Death of the Gemini Dream

You may remember my rave reviews of the Planet Gemini when it arrived back in May last year. I was keen to support it, as it was a genuinely radical and different device to all the samey slab smartphones out there. I was motivated by my preference for keyboards when writing, my desire to be more productive, and my nostalgia for the technological marvel that was the Psion range of pocket computers in the 90s.

It was the first thing I’d ever crowdfunded, so I did take a risk in buying it, but it arrived as promised, and initially all seemed good. It was a very novel device and I found it genuinely did help me write and create. However, problems soon arose, and unfortunately they eventually proved insurmountable. I’ve now retired it and bought a new phone – more on that a little later.

What went wrong, then? Initially, nothing – I had a highly enjoyable honeymoon period with it, and found it did pretty much everything I hoped it would. However, a few frustrations presented themselves early on.

The most obvious one is that Android is not a good operating system for small landscape-format devices. A bit of tweaking with settings improved things, but almost all apps work badly in landscape, and some are pretty much unusable. Although the Gemini allows apps to be flipped to portrait, it’s a very unwieldy beast in this mode, and Instagram – one of my favourite apps – worked badly whichever way around you tried to use it.

Coupled to this, the version of Android installed seemed buggy as hell and wouldn’t work reliably in the way I’d expect. It needed constant fiddling with settings to keep it paired with my car audio system and my smartwatch, which was a real pain. Various apps crashed all the time, including office suites which were the very things suited to its hardware layout. It just got really frustrating after a while.

It also came without a camera. Initially this didn’t bother me too much, and I just took to carrying my DSLR about instead, but after a while this got frustrating and I wanted to be able to take shots quickly. I forked out for the Gemini’s optional camera add-on, which turned out to be of ghastly quality, and also took many months to arrive. Rather a poor show.

After a while, I also realised that although it’s very well-suited to certain tasks that smartphones aren’t generally good at, like bashing out a lengthy piece of writing, it’s awkward as hell for just sending a quick text or checking your bank balance. Ultimately, these are the things I do far more often than writing something lengthy, so the balance was a bit wrong. I’m actually writing this on my Alphasmart on a train, which is proving to be much better. The Alphasmart is big, but it isn’t heavy, and it’s easy to carry around and write with. It’s also completely distraction-free, much like the Psion was, but the Gemini had too many bells and whistles and would plague you with notifications while you were trying to concentrate.

These were things I could probably have lived with, had it not been for an unfortunate thing happening that the company dealt with extremely badly. Much as I love the design of the device, I had some concerns early on about the build quality. The bottom plate, covering the battery, wouldn’t stay on properly and kept falling off, making me have to resort to Blu-Tak to keep it on, just like ZX81 owners trying to prevent RAM-pack wobble! Given that this was a premium device and hardly cheap, I shouldn’t have had to do this. Much worse followed, though – a while ago, part of the plastic section to the right of the keyboard sheared right through, making the hinge fail and causing serious problems opening and closing the device.

I got in touch with Planet Computers and they were initially helpful, advising me that they’d be happy to repair the device under warranty, and they requested photographic evidence of the problem so they could determine what needed fixing. Fine – I sent them a couple of pictures.

Their response was extremely unsatisfactory, as they immediately claimed that the damage I’d shown them could not have occurred without abuse of the device. I treat my devices with immense care – the Gemini was never dropped, was kept in a case and was looked after extremely well indeed. This breakage happened entirely through normal use. I pointed this out, and was told that the damage could only have occurred through “immense forces” being applied, and that they’d charge me $99 to repair it.

I challenged them on this, very politely, and then got no reply. It’s over a month since they last bothered to communicate. I’d managed a makeshift repair and the device still worked, but given their extremely unpleasant attitude and refusal to accept my explanation, along with very poor service, I decided to give up. I wasn’t going to fork out a lot of money on repairing a device I was already losing faith in, so I decided enough was enough, and it was time to go back to a more “normal” smartphone. The phone I chose was the Fairphone 2, and I’ll explain why and review it in an upcoming post.

So…I’m left with a functional but very delicate and slightly lop-sided Gemini that’s now gathering dust. I’ll keep it and may use it again in the future, but it’s not what I hoped it would be at all. It’s a real shame, because the company has developed an improved version that looks amazing, but I can’t trust them and don’t want to be in this position again. I’d hate to see anyone fail, but they need to up their game if they’re going to make a success out of niche devices like this.

I think it was worth a stab at supporting them, but I guess when it comes to crowdfunding a startup, you need to exercise caution, and I’d think twice before doing it again.

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