Redfly Windows Mobile Terminal Driver Update: Lots of Pain, No Gain

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Celio Redfly Terminal with T-Mobile Dash (left), HTC Vox (middle), HTC TyTn (right)

The Celio Redfly is a dumb terminal that extends a Windows Mobile smartphone’s keyboard and screen to the terminal. That’s all it does. I bought one a few months ago and was disappointed to find it didn’t work with my favorite Windows Mobile smartphone, the T-Mobile Dash, despite the fact that Celio lists it as a supported device. So, I was happy to read about a Redfly driver update a week ago.

Unfortunately, this story doesn’t have a happy ending. In fact, it even has an annoying beginning. Celio asks you to enter a valid email address before letting you download the update. Ok, fine. Annoying, but fine. Then, it doesn’t provide you with a download! It emails you a link to the download. If you wanted to simply download the driver directly to your device, this means that you have to wait for the email (unless it is diverted to your junk mail folder on the server), find the link and then start the download process. Note to Celio: Annoying customers is a bad thing. Stop this nonsense. My time is valuable. Don’t make me waste it.

The Redfly itself has a firmware upgrade to install. So, I went through that process first. The firmware upgrade software runs from the Windows Mobile smartphone itself. It errored out on the first attempt saying it was not a signed application. A second try got it started ok. The firmware update process went smoothly after that. Then, the nightmare of testing my phones started. It wasn’t pretty…

1. T-Mobile Dash running Windows Mobile 6.0 Standard Edition (non-touch screen). This is listed as a supported device. Unfortunately, the Redfly does not know it is a support device and insisted it was an unknown device. I wasted quite a bit of time reinstalling the driver and trying to test the connection in various ways. End result: 0% usability.

2. HTC Vox running Windows Mobile 6.0 Standard Edition. This is NOT listed as a supported device. But, I decided to try it anyway. The Redfly actually recognized the device and connected to the Vox. Unfortunately, while the Redfly and Vox sort of works together, the Vox does not respond to various action requests (launch an app, browse a web link, etc.). End result: 5% usability.

3. HTC TyTn running Windows Mobile 6.0 Professional Edition (touch screen). This is not listed as a supported device. However, its successor, the TyTn II is. It had previously worked with the older Redfly driver. And, it still works with the new updated driver. The Redfly has problems rendering the TyTn’s screen, however. The Today screen is unreadable. And, soft buttons for Internet Explorer and other apps are difficult to read (low contrast). I’m using the default Windows Mobile theme color combination. So, I don’t understand why it doesn’t interpret this correctly. Functionally, applications seem to work ok. Excel, Word, Calendar, Internet Explorer and other apps worked as expected except for difficulty reading parts of some screens because of Redfly’s color interpretation issues. Internet Explorer’s issues in rendering non-mobile friendly sites makes it nearly useless despite the Redfly’s large screen. And, the alternative and more powerful Skyfire browser refuses to run reporting that it does not support screen sizes beyond 640×480 – The Redfly resolution starts at 800×480. End result: 90% functionality.

Since every Redfly driver installation (and re-installation in the case of the Dash) required a soft-reset, I wasted well over an hour testing the new driver starting with the annoying driver download process. I had to provide my email address and retrieve email for the Redfly firmware, Standard Edition driver, Professional Edition driver, and the Redfly Mobile Viewer (which I didn’t even both trying since I was so aggravated after testing the Redfly itself with my smartphones).

The only real value I could find after all this is Word Mobile and Excel Mobile is quite nice to use on the larger screen and QWERTY keyboard provided by the Redfly. Email is ok too. But, it takes time for the Redfly to actually connect with a smartphone. So, this is not something you can do when on the move. You need to carve out at least a 10 to 15 minute chunk of time to make the whole process worthwhile. I also had the Redfly drop a session with my TyTn a few times. And, this didn’t exactly enhance the user experience.

Generally speaking… If I can arrange to be in a WiFi area (or willing to pay for a 3G wireless modem), it makes more sense to carry a netbook (which doesn’t cost much more than the Redfly) and gain a lot more functionality and overall speed. The only potential drawback is the Windows based notebooks take 45 seconds or more too boot. But, that is only a few seconds more than starting the Redfly up, connecting a USB cable or Bluetooth session, waiting for the sync, and dealing with a relatively slow smartphone processor. If you use a Linux based netbook, you might see 15 second boots which would result in a faster user experience.