Celio says it's looking into the issue.)
Using the Redfly's roomy screen is a vast improvement over squinting at a smart phone. With the Redfly I could view Java-intensive sites like MLB.com that I avoid when forced to depend on the small screen of a typical smart phone. All pages loaded quickly via my phone's Wi-Fi connection, and the sites displayed great detail.
I especially appreciate the Redfly's larger screen when I used the productivity apps on my phone. Office Mobile Excel, Word, and PowerPoint performed much like their Office XP counterparts: An Excel spreadsheet laid out on the Redfly display looked much better than it did when squished onto a tiny handset screen. Most keyboard shortcuts--including Alt-Tab, Ctrl-C (copy), and Ctrl-V--worked with all of the Office apps, though Ctrl-S (save) did not.
The Redfly provides several phone-friendly features. For example, typing any number on the keyboard brings up the telephone dialer. Incoming calls appear on-screen, and you can answer them by using the touchpad or mouse.
The Redfly excels as a productivity booster, but its multimedia capabilities are limited. Celio says video playback may or may not work, depending on your phone. I couldn't get video playing on either the Tilt or the XV6800 to display at all on the Redfly. In addition, Redfly disables the phone's camera functionality. (Celio is working on an update that it says will address this problem).
Road warriors may appreciate the Redfly's flexibility, though. Plug in a monitor, a standard USB keyboard, and a scroll-wheel mouse and close the Redfly's lid--and you have a smart-phone docking station. If used in this way, the Redfly could function as an all-in-one mobile workstation. It also supports USB flash drives, as well as infrared and Bluetooth peripherals such as printers. Celio designed the Redfly with mobile corporate users in mind--members of sales teams or other groups who need to conduct meetings or presentations--and the device reflects this. The Redfly is small, light, and portable, and different users can pass it around quickly. But small-business owners and frequent travelers may find value in the Redfly as well.