Can the REDFLY Windows Mobile Smartphone Companion succeed where the Foleo couldn't?

Summary:The first mobile device I saw at CES 2008 earlier this year was the REDFLY Mobile Companion and I was very interested in checking the device out further. Celio Corporation just sent me an early beta version of the REDFLY Windows Mobile Smartphone Companion to evaluate for the next 2-3 weeks. The Palm Foleo project was shut down before launch and I am curious about whether or not a mobile phone companion device like this has a viable market. Earlier estimates had it priced at US$500 and if that is the release price I think that will be too high for most people. I'll have to check it out in more detail, but if it was something like US$250 then I may see the value in a device like this. I took quite a few photos as you can see in my image gallery and also shot a video of the device in action.

The first mobile device I saw at CES 2008 earlier this year was the REDFLY Mobile Companion and I was very interested in checking the device out further. Celio Corporation just sent me an early beta version of the REDFLY Windows Mobile Smartphone Companion to evaluate for the next 2-3 weeks. The Palm Foleo project was shut down before launch and I am curious about whether or not a mobile phone companion device like this has a viable market. Earlier estimates had it priced at US$500 and if that is the release price I think that will be too high for most people. I'll have to check it out in more detail, but if it was something like US$250 then I may see the value in a device like this. I took quite a few photos as you can see in my image gallery and also shot a video of the device in action.


 Image Gallery:Take a good look at this slick REDFLY Windows Mobile Companion in my image gallery.  
Image Gallery: A closed REDFLY Mobile Companion
 
Image Gallery: An open REDFLY Companion
 

Specs The REDFLY is intended to provide you with a larger display and keyboard to use with your Windows Mobile device so you can be more productive on the go. The display is an 8 inch 800x480 WVGA non-touch screen display. The keyboard is quite large and measures about 8 inches wide by 3 inches deep. The device has 2 USB 2.0 powered ports on the back so you can connect and charge your device at the same time. A Bluetooth 2.0 radio is included so you can connect to your mobile devices wirelessly after you first make a cabled connection to setup the device. A non-removable Lithium Polymer battery is used to run the REDFLY and charge your devices. Stated battery life is something like 8 hours. The REDFLY Mobile Companion weighs in at 2 pounds.

The device is currently certified to work with the AT&T Tilt, Sprint 700w/wx, Sprint HTC Mogul, Verizon 700w/wx, Verizon SCH-i760, and Verizon XV6800 devices. I also loaded the AT&T Tilt driver on my HTC Advantage and it worked very well, even with my RealVGA utility loaded to give me a richer VGA experience on the Advantage. Further devices will be listed as they are tested. I next need to try out my T-Mobile Shadow device.

Setup: Celio Corp loaded up the REDFLY driver on the evaluation AT&T Tilt and to test out my Advantage I simply performed an OTA download and installation of the driver. The driver and REDFLY utility loaded on your Windows Mobile device has a few tabs with settings. You can manage your Bluetooth connections, manage the sensitivity and functionality of the touch pad and keyboard (I moved it to a fast setting so I could go from one side of the display to the other in shorter swipes), establish your power settings for battery and A/C adapter, and also establish what the 3 hot keys launch on your device. After loading the REDFLY utility you simply connect the first time via a USB cable and then press the on button on the REDFLY. Your connection should take place automatically. After you setup your first connection via cable you can then use Bluetooth to connect so your device can sit in your bag while you type and surf. I haven't tried a Bluetooth connection yet, but I will soon.

Design: After pulling the REDFLY Companion out of the box, I was immediately impressed by the soft touch material surrounding the REDFLY. This type of material should keep scratches to a bare minimum, while providing a very grippable surface to prevent drops. The burgundy color is attractive and professional in my opinion and I would use this in and around the office. The keyboard is fantastic and I am finding that I can actually rest my palms on the device and type with two hands and all my fingers just about like I do on a full size keyboard. I cannot do this with my Fujitsu U810 and am really loving the keyboard. The display seems just about the right size and resolution for a Windows Mobile device because it does upscale your device so going too far to 1024x600 or something may not be as good and may require more processing power.

Overall first thoughts: The applications appeared much better on the REDFLY than I thought they would before I had a chance to try the device and there were only a couple that had issues. This is an early beta model and the software is still being worked on and optimized. Web browsing was actually enjoyable on this display and text entry is going to ROCK! Using applications like the SoftMaker Office suite with this large display and keyboard could be killer for the business user. I really like the idea of the Alt-Tab functionality, but experienced major delays a couple of times (this may have had to do with my screenshot program though too).

If this device was available now for under US$300 then I would probably plunk down my cash right now, but if the US$500 price is what it launches at (this was the price I heard at CES) then I think it is going to be a tough sell for a large market. The Palm Foleo was a Palm Treo companion device, yet it also had a Linux OS so it could actually function alone without a mobile phone and it was to be priced at US$500. With the ASUS EeePC and other MIDs launching in the US$500 range this device may have a tough time in the mobile market. I personally carry around a Windows Mobile device most of the time and having a companion like this would actually meet my needs quite well, but I don't think I am in the majority here. I'll get a couple more weeks with the REDFLY Windows Mobile Smartphone Companion and I'll post more of my thoughts and experiences after further review.

UPDATE: I was thinking a bit more about this device this morning an understand that Windows Mobile is currently targeted due to their enterprise influence, but when looking at the numbers of smartphone worldwide it sure would be nice to see a S60 REDFLY client. I carry a S60 device around almost more than a Windows Mobile device and while there are several Windows Mobile devices with keyboards, there are very few S60 devices with keyboard and larger displays available.

Fellow MobileTechRoundup co-hosts James Kendrick and Kevin Tofel also were sent REDFLY units to evaluate. James posted his first impressions and he seems more positive about the success of this unit at US$500 than I am at this time. Kevin also posted about the setup experience.

Topics: Smartphones, Hardware, Mobility, Networking, Wi-Fi

About

Matthew Miller started using a mobile devices in 1997 and has been writing news, reviews, and opinion pieces ever since. He is a co-host with GigaOM's Kevin Tofel on the MobileTechRoundup podcast and an author of three Wiley Companion series books. Matthew started using mobile devices with a US Robotics Pilot 1000 and has owned over 200 d... Full Bio

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