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The PDA is making a Comeback with the Gemini

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Ever since man dreamed up the first laptop (The Epson HX-20) in 1980, man has been trying to find new and innovative ways to make it more convenient, —and less embarrassing to use— in public. It was a long and sometimes cringe-worthy journey to what would eventually become the modern smartphone and tablet, but there was a period where we had devices somewhere in between. It had a keyboard, and even pointing device built in, and only snobby wall street executives and Mercedes Benz owners used it. It was called the PDA.

Whether you consider yourself an Android enthusiast, or you’re a casual lucky enough not to have read this one really cringe CNET article, chances are you've never heard of the Gemini PDA by Planet Computers. Though the product is as rare and obscure as a Sony VAIO laptop that isn’t a piece of shit, the device was popular enough to meet and even exceed its IndieGoGo funding campaign, and be covered by websites run by irrelevant self-righteous lunatics like The Verge.

This is what the Gemini PDA looks like. It's a phone with a keyboard on it.

The Gemini PDA stands out as being one of the few Android devices that doesn’t qualify as either a tablet or a smartphone. Sure, you can take calls with it, and there is a version of the PDA that has a SIM card slot, but it’s more of a laptop the size of a phone than anything else. There is a built-in hardware keyboard, so you can’t even call it a tablet, either. It’s something in between.

What’s a PDA?

Better view of the Gemini

For those of you who weren't born in the early ‘90s, a PDA, —or Personal Data Assistant— was a tiny computer that connected to the internet, and ran apps for business people who did business things for business-ish reasons. They were the true predecessor to the modern smartphone; able to run apps, and even connect wireless to the internet using an early version of the 2G network from cellphone towers. Even though the PDA was generally marketed toward middle-aged business men with wallets the size of their mid-life crisis, there was one PDA that managed to appeal to everyone —regardless of its company’s marketing strategy— in both its price, and its appealing design. This tablet is the Psion Series 5.

British computer company Psion used to make PDAs back in the early 90’s, with its built-in keyboards. By this period, most PDAs had screens you had to stab into with a stylus shaped like a harpoon, with each individual letter on the on-screen keyboard having to be murdered with the precision of a Navy SEAL sniper at 300 yards. Psion’s innovative series 3 PDAs changed the entire PDA landscape by adding a physical keyboard with real keys on it; allowing you to just type on it like a normal person. The series 5, however, is what really gave the Psion Computer company its notoriety. It had the biggest screen, and —by extension— its biggest keyboard yet.

The Series 5’s most notable public appearance was in the film Executive Decision, starring Kurt Russel and Halle Berry. Aside from being the only movie blessed to have Steven Seagal killed off within the first 15 minutes, the inclusion of the PDA as a plot device in the film meant that pretty much everyone wanted one in 1997.

The Gemini PDA next to the Psion Series 5 PDA it was based on.

Now, if the Psion 5 and the Gemini share an uncanny similarity in their design, it isn’t a coincidence. Some of the Psion series designers are the same people who developed the Gemini PDA we’re talking about today. Martin Ridford —a former engineer at Psion computing— was the Series 3 and 5’s lead designer. He enlisted the help of several other industry pros to create a new and improved version of the old design, built to modern mobile computing standards.

System Specs:

CPU: 10 core Mediatek SOC (ARM Cortex A72) clocked at 2.4GHz


Space: 64GB NAND Flash, SD Card Expansion

Screen: LCD 2160x1080 (2:1 aspect ratio)

Camera: 5MP rear camera only

Since this thing is functionally a modern cell phone, it comes with all the modern cell phone basebands, and WiFi compatibility you would expect it to. It is compatible with most MicroSim and eSIM cards, has Accelerometer, light sensor, gyro, and even a magnetic sensor.

This phone comes with Android 7.1, like most Android phones, but Planet Computers is doing something no other ARM phone maker has done yet: They’re shipping this device with dual-booting functionality. That means you get to choose between booting Android, or its pre-packaged Debian Linux build. Yes, this phone comes with a REAL desktop operating system.

Who would want this?

This is how weird you would look if you used this in a coffee shop.

This is a device mainly aimed at people who need to bring a fully functional laptop anywhere. In a coffee shop, on a train, in a taxi, or in the Taco Bell restroom while squeezing out most of your organs like everyone else who eats there.

Need to bring a computer on the go, but don’t want to drag around what is essentially a full-sized monitor with a keyboard glued at the bottom? Yeah, me either. I’d rather have a laptop I can put in my pocket, and the Planet Computers Gemini PDA would allow you and I to get some actual work done, using real programs.

Where to get it

Planet Computers had an IndieGoGo campaign completed back in 2017, and since then, has been shipping its flagship PDA to its backers. They still get backers, and they seem to still be shipping. You can buy the mini laptop for $599 for the wifi-only model, and $1000 for the Wifi+4G model. But, if you don’t want to pay a mortgage payment or sell a kidney on the dark web for the 4G model, you can always buy it on Amazon for $599.

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