Thursday, August 30, 2018

Gemini PDA review

I received the Gemini seven weeks ago, so this is possibly a bit too early for a review, but there you go. To my mind the basic question that has to be answered is this : If I could turn the clock back, would I still choose to buy this device? And the second (Gemini-specific) question is this: What is the Gemini ? Is it a phone with a physical keyboard or is it a mini laptop that can take phone calls ?

My answer to the first question is an unequivocal 'Yes, I would buy this device again'. This is the first device -in almost two decades of carrying with me a phone- that feels more like a proper computing machine (that I can do productive work with) than yet another smartphone. And yes, the previous statement about computing machines does gives me away : I humbly admit that I really do appreciate the ability to open a unix shell through termux and connect via ssh to the servers 900km away, check the jobs are running, plot a graph (through ssh/xsdl), edit a file with vim, save it, restart a job, logout and all that with all the special control characters readily and easily available. I do appreciate that I can properly compose an answer to an email without the distraction of fighting with the on-screen keyboard (and even send it properly signed with S/MIME). I do like the ability to open a unix shell and access all my dropbox files in mostly the same way as I do from my desktop machines. And I very much enjoy having all that, together with all the social media apps, calls, SMS, and a 4G connectivity. There are, of course, limitations. The Gemini is not the suitable device for writing your thesis, or your next 5,000 lines of code long program. It is possibly a device suitable for editing them, but not for creating them. 

So, do I consider the Gemini a mini-laptop ? "Well, I'm not sure" is probably an honest answer. Sometimes it does feel like a laptop, but keep in mind that I'm an old guy that works exclusively with GNU/linux, and then again, mostly from the terminal. I am a typist, and the physical keyboard is my natural working environment. On the other hand, when switching to the pure graphical android apps, the device feels mostly like a funny smartphone. I say funny because with apps like twitter, facebook, instagram, you have to turn the device in portrait mode and practically give-up the keyboard controls.  A natural question at this point is why haven't you install a proper linux distribution on the device and be done with it ? Two reasons. Actually three. The first was that I wanted the device to remain portable, I didn't want to have to carry with me a mouse. The second was that I would have to guess-estimate the needed partition sizes (and get them wrong). But the important reason is that I am conservative: I wanted to first test it in a pure android environment and then if needed become adventurous. After almost two months I believe that I can not see a real reason for messing with a dual boot setup. I would love to be able to do everything from the keyboard, but even in a linux environment I would have to either touch the screen or carry additional hardware with me.

As you almost certainly noticed, I haven't said anything about using the Gemini as my one and only phone. The reason is that I may misguide you on that one. I hardly speak on the phone for more than a 30 minutes per week, and I mostly don't really care about carefully examining who is calling (which means that normally I don't even open the device to accept the call). I understand that this is not the way things go these days, so I will just state for the record that my phone-related needs are served adequately by the device and leave it there.

To conclude. The Gemini is not -and was not meant to be- for the average, always in a hurry, smartphone user. It will not kill iphones or the other android devices. As another reviewer aptly said, it is a device for those that saw it and their heart skipped a beat. To paraphrase Thomas Scoville, the Gemini is for those users that love (instead of resent) typing. And for those users, the Gemini (like UNIX) will, in some sense, be literature to them.

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