Remember the Psion personal organiser? Seen by many as the original personal digital assistant, it was launched in the late-90s and is regarded as the precursor to the smartphones we use today. The big selling point was that it had a miniature keyboard that would allow you to type quickly as long as you were nimble.
Now, some 20 years later, the Psion is back. It’s a new device from a new company, but most notably designed by Martin Riddiford, the man who designed the original keyboard on the Psion Series 5 and subsequent 5mx.
But in a world of iPads and on-screen keyboards does a Psion reboot make sense? We visited Planet, the makers of what is now called the Gemini PDA, to find out, ahead of its official launch at CES.
A 1997 design
- 171.4 x 79.25 x 15.1mm
- Clamshell design with full mechanical keyboard
- 5.9-inch display
The name Gemini is based on the two main elements of the device that make up the clamshell design.
On top there is a 5.9-inch, 2160 x 1080 pixel (403ppi) display and on the bottom a full mechanical keyboard. Measuring 171.4 x 79.25 x 15.1mm this isn’t a small device by any stretch of the imagination, but you could slip it into a jacket pocket and take it with you on your travels.
The outside is clad in a dark grey metal with a fairly masculine design only interrupted by connection ports, a voice activation button, and a 3.5mm headphone socket.
Strangely for a smartphone in 2018 there is no outward-facing camera to take photos with. Planet say you can add a camera, but it’s an optional extra and like most smartphones, the lens will protrude from the design slightly. Things like the SIM slot and microSD card slot are hidden behind the case.
The lack of no screen on the outside of the device does mean you can’t see who is calling. To combat this there is a row of coloured LED lights that you can programme to change colour depending on who is calling. If it’s your partner it can glow red, while it could be green for the office for example. We’re not sure it solves the problem to be honest.
Android not Symbian
- MediaTek deca-core processor, 4GB RAM, 64GB storage + microSD
- 4G, Ei-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, eSIM support
- 4000mAh battery
It’s 2018 after all, and that means instead of the Symbian operating system with just 16MB of storage as found on the 5mx, the Gemini PDA runs Android on a MediaTek deca-core processor with 4GB of RAM and comes with 64GB of storage, which is expandable via microSD.
There is the usual array of connectivity options, 4G, Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, and eSIM support. There’s also fairly decent sounding integrated stereo speakers for listening to music or watching TV and a USB-C socket for not only charging, but also for outputting to HDMI so you can connect the Gemini to a screen and treat it like a computer. The Gemini PDA features a 4000mAh battery.
For those really wanting to take things to another level, there’s also a dual boot option to run Linux.
The Psion dock
The Android experience hasn’t been fussed with at all with Planet trying to keep things as simple as possible. However it has tried to replicate the original app dock on the Psion as best as it could.
It’s a software dock this time around rather than one with physical buttons, and dynamically changes depending on how you use it. Just like in iOS 11 on the iPad, the dock is there to help you get to your favourite apps quickly and can be accessed by a dedicated key on the keyboard at any time.
A handful of manufacturers have launched devices with keyboards in recent years, and while it was once the input method of choice for devices from BlackBerry or Nokia, many companies like Samsung, LG, Apple, and Sony Mobile all moved to an onscreen keyboard experience many years ago.
The argument here is that on-screen keyboards are okay but never perfect, and while all Android devices will support a Bluetooth keyboard, they often aren’t very pocketable. Of course, there’s a big dollop of nostalgia here too.
The sacrifice for the Planet Gemini is clearly in the size of the thing. Adding a keyboard more than doubles the thickness of the phone taking it into Nokia Communicator territory. But if it’s a keyboard you are looking for, we have to say that the keyboard here is very good, and almost identical to the one found on the original Psion.
You just have to be very nimble, as the keyboard real estate is 100mm narrower than a full-sized keyboard. Typing on it was challenging, but the all-important key spring is just right and we are sure with more time you could get up to a comfortable speed. Adding a mouse, via Bluetooth, can certainly help navigate Excel spreadsheets.
Our time with the Psion was brief, but it’s clear that this is a very niche product that will certainly appeal to some, but perhaps not many.
As a follow-up to the original Psion it’s a fantastic reboot delivering a fast and easy-to-use PDA for those who used to love the original and still miss it. But you have to ask yourself how much do you really need a pocketable 6-inch Android smartphone with a keyboard?
Regardless of what Planet say, typing on an onscreen keyboard isn’t actually that hard, and if you really need to do “typing” then you’ll probably be happier with a 7-inch tablet and a bolt on keyboard.
There is nothing wrong with the approach or what Planet has made here, but we suspect beyond the 2,500 already sold on Indigogo, the appeal might be limited.