Is the two-pound Celio Redfly Mobile Companion a compelling smart phone accessory or a $499 magic trick? At least for the moment, I’m leaning toward the latter sentiment. I’ve shown this device, compatible with six Windows Mobile handsets and counting (from HTC, Palm and Samsung) to several people in the office and a couple of family members. And all of them have shared my same basic reaction. Initial Reaction: Amazement/Amusement: Once you’ve gone through the very quick setup process (download software to your smart phone, connect Redfly vis USB, and tweak some Bluetooth settings), all it takes to see your Windows Mobile 5 or 6 smart phone’s screen extended to the Redfly’s 8-inch display is a push of the Redfly’s Bluetooth button on the keyboard. It’s really quite an impressive feat, especially since Bluetooth was never meant to carry video. Follow-Up Reaction: Skepticism/Befuddlement: Almost immediately the initial rush of adrenaline came to a screeching halt, and most people asked the same question. “What can you do with this?” The user guide lists several scenarios, including a bigger canvas for surfing the Web, viewing and editing Office attachments/documents without squinting, and presenting that PowerPoint using the Redfly’s built-in VGA port. Although I think the price for the Redfly really needs to be closer to $300 (or less) for it to be worth the investment, I’ve discovered some benefits beyond the initial gee-whiz wireless wizardry that elevate the device in my mind beyond a sheer novelty. Here’s what I like and what I don’t like about Celio’s attempt to improve upon the ill-fated Palm Foleo. Keep in mind that this is a pre-production unit and that the test software doesn’t support the use of the onboard camera or Windows Media Player. What We Like: True Instant-On: How’s this for fast? It took an average of three seconds for the Redfly to boot, and then just four seconds for our Mogul’s screen to appear on the device once we pressed the Bluetooth button. This thing makes the Eee PC look like it’s booting in slow motion, but then that device has a lot more going on under the hood for $100 less (more on that later). The keyboard is just big enough to touch type on. Okay, this may be true only for those with smaller hands, but we were glad we could type at a rapid rate when entering Web addresses and responding to e-mails without looking down, even if the Redfly would often take a second to catch up to our strokes. The right Shift key is too small but that’s a minor nitpick. A wide touchpad and two tiny mouse buttons let you take complete control over your wireless device. 8-inch screen does good job displaying most apps. We’re not sure how Celio does it, but the Redfly did an admirable job stretching our Mogul’s display to fill it’s 800 x 480-pixel LCD. Although the Today screen/desktop looked a little funny–it’s just repeated 2.5 times going from left to right–Word files, Excel files, and PowerPoints were nice and large. Surfing the Web using Internet Explorer was a bit of a buzzkill because it often defaults to mobile versions of sites that have stripped-down formatting, but Opera Mobile looked excellent.
You can use a USB Flash Drive for accessing files. Now, this is a clever feature. Plug a USB drive into one of the Redfly’s two USB ports, click Programs, then File Explorer, and then Remote Storage. From there you should be able to access files stored on your flash drive. This provides an easy way to, say, edit Word files on the go and then transfer them back to your notebook without a full ActiveSync. And this feature also makes it possible for you to potentially leave your notebook at home and present from a USB flash drive using PowerPoint mobile. However, larger size files can take a while to open (14 seconds for a 470 K JPEG), which serves as an unfriendly reminder that you’re using a smart phone and not a full PC. Foolproof security, nothing to sync. Because the Redfly doesn’t have any local storage and simply mirrors what’s on your smart phone, there is no data to lose should this mobile companion fall into the wrong hands. Enterprises considering larger deployments will certainly appreciate this advantage over competing solutions. Plus, both individual business users and larger businesses may be more inclined to invest in this device than a more expensive UMPC because there’s less complexity and no extra synchronization headaches involved other that what road warriors already do with their smart phones. What We Don’t Like Pricier than full-functioning mini laptops. At $499, not only is the Redfly more expensive than most high-end smart phones (which is a bit odd considering it’s marketed as a companion product), it’s $100 more expensive than the full-functioning Asus Eee PC, which has a smaller 7-inch display but offers much faster performance than your average smart phone, a more robust Web browser that supports full Flash, a webcam, and a full office suite. Granted, you can’t leverage your smart phone’s mobile broadband connection with the Eee PC, but you can add this feature via a USB modem. No built-in speaker. To me, this is a major buzzkill. After all, business users are consumers, too, and it would be nice to have a built-in speaker for listening to music and streaming video on the Redfly. Plus, you’d presumably get more volume when listening to calls. That’s why a built-in mic would have also come in handy, especially at this steep price. Doesn’t work with Skyfire browser and other apps. We don’t really blame Celio for this incompatibility, but we do hope the company gets this browser to work with its device quickly. This would allow users to access Ajax- and Flash-based sites almost instantaneously, although we’d be curious to find out whether streaming audio and video sites would work. We also noticed that Sprint’s On Demand news and information application didn’t work with the Redfly (we got an error message.) As we mentioned above, Windows Media Player Mobile doesn’t yet work either, but he hope that changes with the next version of the software. Using VGA port for presentations requires patience (and lots of memory). With our USB flash drive plugged into the Redfly, we had no problems outputting a 1.74 MB slideshow to a projector using the unit’s VGA connection. However, slide transitions were slow, especially with those that had graphics. We waited up to 9 seconds for one slide. Worse, your presentation may be interrupted with a low-on-memory error message if you don’t make sure that other programs aren’t running in the background.
Early Verdict: Even assuming Celio works out the early beta bugs, we would have a hard time recommending this companion to road warriors at its current projected price. We really like having a bigger display and keyboard for e-mail, working on Office docs, and surfing the Web (on Opera Mobile, not Mobile IE), and we appreciate the ability to both use USB flash drives and charge your smart phone using the Redfly. We also like the Redfly’s rated 8 hours of battery life, which we’ll be following up on. However, in many ways the Redfly only reinforces how relatively slow and limited Windows Mobile phones are compared to true mobile PCs. When you see a full desktop, you expect PC-like experience, and that’s just not going to happen.