If you miss QWERTY keyboard phones and can’t get behind the latest BlackBerrys, a London-based startup may have just launched your next smartphone, the F(x)tec Pro1.
Announced with pricing and release information at IFA 2019, it runs Android and packs a faintly familiar design, provided you're over 25. It's certainly attention-grabbing, but do we really need a physical keyboard in 2019?
Design and screen: Let's get physical QWERTY
The F(x)tec Pro1 feels like a chunky slab when you first get it in your hands. It’s even thicker than the ROG Phone 2 at 1.4cm, and without any obvious hinges your first instinct isn’t to slide it open, but instead to use it as you would a traditional (albeit thick) candy bar phone.
But this isn’t a traditional phone; inspired by the Nokia E9, the F(x)tec Pro1’s screen glides up to reveal a five-row, 66-key staggered, backlit, landscape QWERTY keyboard.
The angled hinge feels beyond robust on first impression - slide out, slide back, repeat - and the phone locks into place when each portion reaches its respective destination. It also takes serious intent to initiate a slide, whether from open or closed.
The front is all about the 6in AMOLED display. With its Full HD+ resolution, the Pro1 isn’t the sharpest, but it is still competitive, displaying more pixels-per-inch than flagships like the Huawei P30 Pro and the iPhone XR. The phone includes a headphone jack and a USB-C port for charging, and with stereo speakers at the top and bottom when held in portrait, it got nice and loud in our tests with the device.
Around the back, there’s a dual-camera setup loaded up with a 12MP Sony IMX363 sensor, a secondary 5MP depth camera, and an F(x)tec logo.
What's on the inslide?
Running Android 9 Pie with a slightly modified UI, the F(x)tec Pro1 looks very clean and stock. It’s powered by a Snapdragon 835 chipset, which is two generations behind today’s finest flagship Qualcomm processor. However, given the fact it’s paired with 6GB RAM, it should be up to any business task you throw its way - even if it won’t be a gaming beast.
With a hybrid dual-SIM slot, you can either stow two SIM cards within, or one SIM card and an SD card. That said, the phone has generous 128GB internal storage, so the optional additional storage of up to 2TB will be unnecessary for most.
Aimed at business users, the Pro1 includes all the global LTE bands you’ll need, not to mention staples like fast Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC and a USB-C port, which handily includes HDMI output so you can present from your phone if you have an HDMI dongle plugged in.
With its 3,200mAh battery, the capacity seems small, but the Pro1's quoted standby time is 480hrs and talk time is 10hrs. Supporting Quick Charge 3, it should power up relatively quickly, even if it won’t stack up to the likes of the OnePlus 7 Pro with its Dash Charge, or the P30 Pro’s SuperCharge.
As far as first impressions go, this phone really is a time machine. From the design to the internals, nothing about it is cutting-edge per se, but is that really such a bad thing? In a swarm of samey Android phones, this bulky bee stands out with some serious novelty factor - likely the reason it's garnering a fair bit of buzz.
It also answers real-world problems: you can’t multitask on all-screen Android phones because the keyboard fills half the screen when you do; phones without kickstands are rubbish for watching content on unless you hold them; most BlackBerrys don't have decent on-screen keyboard options; and sometimes, you don't want to get physical.
While it definitely won’t be for everyone, therefore, we’re looking forward to testing it out in the real world, and figuring out if there’s still space for a slide-out QWERTY in our 2019 lives.
Where and when can I buy one?
You can order the Pro1 right now for £649 from F(x)tec's website in the UK, and it will cost you $699 in the US. The company plans to ship pre-ordered devices in mid-September ahead of its general release in October 2019.
While the Pro1 doesn't quite cost top-tier flagship buck, you can still pick up more powerful phones for less - a prime example being the excellent Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro. That said, if you long for a physical QWERTY keyboard that feels robust, there's no real competition out now.
F(x)tec is also already planning its next smartphone, which is set to bring back more nostalgic features from the ghosts of the mobiles past. So if (like us) you're a sucker for nostalgia and tech, watch this space.