Sunday, August 19, 2018

Gemini at three months

Three months is long enough for the excitement of a new gadget to wear off and the reality of life with the Gemini to make itself known. The first month of Gemini ownership was not all plain sailing; after all, this was a version one, crowd-funded device. However, my expectations were suitably calibrated and, with that in mind, I can honestly say that the Gemini has exceeded those expectations. Now that the initial problems have been resolved, the device has become my day-to-day phone and mini-laptop and I see no reason why that shouldn’t continue well into the future.
Gemini alongside old Psion stylus (doesn't work with Gemini!)
Let me say upfront, that I use the stock Android firmware as delivered (and subsequently updated) by Planet Computers. I have not attempted to root, dual boot or install Linux, Sailfish et al. My days of playing with Linux are long gone – life is too short. Others who have been down the Linux route have reported various degrees of success and failure – one or two with apparently ‘bricked’ devices. Planet Computers have indeed delivered a dual-booting device, but what the user chooses to dual boot into is largely up to them and, as it used to say on ancient maps, "here be dragons".

So, leaving Linux out of the equation, let’s deal with the two biggest issues that people raise in relation to the Gemini as a phone replacement – there’s no external screen and only an optional low-quality external camera.

If you are someone who walks around with your phone in hand watching the screen and occasionally thumb typing on the move, then the Gemini is probably not going to work for you. It works for me because I like to keep my phone in a pocket and take it out only when needed. To stop having to get my phone out at every beep, ding or chime, I wear a smartwatch and have done so ever since Pebble. In effect, my watch is an external screen and so I don’t miss not having one on the Gemini - in fact, I prefer it this way.
Gemini and external screen (Amazfit Bip smartwatch)
When it comes to the poor camera options, I am similarly unconcerned. At the end of the day, no phone is able to do what a good camera can, and I have always carried a camera even when my phone did have one. Perhaps what I do miss (a bit) is the ability to scan receipts and other paperwork with a phone camera and a smart Android app like Scanbot (I don’t have the Gemini’s optional camera). So, how much the lack of a camera (or the low quality of the add-on camera) affects you will depend upon your use

So, parking those two issues; what’s the Gemini like to use on a daily basis? I use the Gemini both as a phone and as a mini laptop. Because of the excellent keyboard, I find myself doing things on the Gemini that I would never have attempted on my previous phones (Samsung Notes). So, I am composing longer emails on the go, drafting reports and longer articles when the ideas come and researching things on the go that would otherwise have required a laptop. This means that I make far greater demands of the Gemini than I used to of my previous phones. This has implications for the battery – although the Gemini battery is larger than most phone batteries, I find that it lasts a similar amount of time and I charge it a bit almost every day.

Receiving a phone call is as easy as checking my watch (to see who is calling) and then pressing the silver button on the side to take the call (without opening the Gemini). Making a call can either be done open and on speakerphone or closed using the silver button and speaking; "call {name} on their mobile". Whichever way works for you.

Durability has been fine. As I say, when not in use, it lives in my pocket all day, every day, for three months and is not showing any signs of distress from its intimate liaisons with keys and coins. The finish is still pristine and, despite many open and close movements every day, the hinge mechanism is not showing any signs of fatigue. I removed the manufacturer’s screen protector after the first week and, once cleaned, the screen is still free of any marks or blemishes. The keyboard has been equally robust, feeling the same today as it did on day one. There is no apparent wear on the keycaps or cap markings. My only complaint of the hardware is that, when open, the edges of the hinge cover are exposed and they are sharp enough to draw blood if I am not careful around them.

On the software front, I don't use the Gemini's "Notes" app nor the "Agenda" app. While they are modelled after the old Psion apps with the same names, the world has moved on since last century and there are apps that are more polished and suit the Gemini much better - JotterPad for notes and Google Calendar for appointments, tasks and reminders. Gmail, serves well as an email client, and Google's docs and sheets do duty for heavier document lifting. Some other apps only work properly in portrait mode and, rather than force them into landscape mode, I find it much easier to simply rotate the Gemini and hold it like a book.
Gemini with full-sized keyboard and library card for size comparison.
There are a couple of minor irritants that remain:
• Bluetooth shuts down at least once every day for no apparent reason. My watch tells me and I turn it back on again.
• The supplied fast charger overheats the battery (I now use a normal 2 Amp charger instead).

I consider issues like these to be part of the ‘crowdfunding experience’ and neither of them is a ‘show stopper’. As an early adopter, I paid about US$200 less than the current retail price of the Gemini and feel well pleased with the deal. Planet Computers seem to have done a remarkably good job of delivering the first version Gemini and, unless something far superior comes along, I expect to be carrying the Gemini in my pocket for a few years yet.