The Gemini PDA 2018; hands on review

After a few weeks of usage, learn what makes this Psion revival a wonderful addition to the Android smartphone world

Before there was the smartphone there was something called the personal digital assistant or PDA.  This was usually a miniature looking computer, complete with display and keyboard that would fit into your pocket and instantly be available for work as soon as you opened it’s case (back in a time booting a laptop was a coffee making moment).

Psion_Series_3aI was a huge fan of the original Psion organizer, with a particular fondness for the Series 3.  It was a revolutionary device for its time, combining the size of a modern day smartphone with a keyboard that was nearly-almost usable.  Ironically, or horrifying by today’s standards, it had no network connectivity.   You could shove an RS232 cable into it and transfer data (who remembers zModem??) or if you were a real trendsetter you could shell out for the original Psion modem to connect you on the move.   It is ridiculous to think of a device with such limitations, but 25 years ago this was the cutting edge in mobile computing.

Gemini PDASo you can imagine my joy when I learned of the Gemini PDA, from Planet Computers in the UK, that they had partnered up with the original designer of the Psion PDA to produce an Android version of the popular clam-shell PDA.   I put my order into the Indiegogo crowd sourced site just before January 2018 and patiently waited for my unit to be built and sent to me – hoping of hopes they would not hit any snags before getting it over the line.

They made it.  It arrived a few weeks ago and after spending some time with it, I feel I can speak to its strengths and weaknesses with a little authority.

2018-05-04-08-35-46.jpgThe unit itself feels solid and weighty.  Not weighty, but a quality heavy.  There was a familiarity to it that brought back a huge smile – holding it, sizing it up, felt like I was holding my original Psion.

Flip open the case, revealed the beauty that lay within – a high definition color display and a keyboard that was ready for even the fattest of fingers to start tapping.   Closing the case again, had that wonderful spring-clam magnetic feeling.

By all accounts this is an Android smartphone, with a keyboard permanently attached.  The unit came with 4G and WiFi, including a camera.  It had the necessary SSD slot to increase storage, bluetooth, USB-C charging and everything else you would expect from a modern day iPhone/Samsung device.

Getting started was quick and easy – popped in my SIM card from Verizon, logged in with my Google account and within 5 minutes, I was up and running with all my apps installed magically from the Google borg.

It just so happened that the week the device arrived, was when the World Snooker started, a 19 day event that captures me annually.   The Gemini PDA was now my snooker source, allowing me to test both battery longevity, screen resolution and speaker quality.

On the battery front, the Gemini PDA did probably better than my Samsung S9+, even though I was streaming over WiFi for most of the day.  While it lasted longer, I did note that it took significantly longer to recharge the device (now that said, I know the S9 has made big strides towards rapid charging so probably not a fair comparison).

2018-05-11 08.57.33.jpgThe screen was beautiful, crisp clear and responsive.  It is fully touched screen and didn’t have any issues with the usual pinch’n’zoom and all the usual pawing one performs on a smartphone.

The speaker quality sadly was a let down.  It sounded tinny with a complete lack of bass.  I thought it first to be just the BBC stream, but after playing many a YouTube video, it never got any better.   Though, pair it up with bluetooth speakers and no problems, so clearly the physical speakers installed are not the best.

But speaking of that, one has to remember that this device is retailing at $599, fully loaded. That is significantly less than the Samsung S9 or Google Pixel.  While it is easy to be a bit sniffy about various items, the price point I feel is pitched just right, cutting corners where needed.

2018-05-04-08-36-28.jpgIt comes with the latest Android which has been modded a little to accommodate the Gemini hardware.   There is a couple of Gemini specific keys that will pop up a utility bar with quick-access functions, this was handy, but frankly after a period of time, just got in the way.

Now for the keyboard.  The very thing that makes this device stand out from the crowd.

The keyboard is wide enough that you can’t use it with your 2 opposing thumbs, and you can forget about using it in one-hand.  Just not that type of device.   Once put on a flat surface, the keyboard comes alive.  Solid, follow-through, satisfying travel and click in each key button with instant feedback on the screen.   My fingers are of a slim nature that I could type relatively fast.  My only frustration with it, was the space-bar, it is offset from the middle a little that I kept missing it with my right-thumb. The keyboard is slightly smaller than my travel bluetooth keyboard I use with my tablet/phone but not small enough that makes it unusable.

2018-05-11 08.57.19.jpg

Overall the device is a wonderful addition to the smartphone world and while I don’t think there is a huge mass appeal, it will be useful for those that need more than just a media-player from their mobile device (oh did I say it is also a phone?).   I think the biggest issue with the device is that Android is just not geared up to be in permanent horizontal/landscape mode.  There are too many apps that just don’t know how to handle this viewing mode which has the knock-on effect of hiding a lot of in-app functionality.

While the device can by used in portrait mode, it feels so wrong when you hold it like that with a keyboard hanging off the side.

So setting that aside, I am a huge fan of the Gemini and the mission statement that Planet Computers are making with this device to the market place.  I hope they sell enough units to make them profitable and to continue development.  The company is still young and desperately needs more support from the community to help round out some of the rough edges that the more mainstream Android forums usually provide help with.

Overall, a wonderful nostalgic trip back to a time there was a real difference between a PDA and a phone, but not quite ready to become a single device to replace my current Samsung S9.   Instead, relegated to a secondary device to throw into the carry bag for long trips or meetings.

Solid machine, worth the money.


Electric Dreams (1984)

The early 80′s was the golden time for movies to explore how a more connected world, filled with computers coming into our personal lives, was going to impact us.  This era inspired a generation to grow up and take their place in shaping this new world.  I was one of those that looked upon the likes of WarGames and the like with complete wonderment egging my humble ZX Spectrum into areas only limited by imagination.

When Richard Branson was expanding his Virgin empire into a whole manner of different industries, the film industry came in on his radar and for a short time, Virgin Films attempted to break into Hollywood.   Credited as Executive Producer Branson, gave until then, music video director (you can start to see the Virgin Music tie in’s already can’t you?) 

Steve Barron an opportunity to direct a love triangle, between two people and a PC.

Lenny von Dohlen plays Miles (or Moles as he is known by ‘Edgar’ the PC throughout the movie due to a typing error at the start – i know that feeling, I am forever to be known as Allen by Verizon – which seems to present a bigger problem to change than you would first think).  His fellow upstairs apartment dweller, Madeline, played by Virginia Madsen is the beautiful professional musician who is serenaded by Edgar over the air ducts in the building, thinking it is Miles.


On one level the movie is a wonderful trip down technology memory lane.  The setup is simple at the start, showing Miles late for a meeting and through some dialogue this isn’t the first time, so it is recommended he go and get a Casio planner.  Reluctantly Miles heads down to the nearest computer store (and set in San Francisco the heart of Silicon Valley, there are many to chose from) and he is amazed at the choice when he is up sold a full a PC.

Sales Person: Which is your preference? Apple, Hair, Wang.
Miles: Listen, I don’t know anything about computers!
Sales Person: Nobody does!

Having purchased a discounted PC because it fell from the shelf we know we have something special here.  Then we are treated to what is probably the first unboxing video as he painstakingly puts all the pieces together.  Edgar (the name we don’t learn until the last scene in the movie) is quite advanced for 1984, given it can render live video, advanced graphics (with light pen) yet still presents the user with a good old console input to type in commands.   Though this is the not the end.  

31 years ago the idea of your computer controlling your house was space age thinking, yet here we have Miles plugging in wireless devices to all the electrical outlets so Edgar can take control.   The connected home that is being much hyped today by the likes of Samsung and Google was so accurately portrayed in 1984!   It was like seeing the first tablet computer used in the 1960′s in 2001 movie.

Edgar, much like

Daryl Hannah in Splash, learns all about the modern day world through watching day time television.  Interestingly Splash was out in the same year, so maybe great minds think a like? (or fools seldom differ).

The story is a far fetched as you can take it, though no more silly than Spike Jonze’s latest Her reincarnation.  But trundle along it does at a steady pace with no major shocks or surprises.

Knowing the director mastered his craft directing 3 minute music videos, you will spot a pattern as the movie unfolds.  Especially when you add in the fact that this was a vehicle to promote a number of artists on Virgin’s music label, including Culture Club and the Human League.   There is a number of  scenes that are simply music videos inserted into a movie.   They aren’t too offensive but don’t really add much to the story line.

That said, the title track is very good and deserves at least a reminder play.

A wonderful jaunt down memory lane and while no where near as impactful as “shall we play a game?”  of WarGames it is deserving of a rewatch.


Viewing Date
Sunday, 13th September 2015


IMDB YouTubeTrailer