I’ve been extremely fortunate enough to have a Gemini PDA for a few weeks now, with only one other person getting an early review unit – the illustrious Mr Mobile. He’ll do a wonderful job of reviewing this in video form, but here’s mine in written form.
Since my preview session last year, I’ve been itching to get my hands (or should I say fingers) on this modern-day Psion organiser in final, or virtually final, form. And at the end of February, I did just that.
Years of dreaming about what would happen if someone remade a Psion Series 5 with up-to-date hardware has become reality.
But is an updated Series 5 for a modern audience really going to cut it in a market where people are happy to use an on-screen keyboard, or possibly carry a laptop in their bag?
I believe there is a market, and my time with the Gemini has made me feel even more confident that I’m right to think this, but let me try and explain how and why I think the Gemini is good enough to warrant spending up to £600 on one.
The Gemini PDA is powered by a 10-core MediaTek Helio X27 chipset with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of (expandable) storage. You can opt for a, dual-band 802.11ac, Wi-Fi only model or a model with Wi-Fi and 4G, the latter having a Cat 6 LTE modem for speeds of up to 300Mbps – and the version I got to review.
The 4G enabled model also has support for VoLTE, as tested with an EE SIM card. This not only improves voice call setup times, but also enables owners to access EE’s 800MHz (band 20) sites around the UK, offering improved rural or indoor coverage where available.
You can make calls with the device open, as a speakerphone, or in a closed position using the integrated earpiece and microphone on the outside.
The touchscreen is a 5.9-inch 18:9 ratio LCD display with a Full HD+ resolution (2160×1080 pixels), which nicely fills out the wider format needed to accommodate the keyboard.
Battery wise, the Gemini has a 4,220mAh cell, and the package is finished off with a dedicated voice control button and ambient microphone to better allow you to communicate with Google Assistant.
The Gemini could so easily have scrimped on things like connectivity and played exclusively on having a great keyboard. Thankfully the creators didn’t think that way.
64GB of internal storage should be ample for most, with a memory card slot for anyone that needs more (cards of up to 512GB are now available, if you’ve got a spare £200 or so).
There are two USB-C ports with On-the-Go support, so you can be charging through one and using the other to output your display to a second screen, hooking up a mouse, or flash drive, or indeed a combination if you connect up a hub.
And, yes, if you wanted to you could even add a second keyboard.
My review unit didn’t come with the dual-boot option to run Linux, but with that configuration you can use the Gemini in a desktop, windowed, mode that’s best suited for connecting to an external display.
When using it as an Android device, as I did, you simply get a mirror of the internal display. This means large icons and text and no specific desktop mode, such as that offered on a Huawei Mate 10 Pro or Samsung Galaxy with DeX dock. It’s something I mentioned when seeing a pre-production unit, and could potentially come at a later stage with a software update.
For the most part, however, you’ll probably be opting to use with the internal screen and keyboard.
Most reviews these days invariably concentrate on things like the screen or camera, but on the Gemini it’s pretty much all about the keyboard.
And what a keyboard it is, with the original Psion design back in all its former glory, but with a far slimmer design thanks to modern advancements in technology (and no AA batteries bulking things up). Once flipped open, the clever mechanism props the keyboard up at an ideal typing angle.
The keyboard has a learning curve attached to it, and the space bar did present some issues (some double spacing, or not detecting my press at all) that were eventually mitigated by slowing down my typing a bit.
This may be down to having an early build, or a bedding in process because during my time with the unit it appeared to be less of a problem as time went on. Of course, that could be me simply becoming more used to the keyboard.
There’s also the fact that with such a small keyboard, you are going to have to get used to a smaller form factor, just as PDA users had to do many years ago.
Practice makes perfect
As such, you probably won’t be able to get a proper feel for the Gemini from just a short amount of usage, but I can assure you that you will if you give it a chance.
The keyboard design was a key factor in making the original Psion Series 5 (and variants) such a ‘gold standard’ device for people needing to type more than just a few words here and there, or edit spreadsheets and other documents.
To have it back in all of its glory is what makes the Gemini so much more than any other smartphone manufacturer that has dabbled with sliding or folding keyboards.
In the world of photography, there’s the classic saying that the best camera is the one you have with you, and it certainly applies to the Gemini. With its extreme pocketability, you can easily carry this around with you at all times, unlike a laptop.
As such, when you need to be productive at any given moment, the Gemini can be whipped out and put to use straight away. Take a second to fully appreciate just how useful that might be for many people.
By default the Gemini only comes with a front-facing camera (5-megapixel) for video conferencing. During the crowd funding stage, people asked for the ability to take normal photos too. As such, the final design comes with an optional plug-in camera module (also 5-megapixel) and a replacement back cover with cut out.
I wasn’t able to test this out, but I never felt I was missing out by not having a camera on my unit. But it’s nice to have the option, especially for anyone that intends to carry a Gemini as their sole device.
It’s also quite clever to let users attach a camera themselves by simply removing and fitting a new backplate.
The use of a MediaTek chipset may have set a few alarm bells ringing with some readers, but I never had any problems with the performance – even in the standard, non-sports, mode that gives the best balance of stamina versus performance.
Benchmark wise, the device performed well with a perfectly respectable Geekbench rating of 1729 single-core and 4599 multi-core.
I wasn’t, admittedly, playing games on it during my review time – although seeing other demos from the manufacturer suggests it should have no problems.
In fact, with the keyboard I might have had great fun firing up some 8-bit emulators to play some classic Commodore 64 and Sinclair Spectrum games I grew up with.
4G performance is highly respectable too, and connectivity is very important on a device such as this. For one thing, faster speeds actually mean more than on many ordinary smartphones.
The battery life was impressive too – as you might expect given the generous battery packed inside. If this is to be a secondary device, you can easily get two or three days of battery between charges.
Giving accurate figures is always difficult in a review. What does ‘all day battery life’ mean when everyone has different needs?
All I can say is that it never let me down, from the odd day where I didn’t use it at all (but left it on a unit, not charging) to the times I was on it for a few hours writing stuff.
If it was my only device, the battery would of course be impacted more. But even then, the lack of a camera (by default) will likely reduce usage. It’s primarily a productive tool, although when you want it can be used for some Netflix viewing, and even with the brightness turned up it still seems to cope admirably.
And so it should for something with such a large battery and pretty much no bloat. Out of the box, this thing is pretty much vanilla Android.
Ease of use
There’s an awful lot of attention to detail in this device, which extends to the shortcuts on the keyboard that are accessed in conjunction with the Fn key, for things like adjusting volume, brightness and other stuff like making screenshots.
There’s the Planet key that brings up a dock to allow the easy launching of your favourite apps. Word and Excel comes pre-installed for the quickest out of box set up, allowing you to get working straight away.
In my case, I opted to stick with Google’s own suite of applications. It’s up to you. Install whatever you like, as there’s nothing hard coded here as on the original Series 5.
For me, the WordPress app worked like a charm, although any bloggers looking to improve their productivity may prefer to use the web based editor instead. Either way works fine.
In fact, everything works fine. It’s basically an Android smartphone with a keyboard, but – more importantly – a good keyboard.
If there’s one minor disappointment, it’s the lack of a fingerprint sensor for security.
As such, you’ll need to rely on the bog-standard Android methods of security. There’s no fancy face unlocking technology, so you’ll likely opt for a password or PIN, which slows you down a bit when it is required every time you open it up.
If you’re tempted to turn security off (or delay the auto locking) you run a risk of giving a thief easy access to your data, but it will probably be worth it to avoid losing out on the convenience of quickly opening and closing the device on a whim.
The Personal Assistant that’s always with you
Having a dedicated button on the side to summon Google Assistant, which can be used when the Gemini is closed (you’ll hear a tone to know when to speak) is a very nice feature. It makes it quick and easy to ask questions, take notes, make calls or schedule reminders, at any time.
If receiving a call or a message, the programmable LEDs on the top can show any colour and even animate, giving you near limitless notification types.
In lieu of an external display, which would have added to the development and build costs, and impacted on the structural integrity of the device, these LEDs are a very innovative way of letting you know who has called or messaged you.
It might not be quite enough to replace a laptop, but it can very easily complement one. At a time where everything you work on can be synced in the cloud, it’s now easy to work on a document from your desktop or laptop, close it down and then continue from where you left off in seconds on the Gemini.
This flexibility means you can choose the right tool for the job at any given time, and when working in confined spaces – such as a seat back table on a plane or train – the Gemini will win over a laptop. Every. Single. Time.
Six months from now…?
If there are any more concerns about the device, it will be things like the level of software support offered. Will there be an update for Oreo (it comes with Android Nougat)? Will Android P come to the device soon after Google releases it later this year?
The other concern is about the long-term reliability of the keyboard. It’s impossible to tell at such an early stage, although I am quite confident that the keyboard felt solid enough to remain dependable – unless you drop the device, or something heavy falls on the keyboard.
There is some good evidence to suggest it will last though. That’s the fact that the keyboard is based on the tried and tested design fitted to the original Psion Series 5, 5mx and the Ericsson-badged MC218.
The Gemini feels like a longtime dream come true. I can’t even remember when I first wrote about my desire to see a Psion Series 5 return with all the modern features of today, but now here it is and I am extremely happy to have had one in my hands even if only for a relatively short time.
It is not likely to ever be a massive seller, but that’s not meant to be a criticism of Planet Computers and what it has achieved. My hope is simply that there is a large enough market to make it profitable enough to allow for future investment to allow new models to keep up with advancing technologies, from more advanced processors and screens, to things like 5G.
Talking now about future products is a little unfair on the current product though, and might imply that you could be better off waiting. That’s not true. Waiting would be totally self-defeating, as it would harm current sales and potentially kill any future development.
Not only that, but having waited just over 20 years for such a device to be manufactured, why wait any longer?
The Gemini PDA is everything I hoped for. It’s here now, at least for those that ordered early, and the only way to ensure a bright future for Planet Computers is to give it a go.
You might not be quite as stoked as I was when first hearing about the product, but I can assure you that you’ll be very happy with it.
4G or no 4G?
As a final bit of advice; if you do decide to buy, get the 4G model. As a device you can use anywhere, anytime, there will likely be many instances where Wi-Fi won’t be available, or simply won’t be up to the job of allowing the online editing and documents. 4G makes it an even better overall package (you can also use it as a portable hotspot too).
Pricing and Availability
£499 gets you the Wi-Fi only model, or £599 for the Wi-Fi + 4G version. Each have a delivery date of May 2018 onwards, allowing for the fulfilment of all the crowd-funded orders placed last year. That does mean having some patience if you want to get one.
Customers can request the device with a variety of configurations for different (keyboard) regions, and power supplies (US, European, Japanese or UK). Planet Computers has worked hard to make this a truly global offering, and the issue now will be keeping up with demand in the short-term.
Planet Computers Gemini vs The original Psion Series 5
|Gemini PDA||Psion Series 5|
|Made by||Planet Computers||Psion PLC|
|OS||Android Nougat||EPOC32 (later known as Symbian OS)|
|Storage||64GB + microSDXC card||Used RAM + CompactFlash|
|Battery||4,220mAh rechargeable||2xAA batteries|
|Screen||5.9-inch 2160×1080, full colour||5.6-inch, 640×240 pixel, greyscale|
|Connectivity||USB-C, 802.11ac Wi-Fi & 4G (Cat 6)||Infrared, CompactFlash, RS-232|
More info: Planet Computers
- See my original preview from last year.