Is there still a place for a physical keyboard on a smartphone?
British brand Planet Computers thinks so, and has released the £711 Astro Slide 5G device with a slide-out, mechanical keyboard.
If you’re frequently using your smartphone as a means of writing, this is a device for you.
I’m not talking about composing the odd tweet, but if you’re routinely bashing out lengthy emails or drafting blog posts a keyboard beats a screen every time.
Built like a PDA from a bygone age, the Astro Slide 5G has two USB-C slots (one at each end) and a proper 3.5mm headphone jack. It can become an entire mobile workstation if you want it to be.
Although it arrives running Android 11, you can put Linux OS on it if you want to and treat it like a little computer.
Be warned, the slide-out mechanism for the keyboard takes some practice before you can do it smoothly. You have to push it up with your thumbs, giving it a firm final push and then tilt the screen forward with your fingertips. But once you’re good to go, the expereince is great. There’s proper travel on the keys and it’s also backlit for working in dim light.
There are function keys too, so you can adjust things like volume and brightness without taking your fingers from the keys. Like with the sliding mechanism, you do need to spend a little time with the keyboard to adjust to the smaller size. At the beginning, I suffered frequent mis-hits but over time I became accustomed to using it.
Of course, packing a keyboard under a 6.39-inch touchscreen is going to add some bulk and the Astro Slide is a chunky piece of tech. It weighs in at a hefty 325g and the dimensions are 17.2 x 7.65 x 1.78cm. Operating it one-handed in phone mode recquires some thumb dexterity and a little bit of juggling to get to all corners of the screen. The Astro Slide is definietly more suited to a jacket or back pocket than the front pocket of a pair of skinny jeans.
The screen itself is coated with Gorilla Glass 3 and boasts a 2,340 x 1,080 pixel resolution. Colours look good but you won’t find the 120Hz smooth-scrolling refresh rate you get on the likes of the iPhone 13 Pro.
That’s one of the few omissions, though. If you were anticipating a device like this to cut a few corners, you’d be wrong. It’s got NFC, wireless charging and a fingerprint scanner built into the power button. There’s the option for two SIM (regular and eSIM) accounts as well as a microSD slot for expanding on the 128GB of internal default storage. There’s a smart button included alongside the volume keys to assign to any feature you want (I opted for the torch) and finally an LED indicator that lets you know at-a-glance things like charging completion.
Day-to-day running of the phone is handled by a MediaTek Dimensity 800 Octa-Core SoC backed by 8GB of RAM. The MediaTek chip is a bit of a mid-range option, especially heading into 2022. It’s not going to compete on raw power with the Snapdragon-toting flagships from, say Samsung or OnePlus, but there’s enough here to handle most of the things I threw at it. Occassionally I would notice lag during a gaming session, but when it came to web browsing or sending and receiving emails there was no noticable problems. If you’re not grinding your teeth at a few extra milliseconds of waiting when you load up an app then picking this over Samsung’s £1k+ flagship won’t be a problem.
The only other area where this phone falls down a little bit is the camera. It’s packing a 48-megapixel Sony-sensor rear-facing shooter and a 13-megapixel selfie option.
Taking this camera out for a little side-by-side comparison with the iPhone 13, I found that while it was perfectly servicable, the images didn’t really pop for me.
It was good at picking up detail but the colours didn’t seem as true-to-life as what the iPhone was able to pick up. To my eye, the images look a little faded and washed out. Also, the field-of-view was so much more noticable on an iPhone thanks to wide lens – something the Astro Slide just couldn’t compete with.
Have a look at the comparisons below and judge for yourself.
One area where the Astro Slide performs well is battery life. There’s a big 4,000mAh battery in there that isn’t pulled down by an over-the-top screen or power-hungry processor. As such, I was easily able to get a full day’s use from the Astro Slide 5G (6am to around 10pm) and still have a little juice left over at the end of the day.
As someone who is regularly pecking away notes or article drafts to myself on a phone during downtime on the train or waiting for the kettle to boil, the Astro Slide was a big hit for me. I loved the tactile feeling of hitting actual keys to make notes and draft emails. And while I wasn’t blown away by the technical specs of the device, having such a unique use-case meant it worked for my situation.
Is it a good bet for everyone? Unfortunately not. Those with small hands will not get on with the sheer size of the Astro Slide while anyone who wants a phone mostly for the camera will also want to look elsewhere.
The Astro Slide could certainly fill the void recently left by BlackBerry though, in becoming the go-to phone for worker bees who want a device that can serve as a productivity powerhouse. Little touches like the second USB-C port and headphone jack are just the icing on the cake.
I was sad to see my time with the Astro Slide 5G end, but hopefully there is enough interest for Planet Computers to keep producing more versions of it in the future.
Astro Slide 5G: the details
Name: Astro Slide 5G
- Fantastic keyboard
- Solid battery life
- Excellent ports and connectivity
- Camera isn’t great
- It’s pretty bulky
Where can I buy it? You can buy it directly from Planet Computers here.