REDFLY Mobile Companion C8N Review

If you've got a compatible smartphone, the REDFLY can give you a netbook-like experience with your phone. The REDFLY's limited phone compatibility and the limitations of those phones hold it back, though.

The Celio REDFLY is an interesting idea, and it's executed very well. It looks a lot like a typical netbook, only a little smaller, and weighs about the same as well. But the REDFLY can't do anything on its own. Instead, you tether your smartphone to the device using Bluetooth or USB. Your smartphone's display goes black (though the REDFLY has no speakers, so any sound will still come out of your phone) and the REDFLY's screen displays what you'd see on the phone's screen, larger and at higher resolution. You use the REDFLY's keyboard and trackpad to navigate.

Celio's tagline for the REDFLY is "Use your smartphone like a laptop," and it really delivers there, as long as your phone can handle it. For example, Microsoft Word on the REDFLY looked similar to a full-size version of Word, but there was a slight delay between when I hit a key and when the letter appeared on screen. When I tried Word on the same phone (an AT&T Tilt) without the REDFLY, however, I noticed exactly the same delay—it wasn't a problem with the REDFLY, but with the phone.

Microsoft Office and web browsers looked good on the REDFLY, but be cautious if you use your phone for other applications, because some can't handle the larger screen. The mobile Windows Media Player worked, but it took up only a small part of the REDFLY's screen instead of expanding to fill it. The phone's camera program wouldn't start while it was connected to the REDFLY, and several of the phone's included games had glitches that made them difficult or impossible to use on the REDFLY.

Click to expand.

The REDFLY has a large battery capacity, and if you connect your phone with a USB cable, it can recharge your phone while letting you work with the larger screen. I plugged a phone with a nearly-dead battery into the REDFLY and left it running with the REDFLY's screen at normal brightness for about six and a half hours before the REDFLY ran out of juice.

Connecting the phone to the REDFLY was nearly seamless with both USB and Bluetooth. The only time I noticed anything other than instantaneous communication between the devices was when I tried to watch video over a Bluetooth connection and playback was choppy. Even with the phone about 20 feet away and on the other side of a wall, I was able to use the REDFLY to type a document in Word.

The REDFLY turns on almost instantly. With my test phone, it took about 7 seconds for the Bluetooth connection between the phone and the REDFLY to activate. Closing the lid of the REDFLY doesn't suspend it or turn it off like you might expect, but it turns on so quickly that you're free to hit the power button. The USB ports don't provide power while the REDFLY is turned off, though, so if you just want to recharge your phone you'll have to leave the REDFLY on.

REDFLY Mobile Companion C8N
PROS: Excellent connection technology; long battery life; small and lightweight.
CONS: Performance is limited by Windows Mobile and phone hardware; limited phone compatibility.
RATING: 4 stars
PRICE: $249.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've already got a compatible phone, the REDFLY is a great way to expand its capabilities. If not, carefully consider the limitations of compatible phones before choosing a phone/REDFLY combination.
CONTACT: Celio • 888-473-3359 •

The REDFLY's keyboard is about the same size as the keyboard on typical netbooks. I found it a little uncomfortable for long stretches of typing, but I greatly preferred it to the phone's built-in keyboard. The REDFLY's trackpad is rectangular, compared to the more square trackpads on most laptops, but you can adjust its sensitivity and it generally performed well.

Celio plans to add support for BlackBerry and Android phones, but at press time REDFLY was compatible only with Windows Mobile 6.0 and 6.1 phones, and only certain hardware and software versions (check the list at the Celio site). Windows Mobile doesn't have a very strong reputation at this time, so it's hard to recommend buying a compatible phone specifically to use with the REDFLY.

If you've already got a compatible phone, however, you should consider the REDFLY. It smoothly converts the tiny screen and keyboard of a smartphone into a netbook-like environment, provides extra battery life for your phone, and saves you from having to synchronize data between your phone and portable computer. As REDFLY adds support for more phones, it could become a must-have device for smartphone users.

See below for more pictures of the REDFLY. The netbook used for size comparisons is an ASUS Eee. Click the thumbnails to enlarge them.

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