The F(x)tec Pro 1 is an upcoming smartphone with a 6 inch AMOLED touchscreen display and something that’s far more uncommon these days — a physical keyboard that slides out from behind the display and makes the phone look almost like a tiny laptop.
But that may not be the only unusual thing about this phone. While it will ship with Google Android software and a custom launcher app, it looks like the developers at F(x)tec are also working to ensure it can run Sailfish OS, an open source, Linux-based operating system actively developed by the folks at Finnish company Jolla .
F(x)tec unveiled the Pro 1 phone earlier this year and plans to begin shipping the slider to customers in July. It’s currently up for pre-order for $649.
The keyboard is definitely the phone’s stand-out feature, offering 64 backlit keys. That means you don’t have a virtual, on-screen keyboard covering part of the display as you type, and it also means you get tactile feedback when you hit a key, something that’s hard to recreate with a virtual keyboard.
When the keyboard slides out, the display also tilts to a 155 degree angle, making it easy to see what you’re typing. But when you don’t need the keyboard, you can slide it behind the screen.
While I’ve grown pretty comfortable using on-screen keyboards, I know this is a design that appeals to die-hard physical keyboard fans who can type faster on real keys. But since Android is designed and optimized for touchscreen devices, I suspect for the most part there’s not much most users would do with a physical keyboard that they couldn’t already do with a virtual one.
The ability to run alternate operating systems like Sailfish opens up other possibilities though. While Sailfish is also optimized for touchscreen displays (the user interface relies heavily on gestures), the operating system is built on top of Mer… a software distribution that has its roots in the Maemo, MeeGo, and Moblin projects (which were all GNU/Linux projects aimed at smartphones, netbooks, and other mobile devices).
In other words, it shares a lot of DNA with desktop operating systems, and I can imagine a situation where running an OS like Sailfish on the F(x)Tech Pro 1 makes the phone not only look like a tiny laptop, but also function like one.
That said, it’s not exactly the most powerful phone around. The F(x)Tec Pro 1 features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, which will be a nearly 2-year-old chip by the time the phone hits the streets.
Other features don’t look so bad. The Pro 1 will feature a 2160 x 1080 pixel display, 6GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage.
It has a 3,200 mAh battery, 12MP + 5MP rear cameras, an 8MP front-facing camera, stereo speakers, a USB Type-C port, and two things that set it apart from many modern phones: a microSD card reader and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
A short tour of #SailfishOS on @thefxtec Pro1. Despite early adaptation stage UI is already pretty smooth. pic.twitter.com/LaVM91GsTD
— Liangchen Chen (@chenliangchen) April 6, 2019
The Pro 1 also isn’t the only pocket-sized, phone/laptop-like computer capable of running Android and Sailfish OS.
The Gemini PDA from Planet Computer officially added support for the operating system last year, and the upcoming Planet Computer Cosmo Communicator is expected to be able to run Android, Sailfish, and other GNU/Linux operating systems such as Debian.
I wonder if some tech companies have ever done any testing on: how small can you go to enjoy a “decent” typing experience (too subjective?) using a full keyboard.
From my own experience: The clamshell Sharp OZ-770 Wizard PDA was the pinnacle (rounded keys, spacing between each). Sharp, to their credit, didn’t try to reproduce a full keyboard – instead focusing on the main set of keys (with a remapper). I have never done as much (comfortable) typing on such a small device – ever. Really miss that PDA…
The HP 200LX’s keyboard (more flexible, powerful but smaller than the Sharp) always felt too cramped for me – like fingernail typing. I never got comfortable with it but it was DOS in a pocket computer and used it for a long while. The other small device that I used regularly was the Nec MobilePro 790. Very comfortable typing experience but at this point, it was a much larger travel companion (9.65 inches wide, a small netbook precursor).
It’s risky selling a unit with non-standard keyboard designs (like the Sharp Wizard) when (some) users are expecting a standard layout. Looking at the keyboard on the F(x)tec Pro 1: it honestly looks scary cramped. I really like the effort here but keyboards on handheld-sized devices need a rethinking (like the Sharp and others from the clamshell PDA era) to be effective.
An onscreen keyboard is basically unusable in combination with splitscreen multitasking. You’re basically blinded both to most of what you’re typing and the information you might be synthesizing/simplifying in the other window. A slide out is way more useful now than back then.
How’s Sailfish now? What would be the reasons for using it over Android especially for people who use desktop Linux distros?
I’m honestly kind of interested in this just to play around with Sailfish. If the Gemini or Cosmo would have had a slide out keyboard, I’d probably have bought one. It would be neat if this could be dual-boot as well, but that might be too much to ask.
The idea of a slide out keyboard is always interesting to unix/linux users (and sysadmins) who might like a better on the go terminal experience. It always sucks when half your terminal space is lost to an on screen keyboard.
A virtual keyboard, that don’t have a Ctrl key! I mean, sure there is hacker’s keyboard for Android, but who wants to constantly mess around in the system settings to change keyboards?
Most of the SSH apps I’ve used will pop up a row or two of extra keys for stuff that commonly gets used on a terminal (ctrl, tab, |, etc), so I’ve never messed around with Hacker’s Keyboard, but then you also lose more screen real estate.
This is what the Nokia N950 should have been.
Engineers that worked on several nokias, incl the n950 also worked on this. source: https://www.fxtec.com/the-smartphone-you-thought-you-couldnt-have-slider-mechanism/
Meh, with those flat keys, it can’t ever be a tiny laptop. Upcoming Planet Computers Cosmo Communicator ftw 🙂
Right, thanks for the reminder. I meant to add a line about the Gemini PDA and Cosmo Communicator.
They aren’t flat. They’re curved. I have the keyboard mod that preceded this and they’re using a similar key shape.
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