Gemini PDA: A keymat update

2019-03-27

Last year I wrote about the Gemini PDA, which I received by taking part in a crowdfunding campaign. By that time I was super disappointed with the keyboard which has been advertised as a “mechanical full keyboard” (feel free to check the technical specifications on the Indiegogo campaign site), but in fact was a rubber dome one that was pretty underwhelming to type on.
From that realisation on, after some initial experiments with the Debian technical preview, my Gemini caught dust on the shelf.

A new hope

On this year’s FOSDEM though, I spotted some Geminis in the “wild”. I couldn’t stop myself from interrupting one of the Gemini owner’s conversation to talk about his device and ask if he was happy with the keyboard. He told me he was, and that he’s using it to take notes of the talks he was in. From him I learned that the first production run of devices had known production errors with the keymat, and that Planet Computers would send replacements for those. I wondered if I might be one of the affected users. I figured I must be, since my order ID was somewhere between 1200-1300 which also got me a device with the smaller MediaTek Helio X25 SoC (Planet Computers had a misunderstanding with their supplier).

I figured it was worth a shot and sure enough, after describing my problems and sending my order ID, Planet Computers agreed to send me a replacement keymat with a new set of keycaps.

In the meantime I tried to type on the Gemini as I got it again, and some of the keys wouldn’t even “go back up” and just stay in the pressed position instead. Now it was literally not even possible to type on it anymore.
A week or two forward, I got the replacement parts and quickly exchanged the keymat and the keycaps, only to be disappointed again.

The keycaps still felt kind of wobbly and some would even just fall off or stick to the screen when opening the clamshell. This state was not really helpful for me either, since I had to pay attention not to lose any keycaps while casually opening the Gemini.

I described my problem to the support and they told me I probably broke the keycaps by replacing them improperly. And that’s how I learned there’s a wrong way to replace those keycaps.

The correct way to replace keycaps on the Gemini PDA

This is what Planet Computers’ support wrote, while agreeing to sending me another set of keycaps:

While we did send you a new set, the keycaps only fall out when they haven't been replaced properly. It is important that once the new keys arrive, you only remove them from their top side, not from the left, right or bottom sides.

Wrong and Correct replacement methods

I was removing them the lazy way from the side, as shown as in this Gemini Planet article—a post on a website which is by the way not endorsed by Planet Computers. I should have scrolled down more to read all the comments.

Anyways, removing them from the top side made all the difference. There’s also much less of a resistance from that angle. I’m not entirely sure how or why the keycaps break when removing them any other way, but I guess it has something to do with the oddly shaped underside, which clicks onto the device.

Underside of a keycap

It would have been nice to know about that beforehand though.

Conclusion

I now have a Gemini PDA with a working keymat, and properly replaced keycaps. It is much better to type on than before, but doesn’t reach what I would call a solid typing experience. It’s not yet good.
I also still feel kind of cheated on, since I was expecting an actual, mechanical keyboard. I was in for the typing, above all else.

I guess it’s good enough though that I will go on figuring out how I can make this device a useful everyday companion—but that’s stuff for another article.