Back when Android was in its infancy, it seemed all manner of form factors were possible. The first device - the T-Mobile G1 - was a then-modern take on the Sidekick with physical QWERTY keys underneath a flip-out display. For a couple of years, this form factor of having a screen that slid over - or flipped away from - a full QWERTY keyboard was seen from various manufacturers.
HTC and Motorola both developed phones like the T-Mobile G2 (aka HTC Desire Z) and Milestone (aka Motorola Droid), among others, all catering towards those who wanted the advantages of both a physical keyboard and a full-sized touchscreen.
Sadly, for some of us, those days seem a long time ago. Or at least, they did until now. A small London-based company called F(x)tec felt it was about time we had another one, and so have worked for the past year building the Pro1. Its purpose: to be a no-compromise smartphone with physical keys.
Clicks and nostalgia
- 5 row, 64 key backlit keyboard
- 154 x 73.6 x 13.98 mm
- Sliding/flip-out mechanism
- Magnesium alloy hinge
For those who have missed horizontal sliders, the F(x)tec Pro1 hits all the right notes. Its most important element, of course, is the keyboard itself. It's a five-row keyboard made up of 64 keys, all of which have a delightful click to them, and are backlit.
Appropriately, the number row at the top features smaller keys than the rest, but what we really like is that they seem to be perfectly positioned below the screen, once opened. In our initial, very brief, hands on, we didn't once feel that our thumbs were cramped or knocking against the screen.
The keys are ever so slightly rounded, and nicely spaced apart to ensure you're not likely to hit the wrong button. What's more, many of them have secondary functions indicated by yellow icons and activated using the little yellow arrow icon button in the bottom row. Sadly, with this early pre-production unit - along with a few other quirks - we weren't able to test these.
Still, for general typing, we were pleased with the response from the buttons, the subtle travel and the tactile feedback. We can definitely see ourselves getting sucked into the old-school two-thumb typing experience quite happily. Oh, and it has arrow keys, which F(x)tec wanted to be sure we knew, and that BlackBerry devices don't.
To get to the keyboard, obviously, you have to push the screen out of the way. In this instance, it uses a hinge made from a sturdy but light magnesium alloy, designed in such a way that the screen doesn't wobble when it's shut, or open. It feels really sturdy.
Once open, rather than sit completely flat like the Desire Z/G2 did, it sits up at an angle. In that way, it's more like the old Sidekick 4G, and differs considerably from the more laptop-like Planet Gemini devices.
As you'd expect, having this extra keyboard on the phone means it's quite thick compared to normal phones. In fact, at nearly 14mm, it's about double the thickness of other flagships, but it does have the usual smattering of ports and buttons.
You'll find the Type-C port on the bottom edge, along with one of the two stereo speakers. There's a camera button and fingerprint sensor, plus the volume and power keys on the right edge, with the second stereo speaker and a 3.5mm jack on the top.
As for the rest of the build; the rear is made from a fairly plain black aluminium that's matched up the sides and the edges, while the front is taken up by a large Galaxy S-like screen.
Big, bright OLED
- 5.99-inch AMOLED panel
- 1080 x 2160 (fullHD+) resolution
- Curved edges
One of the challenges facing new startups, at least in the smartphone industry, is getting hold of all the most technically advanced parts. So you sometimes find a couple of parts and specs that seem like they'd have been the most advanced 18 months ago, but not anymore.
Among those is the screen. It's not a full edge-to-edge bezel-less or notched display, as we've seen from so many companies this past year or so. But that's no bad thing, it's more like the screens we've seen from Samsung. In fact, in the hand, with the keyboard closed, it has something of a Note 9 vibe about it.
It's an 18:9 fullHD+ AMOLED screen that seems punchy, bright and colourful on first looks.
Of course, we need more time with it to determine just how good it is. It won't be as sharp as the ultra high-end QHD+ displays on some more expensive phones, but at the same time there wasn't anything that gave us any real concern on our first look.
- Android 9 Pie
- Custom email and calendar apps
- Horizontal mode tweaks
One thing we love about F(x)tec's approach to this smartphone is the software. It's almost pure, vanilla Android. Launch the home screen and you'll see what looks very similar to the Pixel's user interface, or the UI used on Nokia's new Android Pie phones. That's because this is running a very thinly customised version of Android Pie.
The only "bloatware" - if you want to call it that - is the specially designed calendar and email apps. Those were only built because Google's stock Gmail and Calendar apps aren't particularly well optimised for horizontal screens/QWERTY phones.
Similarly, the default launcher isn't well optimised for landscape use either. To fix this, F(x)tec tweaked the home screen so that widgets repositioned, but remained the same size when rotated rather than stretch across the display weirdly. The developers also enabled the ability to bring up the app drawer from the side when in horizontal orientation.
Again, we didn't get tonnes of time, and there were a few glitches and issues with the pre-launch software. Some UI elements weren't quite in the right place, and the camera viewfinder opened up in a tiny window when the keyboard was open. However, we're told these are known issues and fixed, and definitely won't be there when the phone launches.
Plenty of power, plus a dual camera
- 12MP + 5MP dual camera
- 8MP front camera
- 3,200mAh battery
- Snapdragon 835 processor + 6GB RAM
As specs go, again, it's stuff we'd have been enthralled by 18 months ago, but today - while perfectly adequate - they're not quite up there with the best of the flagships.
Inside, there's a Snapdragon 835 (2017's flagship processor), which means it'll still be powerful and efficient enough to keep things running smoothly. Certainly more so than a mid-range chip from 2018 would. As well as that, you get a healthy 6GB RAM and 128GB of internal storage. Both relatively generous, and surely enough for any smartphone user out there.
Camera-wise, it should be plenty good enough for social sharing. In fact, with the right image processing, it could be great. It's the same Sony sensor that's inside the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3, and the outstanding Pixel 3. Unlike the Pixel though, it has a secondary 5MP camera to help with depth information and noise reduction.
We didn't get chance to test it thoroughly, so we'll reserve judgement on that until the review units make their way to Pocket-lint HQ.
As for battery life, again, we can't comment on performance, but the 3,200mAh capacity is presumably adequate for a full day's use and Quick Charge 3.0 support means you won't have to wait ages when refuelling.
Overall, this feels like a phone that does absolutely everything it can to get the "QWERTY horizontal sliding Android phone" form right. It's solid, doesn't wobble, has a keyboard that seems really nice on first looks, and a clean (but optimised) software experience.
Where it falls short slightly is in performance specs. The 3,200mAh battery is lower than quite a few big flagship phones, and the Snapdragon 835 was the best chip in 2017, it's not anymore. Neither of those things should really put you off though, and we don't think they will if you've been hankering for a horizontal slider since the G2/Desire Z got decommissioned.
From what we've seen, at least for the niche market that it's aimed at, this could be the phone you've been praying for.