For those who want a physical keyboard on a phone

The Android smartphone scene was very busy, but also very good. Huge competition means that no phone brand can rest on its laurels, that flawed designs or bad ideas are quickly discarded, new advances and popular ideas are quickly adopted across industries. This has resulted in an Android phone scene where all the flagship phones are very good and very polished, but also very similar. If you look forward to a new phone from Samsung, Google or Vivo, you might not be able to tell them apart.

And so for smaller phone brands to succeed, you have to think outside the box and try something different. For Shenzhen-based Unihertz, it makes phones with physical keyboards. I tested one a few years ago, and while I liked the hardware, it was a bit of a bulky brick. Others felt that way too.

And so Unihertz’s newest product, the Titan Slim, is much smaller. It measures 5.79 by 2.67 by 0.51 inches and weighs 0.45 pounds. Despite the name, it’s actually not that thin, as it’s easily thicker than most modern smartphones. But it’s narrow from left to right, which makes it easy to grip with one hand.

But that slimmer width also makes for a keyboard that feels tighter than previous Unihertz devices or other phones with physical keyboards. During the first day, I couldn’t type at a fast pace without making a lot of typos. But on the second day, my fingers got used to it, and the old muscle memory of using Blackberry devices kicked in, and I was typing long emails without much difficulty.

However – and this is a big catch considering the keyboard is this phone’s biggest selling point – I’m not sure I type faster with this physical thumb keyboard than a typical smartphone touchscreen. A physical thumb keyboard requires me to press each button, which actually takes a split second longer than just tapping a button on the screen. The tactile and clickable feedback feels satisfying, but most high-end Android phones now have excellent haptics that simulate the same haptic feedback.

But I may not be the target audience for this phone. I’m not exactly young, but I’m still a little younger than the group of entrepreneurs who used Blackberry devices a lot in the early 2000s (I was still in school at the time). This group – who must be in their 40s by now – may prefer to have a physical keyboard. And judging by the enthusiastic response on Kickstarter, where Unihertz is releasing this phone, that group is still very eager to get back to keyboard phones.

Aside from the keyboard, the Unihertz Titan Slim is a standard budget Android phone, with an entry-level chip (Mediatek Helio P70), a below-average 48MP main camera and an 8MP selfie camera, and a 4.2-inch LCD screen that refreshes at 60Hz.

Whether for the brightness or the vibrancy of colors, the display here doesn’t even outperform the $200 Xiaomi phones, but for a phone that’s clearly aimed at productivity use, that’s fine. Texts are sharp enough on it.

The software is a standard version of Android 11, but Unihertz has added nice software touches that take advantage of the keyboard. First, the keyboard works as a sort of trackpad – swiping your thumb across the keyboard will scroll through the home screen or scroll through articles.

Second, you can assign a long press of a keyboard button to launch a specific app, like I can hold down the G key to quickly launch Gmail. Both are very useful and improve the overall experience.

Above the keyboard is a fingerprint scanner that doubles as a home button, but you can also “go home” via swipe gestures, as on most Android phones.

While the camera performance, as mentioned, is pretty poor by 2022 standards, the phone has excellent battery life. A single charge can power the phone for at least two days, even with heavy usage. Granted, heavy usage isn’t graphically intensive tasks like gaming or filming videos, but heavy usage of social media, sending emails, and reading articles and documents.

By the way, you can play mobile games – it’s a typical Android phone that can run any Android app – but the screen is so cramped that it’s not the most ideal experience.

The Titan Slim also uses a plastic casing which looks cheap, but considering the sub-$250 price tag of this phone and that it comes with a rubber case, the material of construction is passable.

There are other things to like about the Unihertz Titan, like the inclusion of a charger and support for global bands and dual SIM cards. So for those who really yearn for the days of Blackberry phones, the Unihertz Titan Slim kind of wins out by default as there really aren’t many other options out there.

However, if you’ve long since adapted to the modern smartphone like I have, a physical keyboard on a phone seems more like a gimmick than a necessity.

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