Yesterday (19th February 2018) I visited the Planet Computers offices in London and received the very first Gemini unit to be used in the wild in Europe; it would have been the first in the world but a Japanese backer received his Gemini just a few hours before, creating lots of buzz and excitement in the Planet offices. Now I’m 24 hours in with the Gemini, I wanted to feed back my first impressions of the device.
Hardware and Screen
There can be no doubting that the Gemini is a very well designed and built machine. The finish and quality of the materials used are excellent, with the kind of final product you’d expect from a much-larger company like OnePlus or Huawei. Smooth, soft touch plastics that hide the radio antennae feed effortlessly into a high-quality gunmetal body. The Planet logo sits understatedly at the back, and the words “Gemini by Planet Computers” sit on the bookend edge, almost as if as a little boast to whatever smartphones and laptops will be used across the table from you.
The screen too is absolutely top quality. It’s bright, pin sharp, and despite a resolution of 2160 x 1080 when some modern devices have higher resolutions, you’d have to be looking very closely to spot any pixels.
What really draws people to the Gemini however is what’s been affectionately called *that* keyboard by the media. Original Psion Series 5 keyboard designer, Martin Riddiford has excelled himself this time around. The key tops are larger than those on it’s predecessor, and therefore much easier to hit; I was able to build up to a good turn of speed after only 30 minutes.
The function key controls, and the Planet key that controls the pop-up app bar, work just as you’d expect except with some surprising additions. Pressing Fn + R will take an automatic screenshot, a very nice touch, and Fn + . and Fn + , will display pop-up emoticon and symbol menus respectively. Additionally, pressing and holding any key will display a pop-up menu of international character options.
Software and Android
On the software and Android side not everything is quite as finished. Support for hiding the back, home, and task view controls will be coming in an over-the-air (OTA) update, the dedicated Gemini Agenda app isn’t quite ready yet so will be available later from the Google Play Store, and the Linux installer will be released in the next few days. Additionally, while it’s tremendous fun programming the external alert LEDs, I haven’t yet found a way to map them to apps and callers.
Where things are ready though they work extremely well. The app bar is a delight to use, and you might find yourself just popping it up, waiting for it to disappear, and then popping it up again, over and over… just for the fun of it. Android 7.1 is slick and fast too. The ten core processor and 4GB ram mean things only slow down if you’re running upwards of a dozen apps at once, as I was when setting the device up for the first time.
Is it all Good News?
Sadly there are some areas for development through updates, or that Planet Computers have acknowledged will be a priority in any future version of the Gemini. The first is that you can only charge the Gemini from the left-side USB-C port, not the right one. It also flatly refused to charge from anything plugged into a USB-C charger, preferring the (presumably) higher charge coming from USB-A sockets, though I always believed it was the other way around.
Additionally the spacebar prefers to be hit in the centre, much like that on the Series 5, but you quickly get used to it. The screen too is a fingerprint magnet. The Gemini comes with a perfectly-sized screen protector in place, which was a bugger to remove, and I’m now wishing I’d left it on. Making phone calls with the Gemini closed, I found one end of the phone to be mushier than the other for both the caller and the callee. Lastly, the keyboard could really benefit from a backlight.
Overall… Is it a Win?
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Gemini is a phenomenal first start, as very few v1 products hit the ground with this much polish, and with this much going for them. Given that Planet Computers is also a very small team, who are constantly up against the wire, and that the Gemini was developed in only one year, makes their achievements even more impressive.
The Gemini is a wonderful, high quality piece of kit that surprises in some of the most… erm… surprising ways. For example, it’s much thinner than I expected, and fits into my front jeans pocket without poking out or being uncomfrtable (it sticks up about 1cm in the back pocket). The magnetic closing mechanism also produces a reassuring clunk when you close the lid, and you certainly won’t miss an alert as it’s got a vibration device that feels like it came from a washing machine manufacturer.
As a backer of the Gemini I am extremely pleased with my unit, and it’s fun finding out just how much about using a PDA day to day I’d forgotten, and then getting used to things again. I will be using this Gemini for many, many years to come.