Redfly Mobile Companion C8 review

£264
Price when reviewed

To say there’s been a glut of mini-laptops hitting the market of late would be a bit of an understatement. After the excitement of the first Eee PC late last year, we’ve seen seven different manufacturers come up with rivals, with last month’s magazine featuring devices from Elonex and MSI, while the latter’s Advent rebranding was reviewed on the website.

If you were getting bored of the constant dribble of compact computers (we’re not – yet) then how about this for a change? It might look like a mini-laptop – it has a small, fiddly keyboard much like the Asus Eee PC 701, an 8in 800 x 480 pixel screen, and a range of ports (two USB and a VGA output) that make it look like a laptop. Yet the Celio Redfly Mobile Companion C8, quite apart from being a bit of a mouthful, is anything but.

In fact, it’s effectively just a terminal for your Windows Mobile smartphone. Install a bit of driver software on your smartphone (it can be Windows Mobile 5, 6 and 6.1, Standard or Professional), hook it up via USB or Bluetooth and, hey presto, you have your phone’s operating system displayed on a bigger screen with a keyboard attached. It has no local storage and very little processing power of its own – it’s dumb and is useless without a phone attached.

Getting a sense of déjà vu yet? We were, as soon as the little device dropped into our laps the other day. It’s a similar idea to the Palm Foleo, announced in May last year. That product received a less-than glowing reception and was canned just a few months later.

There are some good things about the Redfly, though. It has a bright screen, a reasonably good keyboard and a useable trackpad. And, thanks to the fact that the smartphone it’s connected to bears the brunt of the processing and data connectivity demands, it has staggeringly good battery life. In light use tests we managed to eke over 11 hours life from it, connected to our test TyTN II over Bluetooth with a little light use, word processing and web browsing. No mini-laptop we’ve tested can match that.

But what on earth inspired Celio to charge £264 (exc VAT) for what is essentially little more than a Bluetooth screen and keyboard? Yes, you can attach USB sticks to the ports on the rear, an external keyboard and mouse plus an external monitor for presentations, and if you connect via USB it will keep your phone’s battery topped up, but what does this turn it into? That’s right, a Bluetooth screen and keyboard, with USB hub and portable battery pack. That’s still not enough to justify charging so much when a perfectly serviceable Asus Eee PC 701 can be had for £100 less.

Worse, it doesn’t even work perfectly. We had to try several configurations on the Today screen of our test device before we got it to display any text, and a couple of our favourite Windows Mobile applications failed to run at all. Opera Mobile 9.5 caused an Out of memory error and the fancy graphics on the Now screen of SPB Mobile Shell simply turned the screen blank.

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Browsing the web on the device is a pain. Scrolling and panning around pages, though responsive and smooth on the phone itself, was sluggish and frustrating in the extreme on the Redfly. Attempt to click and drag the page in overview mode and you’ll be waiting a good second before the page responds, and it’s the same situation with using scrollbars. Moving to Pocket IE improves matters somewhat, but the way it mangles websites is far from a laptop-style browsing experience.

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