The PDA returns to CES, because everything old is new again

Gather round children, and let me tell you a story. It’s a tale from a bygone area called the “nineteen nineties,” when flannel ruled the earth, our appetites were quenched by smart drinks and soulful sounds of Blind Melon were as reliable as any weather report. Back before “PDA” was merely shorthand for kissing someone a crowded commuter train, we carried personal digital assistants. It was a dark age, when our mobile devices still sported physical keyboards.

Of course, we’re far more evolved these days, typing on our flat screens, but every few years, another product hits the market, in a stubborn attempt to recapture that magic. The Gemini is the latest contender, and this one’s got plenty of support, with Indiegogo backers having already committed $1.2 million to the project — nearly 300-percent of its initial goal.

People, it seems, are hungry to return to tactility. And I have to say, having played around with the final version of the product this year at CES, it’s a much more fully realized product than most. As you’d expect, the keyboard is cramped, and takes a fair amount of adjustment to reacquaint yourself, but it’s a full QWERTY, and a lot closer to the laptop experience than just about any other similar product I’ve taken for a spin in the space.

It’s a surprisingly solid bit of hardware for what it is. The company employed the services of a China-based OEM and they looked to have deliver a pretty well-round handset for its price. The phone itself sports a 5.9-inch screen and runs Android 7.1.1 (you can boot into Linux, as well). What’s particularly interesting here (beyond the obvious bit) is that the device will ship in both WiFi and 4G models, harkening back to a time when people could still squeeze some use out of a gadget without cellular functionality.

But who is such a product really for? I’m not entirely sure. A rep from the company told me that social media addicts are particularly keen on the device — though like the rest of us, most of those folks have learned to be just as efficient on the touchscreen. I do, however, suspect that there’s a pocket of people who still grit there teeth every time they pull out their touchscreen device. Many had their feet dragged into this post-iPhone world and have been waiting for some half-decent solution.

Maybe the Gemini is it. It was pretty solid in the little time I spent with it (and the company has promised us a review unit at some time in the near future). There are also a few nice touches on top of the stock Android, including a task bar that can be easily navigated with the arrow keys, so you don’t have to constantly swap between the keyboard and screen.

The price point isn’t totally crazy, either. The 4G version is available now for a $399 preorder. That will jump another $200 when this thing goes to retail in the near future. The WiFi only version, on the other hand,  will cost $499 at retail.