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The venue: Sloane Square. The meeting: clandestine. “Do you have the goods,” I whispered. Without a word, Janko slid the device towards me. “I think you’ll find this is what you want.” It was small, rectangular. About the size of a phone but double the thickness. This, at long last, was the Cosmo Communicator. But is it any good? Find out in our first-look Cosmo Communicator review.
Okay, what really happened
I admit that only the first four words of the above paragraph are true, although Janko – Dr Janko Mrsic-Flogel, MD of Planet Computers – did indeed have a device to show me in the company’s well-located offices.
And the Communicator could be quite a handy tool for wannabe spies. Unlike the Gemini PDA, Planet Computers’ first attempt at creating a Psion Series 5 for the modern age, the Cosmo includes a built-in camera, and a front-mounted screen that switches off when you’re trying to record covertly.
Let’s cover the external screen first. It’s a 2in AMOLED rectangle and is the biggest difference between the Cosmo and the Gemini. With the previous device, you had to flip it open to enter numbers. Awkward. Here, you simply choose a contact you wish to dial (there’s also a handy recent history) or pump in the number manually.
Planet Computers’ software engineers appear to have done an excellent job at keeping it usable. From my limited time with the Cosmo so far, it seems intuitive to check messages and change settings.
A fingerprint reader sits below the screen, with buttons on either side – these effectively as Enter and Back keys. Again, these are intuitive in use, and will quickly become muscle memory.
The final button to note is at the top. This Stop button can be used to switch off the screen, for instance, or to lock the device.
Impressed by the slickness of the user experience, I asked Dr Mrsic-Flogel how long it had taken to get right. “We started in January. I would say a full-time designer has been working it all the time [since then], and then basically four developers.”
Cosmo Communicator review: the camera
Selfie lovers should note that you can view images on the screen and check how you look before snapping. There is a lag, though, because you’re relying on the separate ST32 Arm processor that powers it – and this is built for minimal energy consumption rather than speed.
Nor should you expect amazing images, at least compared to those produced by half-decent Android phones. It’s a 24-megapixel camera, which is more than detailed enough and a massive improvement over the Gemini (which relied on an add-on camera), but my impression from the handful of pics I saw is that this is a mediocre unit.
The Communicator relies on a MediaTek Helio P70, which is a mid-range processor. Don’t interpret that as slow: the Cosmo was nippy, with Android 9 responding snappily, but it won’t come close to phones powered by the Snapdragon 845 or 855 chips. Think 660 instead, if you know your Qualcomm processors!
It helps that Planet supplies the Cosmo with 6GB of RAM, and it’s nice to see 128GB of storage in place too. Unlike some other phone manufacturers, it makes it easy to add storage via a micro SD slot: this shares a holder with the nano SIM.
Note it can support two physical SIMs, although that means you can’t use a microSD slot. Or you can have one SIM in place, a microSD card and an eSIM. There’s no 5G – “we’re looking at it” said Dr Mrsic-Flogel – but 4G support looks comprehensive. Wherever you travel in the world, you should get a good connection.
One of my criticisms of the original Gemini PDA was that its keyboard didn’t have the smooth action of the Psion Series 5 it tries to emulate, but Planet has been hard at work on improvements. I want to put this theory to the test properly before I make a full judgement, and likewise its promise that the spacebar is now easier to actuate when touch typing, but first signs are promising.
I can say unequivocally that the backlit keyboard is an instant success. This will be a godsend in dark environments such as planes, with five brightness levels to choose from.
And if you’re thinking at this point that you don’t see the point of the keyboard – well, the Cosmo isn’t for you. Let’s leave it at that.
Where can you buy the Cosmo Communicator?
The Cosmo was launched as an Indiegogo campaign, and as I tap out these words it’s still up and running. You can buy it from that page for £610. If you’re too late, you’ll have to pay £799 direct from the Planet website. (The company is in talks with carriers, and hopes to announce a deal early next year – but we shall see.)
The first batch of devices literally rolled off the production floor in China last week, and naturally the Indiegogo backers will get theirs first. And due to a whole week of Chinese holidays, nothing is happening this week so it will be next week before Planet starts shipping those first units.
That means you’ll probably be waiting until late November before yours will arrive, if you ordered now. I hope to get a review unit within a couple of weeks, and will update this review then.