Redfly Mobile Companion Review
Review of $199 Redfly Mobile Companion Reveals Versatile, Powerful and Simple Plug & Play Solution For Your Windows Mobile Smartphone
Following the recent 50% reduction of the Celio Redfly Mobile Companion to only $199 this device has become a lot more appealing to many Treonauts who own a Windows Mobile smartphone such as the Treo Pro or Treo 800w and the Redfly has quite literally been flying off the shelves at this price.
While I refrained from getting my own Redfly when it was available for $399 I have to admit that the $199 price point made it rather more enticing to take this device for a spin and below you’ll now find my review.
The whole idea behind the Redfly is that it seeks to eliminate the need to carry a laptop and instead “allows you to use your Windows Mobile Treo smartphone as a laptop” without the typical costs or maintenance associated with a traditional PC. This is why the Redfly unit has no operating system, no CPU, no hard drive and no installed software of any kind.
The Redfly is essentially a “smartphone terminal” that connects to your Treo via cable or Bluetooth and uses your smartphone’s CPU power and 3G or WiFi data connectivity to work on any application installed on your device with the benefit of a much larger keyboard and screen – something which some mobile professionals who primarily need only email, a browser and a VPN or Remote Access while on the go have actually found to be extremely appealing.
The Redfly Mobile Companion is a small (only 1 x 6 x 9 inches), light (only 2 lbs.) and extremely solid, elegant (with a wine red rubberized coating) and well built laptop “shell” which offers a keyboard + touchpad, 8 inch screen at 800x480 resolution, Bluetooth, 2x USB ports and VGA port as well as a 4500mAh battery that lasts a very healthy eight hours.
The two USB ports (pictured below) can be used to connect a wired/wireless mouse (no drivers required), flash drive or memory card reader as well as your smartphone with a Retractable S&C Cable for example (your smartphone charges when plugged-in) while the VGA port will allow you to connect a monitor or projector for presentations.
Considering that the Redfly is only 9 inches wide it’s clear that the keyboard is tiny but even with my large fingers I found it surprisingly easy to use. Additionally, the screen offers excellent resolution and brightness for both indoor and outdoor use (I have not yet had to set the brightness at more than 60%).
Small details such as the side power button (above right), the latchless screen closure mechanism and large rubber feet at the bottom all contribute to make the Redfly mobile companion a rather pleasant device to work with.
Perhaps my only complaint (albeit minor) is that the charger is both a bit larger and heavier (7.2 oz) than I would have liked but then again when compared to the diminutive Redfly everything else starts looking big…
As I mentioned earlier, one of the main advantages of the Redfly Mobile Companion is that it does not have nor requires any on-board software to work with your smartphone (you just need to install the Redfly driver on your Windows Mobile Treo smartphone and you’re ready to go within only a couple of minutes).
With the driver installed on my Treo Pro I simply plugged the USB sync cable into one of the USB ports (you can also use Bluetooth) at the back of the Redfly and pressed the Power button on the Mobile Companion. Within five short seconds the Redfly had “acquired” my smartphone and I was now able to view my display in 800x480 resolution (nearly four times the size of your 320x320 resolution smartphone screen).
The actual screenshot (click for full size) of my Programs screen on the Redfly above for example can now display seven applications across while my smartphone is limited to three.
Virtually all Microsoft applications installed on your smartphone will work at this higher display resolution. For me the most important were all PIM applications such as Contacts, Messaging, Tasks, Calendar and Notes as well as Internet Explorer, Adobe Reader and all Office Mobile apps (Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint, Word) – I was delighted to see that I had absolutely no problem at all using all of these applications.
For example, working within Excel Mobile at 75% zoom I was able to easily view 12 columns and 19 rows of content (screenshot above). Other examples include the Contacts below left and a full HTML email below right (click for full size).
Generally speaking you will have to test the other Windows Mobile software that you have installed on your smartphone to determine whether it will display correctly at the higher resolution that the Redfly delivers. For example, Google Maps (below) worked superbly well while CorePlayer Mobile was unable to properly display video.
Also, it’s clear that mobile browsing will be a core priority for Treonauts interested in the Redfly Mobile Companion. In this respect, I’m happy to report that Pocket Internet Explorer and the Iris Browser work extremely well both over 3G and WiFi but Opera Mobile unfortunately will not launch.
Additionally, although I could receive calls without any problems on my Treo Pro while connected to the Redfly (I highly recommend using a Bluetooth headset for all calls) for some reason the main Phone application would not display properly. An easy way around this proved to be simply accessing the Contacts app and initiating all my calls from there.
Overall however there were significantly more applications that worked perfectly well with the Redfly than those that did not and I grew rapidly used to the increased screen real estate that it offers.
UPDATE: Celio has provided me with some additional info below:
1) We’re working on fixing the HTC Comm Manager and the Treo Pro Dialer and will release an update to the Treo Pro REDFLY driver when fixed.
2) Sadly, in general, video doesn’t work. There are a few isolated combinations (phone model/video codec/REDFLY firmware/media player) that do somewhat work. But the frame rate is poor and the combinations are so specific and sometimes unpredictable that we have to officially say, “No video is supported at this time.” We want to watch video on our REDFLYs just as bad as everyone else, so it’s a high priority to fix. However, due to bandwidth limitations of Bluetooth and USB (no phones right now I believe support USB 2.0 although the REDFLY does) and the fact that video must be compressed and decompressed twice (once in the media player on the phone and again on the way to the REDFLY screen) we may still be one or two product generations down the road before we get true video on the phone itself to transmit properly to the REDFLY. There is a slim chance we could get some video working with just a firmware update to the current version, but it is quite a long shot and most likely will come in a later product iteration down the road. We’re currently working on a short-term workaround (stay tuned) but even that still won’t support full video from a phone’s media player.
3) The Opera 9.6 and Skyfire browsers will not work. We’ve been in touch with both companies, but each would have to alter some code to get their browsers to scale/handle the resolution change. Opera 8.6 works great though.
I have to say that I have been rather pleasantly surprised by my Redfly Mobile Companion experience. It is extremely easy to setup and use, beautifully designed and built, offers a good keyboard and large high resolution screen in a very small and light body. I would personally not have considered ever getting one priced at $399 but at the current $199 I have to admit that the Redfly gets two thumbs up from me. Mobile professionals who don’t want or need a full laptop on the go will be rather pleased by its simple yet powerful features (see below).
Top 10 Redfly Mobile Companion Benefits
- Present from your smartphone
Deliver PowerPoint presentations from your phone via the REDFLY’s built-in VGA port. Anything on the smartphone can be displayed via VGA.
- Travel light
Leave your laptop behind, but take your data with you.
- Easy email, attachment and documents
The larger display and keyboard make it easy to use email and applications such as Office Mobile (Excel, Word, PowerPoint).
- Web browser on a large display
Enjoy a better web browsing experience with the ability to view pages without scrolling, zooming or squinting.
- ALT-TAB like a desktop
Quickly move between open applications using the familiar Alt-Tab key stroke.
- Bluetooth to the phone
Connect between your smartphone and the REDFLY via Bluetooth for a wire free experience. Use your phone and REDFLY at the same time.
- Use a flash drive
Access data using USB flash drives or memory cards with a card reader.
- Charge your smartphone
Charge your smartphone while connected via USB for extended productivity time.
- Travel with one charger
The REDFLY can be set to keep the USB ports powered when plugged into the wall. Charge the smartphone via USB and you only carry one charger.
- Notes on the fly
Use the Windows Mobile Notes feature and take notes while on a phone call or in a meeting. All information is always with you and easily searched.
Treonauts are always ready to fly…