back to article Cosmo Communicator: Phone-laptop hybrid is neat, if niche, tilt at portable productivity

It must be stressed right off the bat that a "phone" like Planet Computers' Cosmo Communicator is an incredibly niche device. It's modelled after the old Psion PDAs of yore, and a younger audience, perhaps unfamiliar with tech of the 1990s, might look at it as a weird phone-laptop hybrid that has been shrunk in the washer. …

  1. Dr_N Silver badge

    Deal breaker

    "Despite the unit coming with a whopping 4,200mAh cell, I still found myself running for the wall outlet several times during the same day."

    Game Over for me.

    1. JayBeeDee

      Re: Deal breaker

      I have been using my cosmo communicator for the last 3 months and usually get two/three days battery life, using excel and productivity tools rather than games. The "secret" is to switch off the display on the lid (CODI) which runs a seperate processor and provide little additional functionality.

      1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

        Re: Deal breaker

        I agree - niche, but rather wonderful for my work and comms.

      2. adfh

        Re: Deal breaker

        Agreed.. the CODI is horrible, and battery is much better with it off!

    2. Blackjack Silver badge

      Re: Deal breaker

      Yeah, I think the device is mostly pointless when almost everyone has an smartphone and there are mini-laptops better than this thing.

      1. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

        Re: Deal breaker

        "Yeah, I think the device is mostly pointless when almost everyone has an smartphone and there are mini-laptops better than this thing."

        Smartphones don't come with a keyboard, I'm rocking my BlackBerry KeyOne (for those who don't know, an Android device with a physical keyboard) but TCL has pretty much said they don't plan any keyboard Android devices after the current Key2. And mini-laptops are too big to fit in a pocket, while (apparently) this isn't.

        I do find it silly... the Android device makers (other than Samsung and a few like Cosmo) whine and whine that they want more sales but how can they make their devices stand out? Then they just clone the newest Galaxy for different price points; well yeah, when you do nothing to make your device stand out it won't stand out.

    3. Aqua Marina

      Re: Deal breaker

      Tis a bit of a let down. My Psion 3a went about a month between battery changes. The Psion 7 Netbook lasted about a week, and it was a colour touchscreen. We need to be making the same strides in computer development in power saving and efficiency, as we are at increasing the number of transistors on chips.

  2. theOtherJT

    I threw some money at this....

    ...when it was still fund raising, and thus got one considerably cheaper. For the money I paid at the time I'm very happy, but I really couldn't in good conscience recommend one to someone at the £700 plus they're asking for it now.

    I use mine a lot with a USB->serial dongle for fixing switches in out of the way cabinets, and it's really, really good at that. It's also pretty great at being an SSH terminal for when I'm in the pub and someone has sent me an "Urgent" support request that really just requires me to SSH to something and restart a service/the whole box. But there are a lot of things it's not very good at. Android really struggles with running in landscape - a ton of apps, including just the chrome browser - really aren't expecting you to do that and often don't display their content in a sensible way.

    Running Linux on it is also... an experience. One best reserved for people who like doing Linux development, because almost _nothing_ works properly at the moment. If it goes into power saving? You're not getting it back. Reboot. If you close the lid, nothing happens. The external screen doesn't seem to work at all in Linux (and works somewhat patchily in Android for that matter - I've been through a good 20 rounds of update firmware -> reboot -> repeat to get that to update properly.

    If you have a very specific need for a device like this - which I do - then there isn't really anything to match it, but it suffers the same problem that nearly all low-volume small developer community projects do: It's made almost entirely of rough edges.

    1. Dr AntiSol, astrophysicist

      Re: I threw some money at this....

      Thanks for this, I found it informative. I have been looking into the cosmo and waiting for Linux to become available for it (I didn't know they released it recently, a good step in the right direction). But I want something usable - It sounds like I should wait a little longer for it to stabilise and get the bugs ironed out.

      The article's comments on battery life are a bit of a concern, too. Could you give some more detail as to your experience with battery life / usage? Thanks! :)

      1. theOtherJT

        Re: I threw some money at this....

        The battery life under android isn't _terrible_ for a device of this size... it's not good tho. I find that if I don't charge it nightly it'll probably be dead the next time I want to use it. The battery life under linux is utterly woeful. It doesn't appear to do any power management (or that that it might do you need to turn off because of the aforementioned locking and refusing to unlock problem) so you'll struggle to get more than 3 or 4 hours out of it booted into debian.

        1. JayBeeDee

          Re: I threw some money at this....

          If your use case is running it as a mini pc with linux you're better off with the gemini (much cheaper) the linux compatibility has all been sorted as it has been out longer. I have both the cosmo (android) and gemini (linux) and although the build quality is better with the cosmo the gemini has everything you need for either termux on android or linux, using it as a ssh client or light python is a joy.

      2. Neill Mitchell

        Re: I threw some money at this....

        Battery life is appalling. The cover display burns as much power as the main board. Seeing as the cover display is supposed to be the killer feature of the device, then switching it off turns it into a slightly improved Gemini.

        Even with the cover display off, you can watch the battery level drop when using it. They seriously messed up a promised update that was supposed to improve battery life and we're still waiting for Planet to release a fixed version.

        Now they have launched another Kickstarter campaign for a new device before fixing the current device issues (the new device is notably dropping the cover display idea. So they have obviously realised it's a bad idea).

        Same old story as the Gemini.

    2. Crypto Monad

      Re: I threw some money at this....

      Android really struggles with running in landscape - a ton of apps, including just the chrome browser - really aren't expecting you to do that and often don't display their content in a sensible way.

      Here here (speaking as a Gemini owner) - on the Gemini, Force Rotate is a three-step dance.

      However, the main reason to avoid PlanetCom is that they orphan their devices from software updates very rapidly. I got my device (one of the very earliest) in March 2018, and the last software update was December 2018. A ton of Android security bugs have been found since then, but no subsequent updates. I contacted their support recently asking if support had been officially terminated, and they gave a bland non-committal answer.

      For that reason alone, I would say don't waste your money.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: I threw some money at this....

        However, the main reason to avoid PlanetCom is that they orphan their devices from software updates very rapidly.

        If you use Android. This is a common complaint for many Android devices.

        If you use Sailfish, the last OTA update on Gemini was less than a week ago.

    3. Piloti 1

      Re: I threw some money at this....

      I can't comment on the Cosmo as I don't have one, but I do have the Gemini and for me, it is excellent. Despite Android.

      The key to making Android work is to strip strip away as much Google as possible. Mine is step up like this : Nova launcher, which means you can get rid of the Google tracking bar, I have DuckDuck and Firefox browsers. I have nothing on my "desk top" except short cuts to my favourite web sites. Fdroid is where I get my applications. Once you do some of this, it works magnificently well in landscape mode. You just need to bin Google.I only have one Gemini and don't have the courage to roll it into Linux, which is what I would really like,

      The hardware build quality is excellent, mine looks as good today as it did when I got almost 30 months ago, the keyboard is excellent for slow typing, certainly better than /any/ on screen virtual keyboard.

      From my pown point of view, I would 100% disagree with the "rough edge" comment. I am of course talking about the Gemini, not the Cosmo. BUt the Gemini is unsurprassed. If you all you do is look at plankton on Instergram' then buy a bloatware filled standard Spamdroid device. If however you create anything at all that involved typing, the Gemini and therefore I'll assume the Cosmo are SUPERB.

      Oh, I don't work Planet Computers. I'm just somebody who still has a Psion 5MX and really wishes there is a way to make it connect to anything vaguely modern. The Gemini / Cosmo is that answer.

  3. corestore

    Why are you going with Psion comparisons?

    To me at least, the obvious resemblance is to a Nokia Communicator.

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: Why are you going with Psion comparisons?

      I've used both a Nokia Communicator (Several flavors) and Psion devices (several flavors) It's definitely more like a Psion than a Communicator.

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Why are you going with Psion comparisons?

      What do you think inspired the Nokia Communicator?

      1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

        Re: Why are you going with Psion comparisons?

        Well on their way, HP and Nokia collaborated to provide an interesting device that combined an HP palmtop with a slot in Nokia mobile) - I saw the prototypes and used one. The Nokia went off on their own with the communicator.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Why are you going with Psion comparisons?

      Nokia Communicator of fond memory.

      Like theOtherJT above I used mine for remote support although back in those days it wasn't SSH. Just use the built-in modem and VT100 emulation to dial into a modem.

      Check the overnight jobs with their logs conveniently emailed to me (hint - email doesn't depend on the intertubes, just pipe stdout to mail username leaves it ready to be read by elm).

      Fix problems for a client 100 miles from where I was working; he just unplugged his fax and plugged the modem into the same line.

  4. Chris G Silver badge

    My Ulefone Armor two has 6Gb RAM and 64Gb ROM plus a 128Gb card, 4700mAH of battery, is water and dust proof and easily lasts a day of heavy use.

    Oh and the selfie camera is 8mp.

    I loved the Psion but a modern take on it would need to be significantly better to appeal.

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge
      Stop

      Mmmm, not seeing a physical keyboard on those devices....?

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        If only separate peripherals was a thing

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          This Riddiford keyboard is not available as a separate peripheral.

        2. doublelayer Silver badge

          "If only separate peripherals was a thing"

          It is a thing. It's one of the things people to whom these devices appeal are trying to avoid. Extra keyboards can be convenient, but not all the time. There are obvious downsides, such as having two batteries to check and two devices to carry, but there can be other problems as well. For example, try finding a good portable bluetooth keyboard. There are many available, but they often fall into a few categories without a good middle ground. There are full-sized ones that you cannot carry with you in your jacket. There are some folding ones that are quite large for a pocket, but are usually good, but which don't fit well when unfolded in a low-space situation. Then there are tiny ones with weird key placement. If someone wants to do a lot of typing but doesn't necessarily expect to have much of a surface to place a keyboard on, it's possible none of those categories will work well for them.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Clove

    As a satisfied long term customer (with no other business connection) I'd just mention that Clove, mentioned in the article, is a good independent seller and worth a look. I wouldn't buy a Cosmo - it doesn't suit my use case these days at all - but being able to get it from them does add a little credibility.

  6. Vaughtex

    So near, but

    After having a Psion back in the day, I'd kept an eye on Planet when they announced the Gemini, but didn't jump in shall we say and finally bought a Gemini off eBay last year to see what I'd been missing. Both the hands on and some of the comments are spot on, the Gemini and the Communicator are both well built though niche products, but both are let down somewhat by software support from Planet.

    Judging by the tales of woe from the various online groups, it seems that some of the functions that didn't work on the Gemini, external display support in Linux for one, still has problems if it works at all, on the Cosmo, with most fingers pointing at adoption/implementation of the Meditek processor. What also seems to have happened is software development on the older device tailing off when the newer device arrived. I fully expect that will reoccur when the Astro Slide appears.

    It's a pity as they're a nice device, but as with other companies, Planet appear to be funding development of a new product before and at the expense of getting the old one to work as advertised. There again, Microsoft managed that for years....

  7. Bibbit

    The article mentions wanting a good 11” laptop. but I got myself an Asus EEEPC 901 for £25 at an online auction. 10” screen, great keyboard. I bunged minimal Xubuntu core on it and it is a nice little machine for travel stuff.

    1. Ken 16 Silver badge

      Agree - when my tablet/convertible broke I stuck a small Linux distro on my eeePC701 and it let me Citrix into the office whenever I needed to show online presence from the airport lounge. The sweet spot is probably 8"-10" especially if the display is edge to edge without bezels. I did try an 8" Fire tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard case but that didn't work as smoothly.

      As this is definitely an 'at need' device, I'd be curious about a Psion Revo style device (maybe larger but jacket pocket sized at most) with a USB-C connection to my actual phone which just serves as UI, relaying screen and keyboard and not doing any actual processing or storage. That would have a lot longer lifespan as it could move from phone to phone as I upgraded.

    2. Dr_N Silver badge
      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Latest GPD things is good but expensive. Early ones were turds.

    3. I am the liquor Bronze badge

      Re: Asus Eee PC... nice little machine for travel

      Perfect for using on the beach.

  8. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    I loved the Psion Series 5 when it was new. I even managed to connect it to an Ericsson T68 mobile with IR receiver and made circuit-switched data calls before GPRS was a thing.

    This Cosmo device looks intriguing, but the poor battery life is a real passion-killer for me. There does appear to be something lacking that's a good notetaker for short meetings or conferences, but I think that tablets will be able to do that job much better for any lengthy meeting where a lot of typing needs to be done. However, we do need a variety of different products rather than everything being the same as everything else.

    1. JayBeeDee

      The meeting "use case" is the best reason to pick up one of these devices, (second is light programming/ssh client).

      Battery life is not an issue (once you switch off CODI). The keyboard is it's best feature, I can easily touch type and find it much better that the keyboards which come with the ipad pro or MS surface tablets.

  9. dickon

    I've had mine since late-November, and I've been very, very happy with it. It's a huge improvement over the Gemini in every respect other than battery life (which has improved markedly with the latest firmware).

    For doing admin work on the fly, it's unbeatable. A full, five-row, physical, backlit keyboard, with all the usual symbols on it knocks all the on-screen things I've ever seen flat.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      I have the Gemini, but the only thing I would want from the Cosmo is the backlit keyboard. Everything else on the Cosmo seems to be geared towards the phone side of things. I already have a phone.

      Also, with the Cosmo I would have to lose Sailfish, which I binned Android for as soon as I could and I am so pleased with. Continually supported by Jolla, I've just installed the latest Rokua update OTA (3.3.0.16) that was just released 23rd April. So there was no way I could be chucking a few hundred for a keyboard backlight, especially as I'm now so familiar I can touch type without looking.

      No prospect of sailfish on the new slidey keyboard thing either, so one is not coming to me.

      I don't know why Cosmo is being reviewed now when it was shipping months ago and there's a successor on the way already.

      1. dickon

        I used the Gemini as a phone, and it was OK. Slightly annoying to have to open the thing up every time, though.

        I have backed the Astro Glide, as I think it'll fix the issues this thing still has -- I am a tad disappointed in CoDi on this thing. I've no idea why it's being reviewed now, either. Most sites reviewed it back in September, IIRC.

        1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
          Coat

          Ah yes, the Astro Glide . . . it's supposed to be quite slick.

  10. Alex Walsh

    I picked up a GPD Pocket 2 about 18 months ago, and I've been happy with that. I've got Ubuntu running on it. Since it's a clamshell mini laptop (smaller even than the original Asus EEE), I still need to use my phone as a hotspot but it's pretty snappy all things considered.

  11. Mage Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Nokia 9210i

    It's what might have been in 2007 from Nokia, if they'd not lost the plot in 2003-2004.

    Though probably the earlier 486 communicator was inspired by a Psion.

    9210 used ARM, 9100 series a kind of 486.

    N9210 CCFL backlight

    N9210i, LED backlight and ungraded modem, though my ISP could only do 14.4K (one call charge) or 28.8 K (double charge rate). It was contract data packages, started by Apple, that made smartphones usable for non-corporates on the Internet.

    Sure it's niche, but it's choice. There are not many decent alternatives to 5" to 6.6" slab of touch screen with volume buttons only if you are luck to even have them. I don't want a Doro.

  12. HmmmYes

    To be honest, although these type of devices are neat, all-in-one units, I find I can get by with a Android phone and a blue tooth keyboard.

  13. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Watch the tumbleweed

    Unfortunately, that's the best description for Planet's support. People will be lucky to get 2 OS updates for this… Such a pity because the industrial design is top notch.

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