The Gemini PDA is a tiny computer that’s small enough to hold in one hand, but with a keyboard that makes it possible to touch-type… maybe.

Planet Computer introduced the Gemini PDA nearly a year ago and launched a crowdfunding campaign to take the device from prototype to shipping product. Now it’s about ready to ship.

I got a chance to check out a few pre-release units at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and it really does seem like Planet Computer has delivered on most of its promises. The little computer dual boots Google Android 7.1 and Debian Linux. It has a keyboard that’s a little cramped, but which is pretty responsive… and familiar to anyone who’s ever used an old Psion handheld. Planet Computer hired the designer of the Psion Revo and Series 5 keyboard to help design the Gemini PDA.

But there are a few things to keep in mind before spending $399 to pre-order the Gemini PDA (or $499 and up once it hits retail).

The first thing to keep in mind is that right now the device is running something close to stock Debian Linux with the Xfce desktop environment. It’s not exactly a touch-friendly experience, since touching the screen just moves a cursor. You can’t swipe or scroll, but instead have to move that cursor across the screen. And there’s no touchpad or pointing stick in the keyboard area.

So if you plan to use Linux, you’re probably going to want to use a mouse or other input device with the Gemini PDA for now. Eventually the developers hope to port a more touch-friendly user interface such as KDE’s Plasma Mobile.

Android, on the other hand, works pretty much the way you’d expect it to. You can use the touchscreen to navigate, but you can also use the keyboard for quicker text input. Keyboard shortcuts also work to control the volume, screen brightness, and other setting sand you can use the Alt button to switch apps.

Some of the demo units Planet Computer is showing off at CES are early prototypes, so the model I tested with Linux had a pretty sticky keyboard that made typing tedious. But after a few seconds getting used to the tiny keys, I found the keyboard on the Android model to be pretty responsive. You might not be able to touch type using 10 fingers, but if you can get used to using 6 you may find the keyboard to be more pleasant than the virtual keyboards you get on most phones.

Speaking of phones, this thing has the kind of hardware you’d expect from a phone, not a notebook. It sports a 6 inch, 2160 x 1080 pixel display, a MediaTek Helio X27 deca-core processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage.

I didn’t spend enough time with the Gemini PDA to truly judge its performance, but it didn’t take too long to load LibreOffice Writer and begin composing documents or to open a terminal window and start running some simple commands. The processor might be a bit on the weak side for heavy duty computing, but it seems sufficient for basic tasks.

And if you want a more touch-friendly interface you can always reboot into Android.

It’s worth noting that the keyboard is designed to be fully functional, but compact. One shortcoming is that the screen opens to a single angle. It’s not really adjustable. Either the Gemini PDA is open or it’s not.

Other features include a 4,220 mAh battery, two USB Type-C ports, a microSD card slot, a 3.5mm audio jack, stereo speakers, 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.1, and a 5MP front-facing camera.

The whole thing measures 6.7″ x 3.1″ x 0.6″ and weighs 11 ounces. Planet Computer also offers accessories including a USB Type-C adapter that adds two full-sized USB ports, another USB-C port, and an Ethernet jack, and a separate USB Type-C to HDMI adapter.

A WiFi-only model will sell for $499 once the Gemini PDA hits retail, while a 4G LTE-capable version will run $599.

Oh, and you can use the LTE model to make phone calls by using a voice mode in Android, closing the lid, and holding the phone to your face like one of those old fashioned screenless phones.

For the time being, you can still pre-order one from Indiegogo for $399. Planet Computer plans to begin shipping devices to backers of the Indiegogo campaign this month, with retail availability to follow.

I’m also hoping to get a demo unit to review, but I’m told that the first units will ship to crowdfunding backers, not to reviewers.

 

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33 replies on “Hands-on with the Gemini PDA handheld PC with Android, Linux and a 6 inch display”

  1. I already ordered two, almost immediately after the announcement. Here’s why i consider them being perfect workhorses for me. First: I have lots of meetings in which i have to make notes. Back in the Psion days i could type blind and fast on them. And typing on such device during meetings is accepted. Typing on phones is still not.
    Second: i also do a lot of presentations. For this i use Chromebooks (with ms-office). Gemini also supports hdmi.
    Third: i have daily Skype calls while on the move. Gemini supports this too.
    Last but not least: landscape screen while working on docs. Sure i can rotate my iphone but when typing there is almost no more screen left. It’s all keyboard.

    So for me, Gemini seems perfect. Hence i ordered two, just like i had few 5MX back then. I just hope that there will not be some hardware change on next badges, like an improved keyboard. I might have to order a third then 😉

  2. I’d buy it if the desktop Linux side works great and they add some sort of built-in mouse pointer. Otherwise, pass.

    I hope there’s an option to remove Android as well.

    1. Looks like you could remap one of the Fn combinations (maybe Caps?) to AltGr, though depends on how the keysyms are being handled. I’ll grant that probably does make typing more cumbersome though if your language makes extensive use of it.

  3. i used to have the old Sony Picturebook. These remind me of the same. The units are very cool, but head/neck strain results when trying to use this as a mini-laptop, or otherwise long periods of time.

  4. Haha, a phone-sized device can have full height arrow keys yet most laptop makers slavishly follow Apple with half height arrow keys…

  5. This is the kind of product that I wasn’t willing to go into a crowdfunding, because I don’t want to have a 1st-gen device, I’d like to wait to hear what complaints people have, and see if they are addressed in a 2nd-gen. However the Post-crowdfunding price is just too high for me. I guess I won’t be getting one.

  6. I think having no mouse pointer is huge mistake and, for me, would make the Debian Linux side not useful

    1. For many, perhaps… but I have plenty of “pointerless” Debian systems and I just use keynav for keyboard-based pointer emulation in X. Takes some getting accustomed to, I’ll admit, but it does work.

  7. I hope MATE will be an option. Lightweight enough and can be used with touch.

    1. I don’t see why that would be hard. If Debian works MATE should work, since it’s packaged in Debian already. Just apt install mate-desktop and you’re off to the races (probably?).

    1. Might I suggest a GPD Pocket for you?

      Although I have to agree that Android is not ideal for this form-factor, and linux support seems to be an afterthought with XFCE here. But I imagine the hacker community who would use this could come up with a better distro in no time.

      1. The GPD looks great as well, although, I’m not sure it can function as a phone with the lid down (small speaker and mic on the outside face of the case).

        I would hang my head in slight disappointment, but acceptance, if Linux was the only OS that could bridge all these functions.

        Another issue with the GPD is that they are not pushing the screen size down like this device is. In order for it to double as a phone it needs to stay small. If these ARM chips are all we have to look forward to, I’ll hedge my bets on Windows on ARM.

      2. Windows on Arm is interesting, especially where their hybrid dynarec + native dll X86 emulation is concerned. I’d be interested in seeing windows 10 arm or IoT on this device as well at a later date. Not sure what performance would look like for non native binaries, but a triple boot in the pocket would be pretty cool. GPD pocket is ok, Im really not sure where the X27 sits against the 8750. It would be nice to see some benches on both sides.

    1. Dead simple to do it.

      It looks like the Linux dev side for this phone has been mostly devoted to getting the drivers working, etc.

      The phone runs stock Debian pretty much, from what I have been able to gather. And Plasma is definitely in the Debian ARM repository.

      There’s no possibility that Windows would work on the Gemini because ARM Windows right now only supports Qualcomm processors

    1. Remember, you heard it here first….

      We are getting close, but what I would like to see is a device you can use as your phone, take with you and plug into the dash to use in the car, and pull out and take to the office. Just attach power and HDMI, and off you go from work to car to home and back again. In this dream there is a universal connector that can actually supply power and HDMI so you can plop into universal power ports (leave the cables at home).

    2. Notice the part “A WiFi-only model will sell for $499 once the Gemini PDA hits retail, while a 4G LTE-capable version will run $599”. But in my opinion, this is still kind of expensive (for a phone).

      1. Most “flagship” phones cost more, and are ONLY phones, so this seems like a decent deal to get Linux computer plus Android tablet/phone for the asking price.

        I just have to wonder if the design of the hinge and the display connection (ribbon cable) will hold up batter than they did with Psion 5, which was rather notorious for those being the weakest links in terms of hardware.

        1. I dont agree with him, but lets not pretend like these are flagship specs. The pricing seems reasonable when you consider how rare such a device is. Market demand vs supply will drive the settling price point. I think they’re dipping their toes in at the right number to try and be profitable enough to grow from this product.

          1. I paid 5000 yuan for my Note 4. There are 10 cores here. The screen isn’t some super bright job that eats your battery power but really, high end phones do cost more and look at the Xperia XA2 price? That’s seriously mediocre hardware. This is a reasonable price in my opinion and I’d get the 4g but also I’ll wait until they’ve got Linux working better & possibly Sailfish OS/Linux dual boot because frankly I’m trying turn get away from Android.

      2. Its not expensive for what it is based on what the free market is showing it will pay, and far from expensive in teh phone category as a whole. You should amend that to “its expensive for a mediatek based device”. Niche devices that aren’t mass produced tend to be more expensive to make for smaller startups and companies. Might not be for you. Gotta pay to play.

    3. would a display center hinge work for storing the display visible or not visible solve this?

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