Make Mine a Large One

Planet Computers releases its second phone with a qwerty keyboard

I recently returned to Planet Computers’ London offices to check out production models of the Cosmo Communicator, which we first profiled in April this year (see A Cosmopolitan Alternative).

The general finish and appearance of the Cosmo production devices confirms that it’s a maturing product that builds on the strengths of its predecessor. Planet Computers has made some subtle design changes since the Gemini, such as reducing the size of the rubber feet needed to steady the device when it’s opened, and switching to a tray for the SIM and microSD cards — an improvement on the Gemini, which needs a special tool to undo its cover and access the card slots.

There are some more obvious changes, too. The most noticeable is a two-inch external touch screen that displays notifications and can be used to control basic elements of the phone while it’s closed. The screen uses custom FreeRTOS-based software and its own processor to interact with the Android innards. Planet Computers has done a good job here, especially given the complexity of presenting a rich variety of Android functions on a tiny screen. The screen can even be used to take a selfie, although the pairing of a 24-megapixel camera and a two-inch screen is quite incongruous.

The product has matured in other ways. The production run may be miniscule by the standards of Samsung or even most of the “long tail” of Chinese brands, but it’s a multiple of the initial Gemini production. The device is about to gain certification from a Japanese operator — a first for Planet Computers and potentially the start of a much larger presence in what’s currently the Cosmo’s largest market.

To be truly successful, the device needs to find a wider audience; at least half of the crowd-funding support for the Cosmo came from existing Gemini owners. As “normal” smartphones get bigger and bigger, the Cosmo might find favour among people who previously thought a six-inch screen too large.

Everyone at Planet Computers is clearly proud of their new product. Like the founders of F(x)tec, they’re building the phone that they want to see on the market (see A Key Device). This commitment extends to ongoing software support, including updates to the device’s custom applications and encouragement of community-led efforts to bring other operating systems to the Cosmo, including the Android fork LineageOS, Debian-based Linux and Sailfish OS.

The Cosmo Communicator is a product of its times. It wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the homogeneity of the current smartphone market, the easy access to device manufacturing facilities (created in part by the homogeneity of the market), the presence of crowd-funding sites to attract and process financial support, and the reach of the Internet into untapped markets. Planet Computers is hoping it’s a cocktail for success.