24/11/2017

The Gemini PDA, it's as close to a Psion as you'll get (and it's real)

Before the iPhone or even Blackberry, there was a PDA made by a company called Psion, well several, eventually culminating in the Series 5. It was a clamshell design with a keyboard on one side and the monochrome screen on the other. It could run applications and it did basic things like had a calendar, calculator and word processor, all driven by a toolbar running along the bottom of the screen. It also had a 'view' screen to see what was happening throughout your life (well days/weeks anyway).

Unfortunately Psion is no more, however a company called Planet Computers is trying to change that and though the actual Psion can't be resurrected, the Gemini is born. The company was set-up by Dr Janko Mrsic-Flogel who used to resell Psion hardware and develop software and has developed a lot of mobile cloud solutions under another company (Private Planet Ltd).

The Gemini looks and feels like a Psion 5

The PDA on the left is an actual working Psion 5 and the PDA on the right the Gemini - they do look remarkably similar. It's worth noting that the Gemini is also running a view screen that emulates the Psion calendar view, giving access to what's coming up in an easy to read manner.

The next picture shows another comparison, but with a lot of test keyboards too.

The various keyboards are for testing different membrane thicknesses and how 'clicky' the keys are. The current thinking is a softer keyboard which will probably appeal more to modern computer users who are used to the light touch, while programmers would probably prefer the keyboard with a deeper travel and more 'Cherry mechanical' keyboard feel (the programmers will probably lose out). But either way, it's perfect possible to touch type on either one.

Underneath the keyboard sits a big battery (removable Li-Ion 4220mAh) giving 12 hours talk-time and a full 2 weeks in standby.

The screen is a 5.99 inch FHD (18:9) with a resolution of 2160x1080 at 403 ppi and full colour. It looks very good. The Gemini doesn't come lightly spec'ed either with: -

  • CPU - Mediatek MT6797X Helio X27 with 10 cores (2 x Cortex A72 @ 2.6GHz, 4 x Cortex A53 @ 2.0GHz, 4 x Cortex A53 @ 1.6GHz
  • GPU - Quad core Mali T880 MP4 @ 875MHz
  • RAM - 4GB
  • ROM - 64GB
  • Sound - Stereo speakers (either side of display)
  • Microphone - integrated behind display and external 3.5mm jack
  • Bluetooth - v4.0
  • GPS - GPS and AGPS
  • USB - 2 USB C ports (OTG support)
  • Camera - front facing 5MP
  • Sensors - accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, magneto-sensor, light sensor
  • SD Card slot - takes at least 128GB, may take 256GB

The Gemini comes in 2 versions, WiFi only and WiFi with 4G. The specs for the 4G model are: -

  • WiFi - 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
  • GSM - 850/900/1800/1900 Mhz
  • CDMA - 850/1900 Mhz BC0 BC1+ EVDO
  • WCDMA - 900/2100 Mhz
  • LTE - 1/2/3/4/5/7/12/17/20/41 and VoLTE

The 4G models has SIM slot (under the top lid) and both have an external camera module space (for a later rear 5MP camera module). There are also 5 fully programmable RGB LEDs on the lid, which can be programmed for fun, but also to light up to indicate, say, who's calling. When the phone rings, it can be operated without ever opening the case.

The Gemini's default operating system is Android (currently 7.1) and it will run many standard Android apps, but in order to make it more Psion like, there's a toolbar at the bottom of the screen that can launch specified apps (as well as using various Psion like key combinations).

There's a dedicated voice assist button giving access to Google's voice system.

A quirk is the Gemini can also dual-boot and the second partition holds Linux (currently Debian, but Planet will open source at least enough of the Linux side so other variants can be installed). Linux can also be run as a VM under Android (yes it does work).

All Planet apps can be run locally (with no need for access into the cloud), or they can link into the Private Planet cloud service (or Google's).

There will be a range of peripherals, but on launch there's a USB-C to HDMI adapter and a USB-C hub with 3 USB-A sockets, Ethernet port (and maybe others). There's also a USB-C mains charger and a nice leather pouch.

Using the HDMI adapter, an external HD display is easily driven running video/etc.

The Gemini is currently selling 'in-demand ' on Indiegogo (the original target was for $200,000 and it's now at over $800,000).

The WiFi only version sells for $299 and the WiFi + 4G is $399 (prices are likely to go up by $200 after the campaign).

The Gemini is a very nice unit and completely usable as a mobile phone, but with a full features of a PDA with a touch-typable keyboard so allowing productivity apps and leisure apps like video to run, even at the same time and it will fit into a jacket pocket.

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