Smartphones as we know them killed physical keyboards on mobile phones over a decade ago. No one carries a flip phone, Sidekick, or BlackBerry anymore because the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy smartphones have eliminated the need for us to type on the bulky keypads in order to send an email or text message to somebody. More often than not, people had a hard time typing out messages because the keys were either too small for their fingers or, if they had a flip phone, they had to press the same key more than once to get the correct letters.
It seems like a lifetime ago since we carried phones with physical keyboards. Now there’s a passionate community of retro technology geeks working to resurrect those devices in the form of a laptop/smartphone hybrid called the Astro Slide 5G. It’s the first 5G transformer smartphone made courtesy of U.K.-based phone developer Planet Computers, and it’s currently up for pre-order, with deliveries expected to go out in April.
The Astro Slide 5G is a follow-up to the Gemini and Cosmo Communicator, which had fully functional QWERTY keyboards but were designed as clamshell phones. The Cosmo Communicator, for example, took on the external appearance of an old-fashioned flip phone sporting a 24 MP camera with flash and a 1.91-inch AMOLED touchscreen display on the lid. Open it up like a compact mirror and you get the physical keyboard and the 5.9-inch touchscreen that acts like a normal PC, only it ran on Android 9.
As the name generously suggests, the Astro Slide 5G has an external full touchscreen that slides up to reveal the classic PC-style QWERTY keyboard, with shift keys, space bar, arrow, and number keys laid out in all their bulky glory thanks exclusively to its recently patented RockUp slider hinge mechanism that gives the screen the support it needs to turn the phone into a proper palmtop computer. The keyboard is backlit with five different brightness levels that can be adjusted manually or automatically depending on the environment it’s in, and it comes in 24 different international layouts, including English (U.S. and U.K.), Arabic, German, Japanese, French, Polish, Hebrew, Spanish, Italian, Korean, and more.
The Astro Slide 5G runs Android 11 with support for Linux OSs and a multiboot option, and it comes equipped with all the apps you would normally see on an average Android phone, plus the Vivaldi browser and apps developed by Planet Computers like Airmail and OneSearch. Everything is displayed on a 6.39-inch AMOLED touchscreen protected by Gorilla Glass. It also comes with the Microtek processor that supports 8 GB of RAM, 128 GB of internal storage, microSD, a 3.5mm audio jack, stereo speakers, a 48MP Sony sensor camera, and two USB-C ports.
It takes all the elements from your average smartphone and PC and combines them to become a true “laptop in my back pocket,” to quote Eminem’s song Rap God.
Planet Computers launched an Indiegogo campaign for the Astro Slide 5G in March 2020, with the goal of raising $160,000 or more to produce it. Once the crowdfunding campaign reached its target, the phone was slated to be released and shipped to its backers in summer 2021. But the COVID-19 pandemic has plagued the tech industry with supply chain shortages of components needed for factories to produce their products. It didn’t help that the company was a small fish swimming with sharks like Apple and Samsung, which, according to All About Symbian, often placed it second or third on the waiting list for ordering parts and production runs.
The shipping delay for the components necessary to construct the Astro Slide 5G forced Planet to delay its release by six months. In December, the company said that the printed circuit boards (PCBs) shipped from the Wuhan, China, factory to the surface mounting factory, which would ship the first units to the company by Christmas to be delivered immediately to backers. But earlier that month, it explained that the delivery of the PCBs to the SMT factory got delayed because Wuhan’s sister factory in Vietnam suffered from COVID-related supply chain issues, straining production of the PCBs.
Now that COVID is retreating in some places, Planet is confident that it will ship out the Astro Slide 5G to its backers and other people who want to buy it next month without any further delays.
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