Lightning Gemini PDA Review…

I backed Planet Computer‘s Gemini PDA when it came out, and I’m very glad I did. I’ve had mine for about a month, and I’m loving it.


Gemini PDA as part of my portable Amateur Radio Station

The Gemini is about the size of two large cell phones (think Samsung Galaxy Note 8 or Pixel 2 XLs) stacked on one top of each other. Open it, and you see a wonderful little keyboard on the bottom, and a vibrant color screen on top. Here it is with my HP-71B for scale:

Out of the box it runs Android, which is what I’m doing. Planet Computers is providing support for flashing to Linux and Sailfish; I’ve debated doing both, but honestly, I’m so pleased with Android on the thing that I don’t want to screw it up.

I’m not using it as my full-time phone; right now I have a Samsung Galaxy Note 8 for that. Instead, I’ve got a second Project Fi SIM in it (here in the US, you can use a Fi SIM to get T-Mobile voice and data on non-Fi phones), and use the Gemini for messaging, writing, and ham radio with a SIM for always-on voice and data.

Microsoft Office and the Google apps all work really well on it; for writing I’m mostly using IA Writer for new things (Markdown for the win!), and popping back to Word to revise my older stuff. It’s been really handy for cafe writing as I’m taking a Gotham Writer‘s writing workshop; as another user found, it fits perfectly in the zip compartment of a Traveler’s Notebook. With about a week I’m typing on it at about 75% of my normal typing speed; only a few of the special characters (available through a chord with the Fn key) still give me pause.

With Termux and a bit of work, you can get Jupyter Notebook for Python programming on it; that’s been loads of fun, although I admit I haven’t used it for that as much as I thought I would when I first got it. The sorry truth is I do not do a lot of math that requires computation anymore, and I enjoy programming for the sake of computation. I’ve got a couple of background projects I want to write notebooks for, but that has to wait until I finish my writing workshop, which is just whooping my butt in terms of free time.

For ham radio I’m running APRSdroid, of course, the same as I do in the car. It connects via Bluetooth to either my Kenwood TH-D74A, or a Mobilinkd┬áTNC. My only wish is that there was a Winlink app for it as well; it seems silly to need a PC for Winlink at this point. And with my ICS-214 template, it makes a perfect event logging terminal. I used it for APRS and logging at the SCCHA Fireworks 50 ride yesterday, and it was much more convenient than a laptop, with better battery life and portability. I hope to find people to use it with SSTV soon, too.

It is not perfect, though. For some reason, I can’t get Android for Work to work with it for my corporate account; I’ve got a PIN set up, but I think it doesn’t do the DirectBoot stuff necessary for my employer’s security policy in the device manager. Being a small manufacturer, there have been updates, but if you’re looking for monthly updates, you can hope, but there are no guarantees. The standby battery life isn’t quite what I’d like, but it’s on par with any other smart phone (if you don’t charge it at least a little each night, you end up with a nasty surprise if you leave it in your bag for a day or so and end up needing it). The HDMI adapter is some weird Mediatek thing, not a standard USB-C video adapter, so you can only get HDMI out with the Planet Computing adapter, which if you didn’t buy when you bought the unit, may be hard to get. There’s an external camera option, but if you’re expecting 2018 high-end smart phone photography, you’ll be disappointed.

It’s not the solution for everyone, but it’s done far more for me than an iPad with a keyboard or my GPD Pocket. If you’re looking for a quality clamshell with a good keyboard, the Gemini PDA is your best bet right now.

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