The new Gemini PDA: Hands-on with the new PDA smartphone that runs on Android
Remember when PDAs like the Psion were all the rage back in the 90s? Well, if Indiegogo crowdfund Gemini’s $1.3m backing is anything to go by, it looks like they could be set for a comeback.
There’s no surprise that the Gemini looks like a Psion PDA because the crowdfund’s owners, Planet Computer, have partnered with a London-based industrial designer, Martin Riddiford, who was closely involved in designing the 90s handheld computers. Described as an “ultra-thin clamshell mobile device with fully integrated tactile QWERTY keyboard, that fits in your pocket”, Gemini’s prototype has been on display at CES 2018, where it’s certainly got people talking.
In almost every sense, it’s an updated version of a device from a bygone era. Rather than running an antiquated operating system like EPOC, Gemini dual boots Android and Linux, and has 4G, WiFi (there’s also a Wi-Fi-only model) and Bluetooth connections. The 5.99inch touchscreen display isn’t dissimilar in size to those sported by the original Psion PDAs, but it’s Full HD (2160×1080) and uses scratch-resistant glass. There’s no mention of support for a stylus, but its dual USB-C connectors enable you to connect a different keyboard, external screen and mouse.
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Inside, you get a 2.6Ghz deca-core processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. There’s an impressively sized 4,220mAh battery that Gemini’s creators claim produces two weeks of standby time and 12 hours of talk time, and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. This makes it useful for video calls, but the lack of a rear-facing camera might annoy those who like taking high-resolution snaps on their mobile device.
At 320g and 1.5cm deep, it’s also more than 50% heavier and thicker than best phablet around, the Samsung Note 8, which is hardly surprising when you consider it has a physical keyboard. Otherwise, the PDA’s dimensions are broadly similar to the Note 8, so you should be able to squeeze it in a pocket.
Considering there’s nothing mindblowing about its spec, why all the hype? Who would opt for the Gemini over a high-powered phablet like the Samsung Note 8? The obvious answer is its anyone who wants a physical QWERTY keyboard. A keyboard its creators claim is “recognised as the world’s best yet smallest full-sized keyboard for finger touch typing.” Beyond giving you tactile feedback, what this QWERTY keyboard gives you is much more screen real estate to work with.
“On-screen keyboards often take up more than half the readable screen,” reads its Indiegogo pitch. “We want to get back to typing on a fully tactile keyboard whilst being able to view the entire screen. All this on a device no larger than most modern mobile phones.”
“We decided to re-invent the palm-sized keyboard mobile device that will benefit many, who we think are missing using the keyboard on the move. From bloggers and creatives that need to constantly write, to professionals who need to read and write an e-mail, create and edit documents and spreadsheets,” it continues.
Having tried the device, I found the large-sized ‘phone’ to be exactly what it set out to be – a modern-day PDA. Running on Android, with the option of dual-booting Linux, too. I had no problems firing up Google Docs and flicking on YouTube to resume watching a video.
The QWERTY keyboard is ultra-responsive and the large touchscreen provides plenty of room for multitasking and note-taking. Of course, if you’re used to a full-sized (or 60%) keyboard, you’ll find the tightly spaced keys hard to adjust to. However, within a few minutes, I got the hang of typing on the Gemini PDA. Soon, I was stringing together sentences and reliving my faint memories of an old-school PDA.
There are two USB Type-C ports on either side of the device, which are accompanied by a voice-assistant button and a 3.5mm headphone jack. There’s a microSD (and SIM) slot under the cover, too. Here, there are two types of variants of the device: 4G-enabled with Wi-Fi, and a Wi-Fi only model – full specs can be found on the company’s website.
As for its display, the 5.99in FHD+ touchscreen display (2,160 x 1,080) has a glorious 18:9 aspect ratio; maximising the phone’s screen, making it ideal for watching content and taking notes. The phone is poised to be used in landscape-only, as its keyboard doesn’t detach, you’ll find it awkward to use it in portrait mode.
On the exterior, I found the use of its LEDs fascinating. Of course, this isn’t a revolutionary inclusion on an Android device, but I was pleased to see a good level of customisation. The LEDs can be assigned and assigned to any contact or app – making it easy to see who or what is notifying you, without having to flip open the device.
So, how much does it cost? At the time of writing it can be found for around £399 if you back the Indiegogo campaign, its price is set to increase to an eye-watering £600+ after pre-orders close – that’s a lot of money for a niche device.
But, if you’re looking for a modern-day PDA that runs on Android and can also dual-boot Linux, there’s only one device you should consider; the new Gemini PDA. There are other smartphones that have a QWERTY keyboard (like the BlackBerry KeyOne), though, it doesn’t’ feel or look like a PDA. A key element for backers who want to relive the past and experience a bit of nostalgia.