Dr W Kuan Hon has a new gadget and she loves it
Psioneers, rejoice - the Gemini PDA is out! If you’ve not heard of Psion, you’re younger than some, but you might still want a Gemini, especially if you’re techie - it can dual boot Android and Debian Linux.
Doing real work on the move requires a keyboard. But lugging a laptop or similar around is cumbersome especially if, like me with dodgy back and knees, carrying weight is an issue. Ultra-portable clamshell Psions with usable keyboards offered a solution, but they’ve been out of production for years. I’d still be using mine if it had wi-fi and colour screen (they’re that technologically-ancient).
Last year, UK company Planet Computers began crowdfunding for an updated Psion – the Gemini - roping in the Psion’s original designers. I rushed to back it once I heard.
For those who want an ultralight, compact device with proper keyboard, the Gemini is ideal. At just 320g, 17.14cm(W) x 7.93cm(D) x 1.51 cm(H), it fits easily into handbags/manbags, jacket pockets, even deep trouser/jeans pockets. I have the 4G/wifi model, so it’s my mobile too. It’s eSIM-ready: network switching without changing physical SIMs, once that’s supported.
For detailed tech specs see Planet’s webpage. I’d just mention colour touchscreen (5.99in, 2160×1080, 403ppi), Bluetooth, headphone socket, mic, speakers, accelerometer, light sensor, gyro, magnetic sensor and front-facing camera for video calls. But no fingerprint recognition.
A “voice assist” button also answers/ends calls. Separated mics/speakers let you hold it either way up for calls, but only at the top (not bottom) face. You have open it to find/dial numbers, although you can then close it without ending your call. Similarly, you can’t see who’s calling if it’s shut. 5 LEDs along the top face’s “join” seek to address this (with LEDison app), but who can remember what colour combo represents what contact? I may pair it with a Bluetooth watch displaying dialling/caller info, but haven’t tried that yet. (Works fine with Bluetooth headset.)
The physical keyboard beats soft keyboards, but isn’t as easy or quick to type on as the Psion – unlike with the Psion, it doesn’t cleverly slide out towards you when you open the device, which may account for the difference. I have small hands, but others say larger hands can adapt or two-thumb-type. The Fn key enables access to more characters/functions, Psion-like.
It has two USB-C slots. Only the left works for charging and computer connection, only the right for HDMI (requires Planet’s custom USB-HDMI cable). I’ve used it with full-size keyboard/mouse and external monitor. There’s also a USB hub including Ethernet.
The OS isn’t Psion’s outmoded Symbian, but Android (rootable). OTA firmware updates are available. It has 4GB RAM, 64GB internal memory and a micro-SD slot, where I’m using an 8GB card for (sadly) WP29 docs, DPA 2018, etc. An included tool opens the cover to access SIM/microSD slots.
I’ve installed various Android apps but haven’t tried Linux dual boot yet, as it’s not built-in currently and I’m waiting till I have time to flash it carefully with Planet’s tool (Sailfish, the Linux distro which runs Android apps, is also supported). Planet created a calendar/todo app emulating the Agenda app adored by Psioneers, and it works well with my Google calendar. Given the screen size, Microsoft apps like Word, Powerpoint, Outlook and Excel are free (though you have to sign in with Microsoft to use them, including offline). Citrix works but you’ll want a big-screen monitor!
Again Psion-like, there’s a horizontal “Planet bar” (bottom of screen) to add your favourite apps. This can be permanently displayed, or set so the Planet key (left of spacebar) shows/hides it. I’ve not needed the bar (shown above just for illustration): my main apps are onscreen and I can swipe for more screens, as standard with Android. A vertical set of apps (right of screen) displays on all screens. The triangle, circle and square icons will also be familiar to Android users (back, homescreen, other open apps).
Other accessories: back-facing camera kit, leather sleeve (Psion cases fit, with room as it’s slimmer).
There’s a quickstart guide but no manual. Tips and help are available from:
· Gemini Planet (unofficial)
Caveat: it’s expensive. The 4G/wifi model costs £599 from Planet, wifi-only £499. Some units may still be available more cheaply via Indiegogo. But, to me, it’s well worth it to have something I can type on properly, yet carry around everywhere without risking my back.
The author is Dr W Kuan Hon. Views expressed are Kuan's alone and not necessarily those of any organisation with whom she may be associated.
Photos ©Planet (except screenshot) – thanks for permission. Rest licensed Creative Commons BY UK