GCN Lab Review: Redfly Companion gives your smart phone a bigger screen

Pros: Puts whatever is on your smart phone on a highly readable screen with a full keyboard
Cons: It’s limited to the functionality of your smart phone
Performance: A
Features: A-
Ease of use: A+
Value: B+
Price: $282 on the General Services Administration schedule, $299 retail

Smart phones are a classic example of good things coming in small packages. But sometimes I get tired of squinting at the tiny screen and poking at it with a stylus. I can use it to check e-mail and surf the Web, but I can’t write my epic masterpiece novel on it — not with that little keyboard and screen.

So Celio’s Redfly Mobile Companion intrigued me. The two-pound device displays whatever is on your smart phone on an eight-inch screen with a full QWERTY keyboard.

Although it sure looks and feels like one, however, the Redfly isn’t a laptop PC. It has no operating system, processor or memory. It’s what we used to call a dumb terminal — just a monitor and keyboard and no real computing smarts. You can’t save any data on it, so if it’s lost or falls into enemy hands, there’s no harm done.

We used the Redfly with an AT&T Tilt running Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.1. A short call to Celio’s Redfly support desk at 888-4REDFLY paired the phone and Redfly and authorized our Bluetooth connection, and we were all set.

The Redfly is all about the hot keys. F7 is the main one to remember. Turn on your smart phone and the Redfly, hit F7, and your smart phone goes dark while the Redfly lights up with whatever was on your smart-phone screen. The F1 key turns the phone on and off, so you can still make and receive calls while using the Redfly. The F2 key lets you adjust the screen resolution. Hit F5 to access e-mail, F6 to surf the Web, F8 to dim the brightness and F9 to increase it.

The Redfly also has a VGA port on the back that lets you connect a projector to it for presentations. A media cable also lets you plug in an iPod so you can view what’s on that tiny screen.

Because the Redfly isn’t running a full computing system, it has a battery life of about eight hours, longer than most laptop PCs. The Redfly is about the size of a quality paperback book and therefore hardly noticeable in a backpack. It has two USB ports so you can charge other devices while you use it or plug in extra flash drives.

Although the keyboard is a vast improvement compared to a smart phone’s, it’s not quite the same as a full desktop PC keyboard. I also found myself wishing I had skinnier fingers for its slightly smaller keys.

And the Redfly can only magnify what your smart phone can do. If I wanted to, I could write a government proposal on the Redfly in Microsoft Word and save it to my smart phone. But I was more limited when it came to PowerPoint files. I couldn’t create or save them; I could only view them because that was the capability of my smart phone. I could also create and save Excel files, and the larger Redfly screen showed more columns than the tiny phone screen.

The screen is bright and clear. No resolution is lost in the translation from smart phone to Redfly. Using Microsoft Internet Explorer Mobile, I surfed over to YouTube to watch the ubiquitous Susan Boyle singing “I Dreamed a Dream,” and I could still see Simon Cowell’s face in vivid detail as shock set in. Some images on some Web pages were a bit truncated, but again, it was a limitation of Internet Explorer Mobile, not the Redfly. The device is also designed to work with the Opera 8.6 browser, which my Tilt smart phone includes.

These days anything that increases the functionality of what you’ve already got is a good thing. While I was testing the Redfly, co-workers would walk past my cubicle and marvel at it. “How much?” they invariably asked. For less than $300, you, too, can dream a dream of smart-phone empowerment.

Celio, 1-888-473-3359, www.celiocorp.com

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.


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