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Published February 21, 2018

I’m a typist, I’ve always been a typist ever since the days when I owned my first home computers, and my parents bought me a Sinclair ZX81 at the age of 11. In the next couple of years I owned some ZX Spectrum models, until at the age of 15 I bought myself a Sinclair QL, a fantastic piece of technology with a full 16-bit operating system. The whole package was several years ahead of its time, and only hamstrung by the awful Microdrive storage medium, and that its launch was spoiled by Apple announcing the first Mac the following day.

The Sinclair QL

Back in the 80’s you had to type, either to program your computer in the first place, or because accessories such as mice, and windowed operating systems were extravagant expenses that only big business could afford. I even did a typing class in sixth form, something my friends initially mocked me for until they saw me coming out of class with lots of pretty girls. Being the only boy in class definitely came to my aid.

It was when using the ZX Spectrum and the QL that I first became aware of Psion, who at the time were a games developer for Sinclair computers, and later went on to write the first Office Suite of programmes for the QL, of Quill, Abacus , Archive, and Easel.

The Psion Organiser LZ

When Psion released the first handheld Organiser I was transfixed and knew I had to buy one. I could definitely see the benefits in mobile computing (call me an early-adopter) and the thought of computing on the move was compelling for me. I eventually owned two Psion Organisers, a model II and a II LZ with an impressive 4-row LCD screen.

By this time I was completely hooked on handheld devices, and went on to own four more Psion handhelds in the next few years, a Series 3a, c, mx and a Series 5. That however was where the love affair had to end as the PDA form-factor fell out of fashion, with Palm popularising all-screen devices.

I tried a couple of Palm handhelds but couldn’t get on with them. They were annoying to write on… I wanted a keyboard again but couldn’t switch to a netbook, as they were far too large and bulky for everyday use on the move. When smartphones first began to arrive running Windows, and then when Apple launched the iPhone and the smartphone market really took off I was equally unimpressed. I just don’t, and have never liked typing on screens. On-screen keyboards are fiddly, and frequently result in errors, you can’t get a decent speed on them, and the tactile feel you get from a “proper” keyboard just doesn’t exist. It’s for these reasons that I don’t own, and don’t want to use a tablet.

Microsoft MVP Award Logo

This of course is where the problems arose when it came to work, especially my work in help and troubleshooting support for people on social media, and on my blog, as after a few frustrating years I just didn’t want to do it any more on my phone. After spending time struggling with how I could do it effectively, I eventually I reached a breaking-point and simply gave up, a situation that was going to help nobody.

As a Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional) Awardee since 2011, community engagement and support is a huge part of why the award is given. However needing to carry my laptop, or be at home on my desktop PC (when I’m probably tired, distracted, or the particular moment I could help has passed) just made it frustrating to not be able to provide the quality, and level of support I wanted to , without having to struggle with a smartphone keyboard, and (very probably) give people support littered with spelling, grammar, and other errors, that didn’t go into the depth of content that was really needed.

It’s perhaps unsurprising then that I should have been a backer for the Gemini on Indiegogo. My enthusiasm for this device has frequently caused my close friends to either laugh at my excitement, or bemoan my constant mentioning of the thing.

The legendary Psion Series 5 Keyboard

Now I’ve actually been using the Gemini I’ve found that it transforms the way I provide community support and engagement. Obviously I can’t produce video courseware on the thing, it’s not designed for that, and writing a book is something I’ll still want a full-size keyboard and screen for. Editing is easy on the Gemini however and being able to make changes and amendments to chapters on the go as I think of new ideas is incredibly useful. It’s the community engagement work that truly benefits however, and all of this feeds back into my other roles.

Managing community engagement on the Gemini, through websites like Gemini Planet, and my work website Windows.do, or helping people with advice and support on Facebook or Twitter has become something that’s not just easy to do, but has also become a joy. I don’t need to carry a laptop with me, or wait until I’m at home with my PC, and I don’t have to struggle with the frustrations caused by typing on my smartphone.

In short, the Gemini makes social media support, blogging, and curating communities something I actually want to do again, and it’ll make all of this easy and convenient. Recently, websites, Facebook groups, and Twitter feeds have been brought out of mothballs for the first time in several years. It’s really very exciting.

I want the Gemini to succeed, and for Planet Computers to prosper, and for purely selfish reasons. I still want to be using some type of Gemini device in my 80’s. It’s just the perfect device for the way I like to work, and it fits brilliantly with the work I need to do. So here’s to the Gemini, I’ll raise a glass and say “Thank you”.


Mike Halsey is the author of 18 books on Microsoft Windows usability, accessibility and troubleshooting, writing for Apress, and has been a Microsoft MVP awardee since 2011. He produces video courseware for Pluralsight and also teaches English and Maths for a local charity near his home in Yorkshire (UK). He lives quietly with his rescue collies, Evan and Robbie. He runs the Gemini Planet website and it’s accompanying Facebook Group. You can follow him on Twitter as @MikeHalsey

 

 

7 Comments

  1. m0ntala m0ntala

    Thanks Mike, for a very interesting and informative article.

  2. JFBJR JFBJR

    As we say (warmly, sincerely) in the USA – “You the man!”

  3. Nigel Nigel

    Great blog, lucky you at school typing class! Which is a good book for as a starter in ‘systems administration’, Windows – Office 365 business premium environment, Logmein? Thanks

  4. Nigel Nigel

    ….and will my Gemini be useful for this? Thanks

  5. I remember at sometime in the 90’s my brother brought a Psion handheld device. I can’t remember the model but I was intrigued and slightly baffled by it. It could do several office type jobs and had a planner but no games that I was aware of, which is a shame because I thought it would have been awesome for playing Angband on.

    My brother at the time worked in corporate management and I worked in analytical sciences. He took his work everywhere and didn’t want to lug a fat laptop everywhere, the Psion never left his side. My work was generally too bulky and toxic to carry around and the associated paper was not allowed out of the lab. I had no use for a Psion and certainly couldn’t afford one.

    Fast-forward to 2018….

    I’m now working for my brother who runs his own firm. It’s a small company so we all pitch in many different areas. I do a lot of the IT, social media and website work. I write blogs for several brands in very varied fields, have to tweet, Facebook, Insta all sorts of stuff. I also support clients and have to write many many reports for quality assurance and regulatory issues whilst navigating London transport.

    And I’m always falling behind. You can probably guess why. It’s a pain in the arse getting work done on your phone after a meeting when it is fresh in your mind. Although I have a Dell XPS I don’t actually want to carry it literally everywhere I go. A 13″ inch laptop is a 13″ laptop. It’s big, not all suited to use on top of my lap in a bus or crowded tube.

    Plus there’s the issue of inspiration. My thoughts flow at any old time and I tend to loose them because I can’t quickly and easily type them out. I have used notebooks, but despite my old scout leaders warnings I’m never prepared, having left it at home or forgotten to bring a pen. Also there’s social media, getting into a twitter chat chain or commenting on Facebook posts with properly written, quality English. But mostly I’m really behind on my reports.

    A few months ago having become a bit annoyed at this situation I was watching a Youtube video about the Amiga computer. A guy still have a working A1200 and it was really cool to see. This reminded me of my brothers old Psion. So I started hunting for working Psions still on sale. I found a few on ebay, I did some research in replacing the battery and maybe user updates as had been done with the Amiga. I read about the screen ribbon problem. It was looking dicey but doable. Maybe I wouldn’t have to commit to carrying my laptop around, or God forbid a pen.

    At some point in my googling the word Gemini PDA popped up. It linked to an article on the The Register talking about an android QWERTY clamshell. Oooh yeah. I hopped a link to Indigogo and there she was. Not the PDA, but in a weird twist of coincidence the lady in the adverting content was an old college of mine. We used to work in a bookshop together and she eventually left for a touring theatre production. Very talented and a bit weird, but then pretty much all actors I’ve met nail that last bit.

    Four hours to go until the early bird special price expired. I wasn’t planning to spend $400 at that moment, but the very device I wanted seemed to have fallen into my lap presented by a somewhat random person I used to know. I clicked the button, secured my Gemini and promptly called my brother.

  6. I have received mine about 2-3 weeks ago, but it was missing the wall charger.. So I left it sit in the box on The shelf for now. I’ve been too learning ten-finger typing in school and that helped tremendously once I started in the computer era. Some 35 years later and I’m still surprised that nobody had come up with the idea of a clamshell PDA like they existed in the 90’s.. Seems kind of a resurrection of the dinosaurs 😄
    I’ve been following the FB group closely and will soon unpack my Gemini and start playing with it. I had some concerns about table stability like others reported and going to look for some anti-slip solution.
    Great work @Mike and keep doing what you do with the same passion!
    @GP_Beat (2015-2018 MVP)

  7. martin moore-corry martin moore-corry

    i was being practicing as my normal speed is 60 to 75 words a min without more than 2 to 3 mistakes on my laptop, not getting half that on this device without a lot of mistakes – i’m fit to tear the few hairs on my head off with the frustration of it as i have to totally change the rhythm and way i type to make this work in a work environment. The 20mm extra width in the home keys would transform this device into a powerhouse for fast touch typing without thinking about it, which is critical for good touching typing without mistakes. i was brought up thur the business with admin skills to bang out mails and replies at a very rapid rate – 100 to 150 lengthy mails a day. its crazy busy what we do and at the moment this device is just teasing me at its potential. You can’t expect miracles from this phone but alot of the design and manufacturing engineering team here are keen and have watched the mobile market for years for such a small pocketable device, many of us never really had the exposure to the Psion series of PDAs as we were looking for something along the lines of the Motorola Droids expecting to see the Droid 5 or Photon with the kind of speed, memory and processing power of the top end Samsungs and Sony Xperia series. This never happened and in many ways that was a good thing because this form factory is the way to go as its rugged in its clam shell and has a proper key board for heavy use. None of us are going to give up on laptops and desktop PCs due to the processing power and general large display form factor but this could help people rethink that as its very possible with slightly better spec and slightly larger keyboard to turn this into your main working device on the move and possibly more – almost everyone now is conditioned to reach for there mobile and not their laptop – i can see it in all the meetings i go to. All of us who brought into this project were converted before we even received the device and we are willing to persevere to master this device BUT the general public and office professionals need to be convinced in the first few minutes of use this is the device for them to use in work. This is why the keyboard transition has got to be seamless between laptop to this device so that they don’t break the work rhythm when keying. This is how its going to be reviewed, not for its camera or how it plays music, etc but for the strength and ability of its keyboard and ability to run business apps/tools and most importantly to be a mobile phone as well – and that’s the compromise – can you fit a slightly wider keyboard and still be considered to be a large mobile / pltablet that’s pocketable – this “smartphone”, in my opinion, should focus on the excellent keyboard experience as this is what brought us to this product in the first place. if not we would be just buying the latest samsung/sony/whatever highend smartphone

    some of our team worked in Alps in Cork Rep. of Ireland on the original Psions building the keyboards and the common comment was it had great potential and were sorry that it did not realise it at the time. funny enough no one has one now but after seeing mine they are all keen to get one. This devices ability to run any OS could be the start of something great

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