Why I think I need a Psion-style device, but won’t be buying the Gemini PDA

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The world has moved on a lot since Psion exited the mobile market, an exit that for most people is either a distant memory or of no consequence whatsoever.

For those of us, however, who were introduced to the world of mobile computing through the Psion PDAs, there has been a wish for something like these devices to return.

The Gemini PDA fulfils that wish when you first look at it, but thinking a bit deeper leads me to suspect that my initial positivity may have been unjustified. It runs Android and/or Linux, both of which I have used and do not use daily, and as such is not going to offer the kind of closed organisation the original Psions did. It could effectively be a very small laptop or a very big phone with a keyboard, neither of which are likely to bring back the ‘Psion’ feeling.

I realise that I am looking back 2 decades and am kind of hoping for something that was amazing in its time, but which could never be so in 2017. However, the form factor of keyboard and landscape keyboard did lend itself to getting a lot of work done and there is a chance that it could happen again for a whole new generation of mobile users who have only used slab phones that are touch only.

I don’t know what to expect and if indeed the current phone form is the best solution, but for me any option is a good one and in theory the customers will decide if a device like the Gemini PDA is going to be successful, a nice product or a complete failure.

After I had written the above I received an email which made me think twice about the Gemini PDA.

Jump to 2:55 in the above video and you will see Dr Janko Mrsic-Flogel who is the CEO of Planet Computers. He is also a director of Retro Computers Ltd who ran this Indiegogo campaign to ‘recreate’ the Sinclair Spectrum as a handheld console.  It’s exactly the same idea as the Gemina PDA; nostalgia for great products of the past, with a modern design from the original hardware designer (in the case of the Vega, Rick Dickinson).

All you have to do is click the comments link to see what is happening with the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega Plus Console. I don’t think I will be pledging anything at the moment because, as the person who emailed me said “In my estimation, it’s 50-50 whether I’ll ever get the Spectrum Vega Plus.  Unlike many, I’m still holding out some hope.  As for the Gemini PDA, their delivery estimate of this autumn is wildly optimistic, considering it’s still at concept stage and the demo unit they showed to journalists had no keyboard – the sole reason people will want this.”

9 thoughts on “Why I think I need a Psion-style device, but won’t be buying the Gemini PDA

  1. One thing to remember is that the Psion (and also my preferred setup, a Palm Pilot with a Landware Go Type Pro keyboard – couldn’t type while walking, but the Palm was obviously highly pocketable) came at a time when laptops were hugely expensive luxuries. (and just plain huge, relative to options we enjoy today.)

    So (as you mention) not only is a product like this competing against virtual keyboard things like phones and tablets, but people who really want to DO stuff on the go can get a slim laptop. It might not be “suit-pocket-able”, but a new model Macbook is a negligible weight in a bag, yet could easily be someone’s fulltime, main computer. ($1000-2000 (USD) ain’t cheap, but a decent 1996 laptop would easily be over 4K – over 6K in today’s US dollars)

    Maybe what it needs to be is a really fine “smartcover” product with a built in keyboard? An iPhone “plus” model with a good hinge would be a fierce competitor to it.

    1. Impressive idea about an iPhone Pro with a keyboard. You could, however, easily type on a Psion while walking- it worked everywhere.

      1. Fair enough.

        But now I’m nostalgic for writing with Graffiti. I have an original Palmpilot Pro on my nightstand. I only write on it about as often as my dad’s old typewriter in the diningroom (lovely 1940s Royal), but scratching things out with a stylus is tactile and pleasurable in a way jabbing at a virtual keyboard isn’t, not to mention much more reliable in terms of typos – it’s a breath of fresh air to be out of autocorrect land.

        Don’t know if iPhone model will ever get Pencil support, and/or if there’d be a Pencil and phone case solution that would always have the stylus handy, but I’d at least consider one of those funky 3rd party Graffiti-like virtual keyboards in that case.

  2. I’ve just watched another interview on YouTube, and it all sounds very vague. At the moment it’s just a shell, they never turned it on. For me, something like this would be great. My dream has always been an all in one device, but it’s turned out that a phone and something bigger has always worked out best for me in the end. At the moment I tether a Yoga Book when I need to, but I like the bigger screen, better speakers and the backlit keyboard. Would I trade in both for one of these? Maybe… just for fun!

    1. After you mentioned it I looked at the Yoga Book… it’s currently “normal” iPad sized, right? If their talk of a full line of that idea comes to fruition, a mini-ipad (or a bit smaller?) version would totally be here, except for the diehard “need physical keyboard!!” crowd (though there might be plenty of them)

  3. Yeah, the Yogo Book is iPad sized. Personally, I rarely flip it back into tablet mode, since the keyboard makes for a nice stand, and I kinda like it being there just to jot things down. Obviously I’d way prefer a physical keyboard, but this being the size it is, is pretty cool. It has loads of frustrating little quirks, I hope they bring out a version 2 to address them. Is there a future in something like this? I would say “YES!” but I also said that about the Psion, the mini disk player and I don’t know what other cool things I thought were cool. But maybe on a positive side, this is working for me now… just like the Psion, the mini disk player etc. did. Plus when I take these things to my classes and the kids see me attach it to the interactive whiteboard they flip out. (Though I think they were more impressed by my mobile phone, keyboard, mouse set up!)

    1. Cool. This product has been flying under my radar – if you (or anyone here) ever happen to hear them talk about a smaller version (like iPad-mini sized) and happen to remember, please ping me. (And then I’ll ask you, so what were some of those frustrating little quirks…)

      (Wish I could find a hands-on store demo model of this. I mentioned the product to a coworker – both of us had memories of not liking Wacom-style no-screen drawing pads, but think the idea that if the pad was exactly the same 1:1 size as the drawing area screen, and in close proximity, it might just work – plus have the advantage of not having the pen tip visually block what you were drawing at that moment)

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