F(x)tec Pro1 review, a brand-new keyboard slider phone in 2019

First of all, a small disclaimer. I bought this phone because I wanted it and have been waiting for something like this to exist for a long time. My opinions here are measured compared to my expectations more than they are to different phones, but I'd argue that's a good thing if you're in the same boat I am. I can't say my expectations were low, and for some perspective, keyboarded phones I've had before are the Nokia n900 and e72 but I have used "normal" smartphones for the last few years (but I really don't like using those very much). I now own the Pro1 for a couple of weeks already.

On Paper

Not a real spec list but these are things that caught my eye before pre-ordering:

  • It has an actual keyboard. I need this! It also has all the keys it needs.
  • Actual camera shutter button that you can half-press to focus. I really like that.
  • Snapdragon 835 SoC and 128gb storage, not Mediatek trash. This is excellent.
  • Pretty good camera sensor, a nice bonus.
  • Unlockable bootloader as a feature. If Blackberry had that I would have one.
  • Curved AMOLED screen, looks pretty but not the most practical choice.
  • It has a headphone jack, it's sad that this doesn't go without saying nowadays.
  • It has a notification LED, in my opinion that's a must have.
  • I paid 650 euros. Expensive for a phone but justified given the features.
  • Just look at the thing!

This is the phone I always dreamed would exist, and it finally does. Also amazing is that it isn't all glued together, but rather mostly held together by screws so it’s probably much easier to service than most phones of today. There are also ports of Lineage and Sailfish in the works which seem to be getting good pretty fast.

The screws holding the phone together are hidden by small stickers.

First Impressions

It's nicely packaged, comes with a cable, charger and some paper like most phones. Nicely a screen-protector is included. The phone itself looks like pretty much any other modern phone when closed and it is less bulky than I'd anticipated. Aside from the volume and power buttons being loose enough to rattle a bit when shaken, the fit and finish is great. The hinge mechanism holds the phone closed well but I can still sense there are two halves when tapping the bottom part of the screen. I guess this could improve in future batches but overall the device looks and feels nice. Opening the keyboard was a bit scary and confusing the first few times, you have to kinda lift it rather than just pushing it open, but now that I’m used to it it's easy, satisfying and happens almost automatically. The mechanism feels pretty strong and solid. The curved screen makes the device feel quite a bit narrower than similarly sized flat devices (I have a Galaxy Note 4 and Doogee S60 to compare to). Setting the device down with the keyboard open gives a nice angle and it is also satisfactory as just something to hold on to the phone securely without activating the touchscreen accidentally.

Now the keyboard itself... Simply amazing from the first touch. Tactile feedback is excellent, the bumps on the F and J keys are easy enough to distinguish and the keys are spaced out well. The layout took a bit of getting used to as you'd expect. In the beginning, it confused me that there were some symbols on the column between tab/caps/shift, but I don't mind it now. There is a backlight for the keys which doesn't look perfectly uniform, but it makes the keys easily visible in the dark which has been useful. I was surprised how quickly I became accustomed to typing on it. Doing a typing test on several web pages gives me a result of 35wpm on average, and I feel like it'll still get quite a bit faster as I get used to the keyboard (it is now the next day and I scored between 40 and 44wpm today). More important than it being faster than a touchscreen, I can also type without constantly making and correcting mistakes, a huge relief. I barely type on software keyboards since getting this device and the few times I did had me feel very impaired, to the point I just clack the keyboard open for as much as typing 2 words. Before receiving the device I was somewhat concerned the keyboard would be too big for comfort, but it's a good size, at least for my hands. I would not wish for it to be either smaller or bigger.

All the normal phone things are working well as far as I've used them: the screen is bright and sharp, the speakers are nice enough (though I kinda wish they were louder as I do with every phone), the camera takes nice pictures (although somewhat biased towards slower shutter speeds in auto mode), sound quality in phone calls is absolutely excellent, and video calls via Fakebook messenger have worked great. My Bluetooth headset works fine. It happily runs all the apps I've tried and I was able to mirror the screen and send audio to a friend’s smart TV via Wi-Fi, something I didn't even realize phones can do nowadays. Battery life is excellent for a modern smartphone, easily lasting 24 hours away from a charger even with heavy use (i.e. nearly 7 hours of screen time, watching videos and taking photos etc). The FM radio works well and the headphone output was even capable of driving 250ohm headphones to a reasonable volume.

Even during a loooong day, I did not need to recharge.

There is also a fingerprint sensor on the side of the phone which I have tested. It works, but I haven't truly used it since I don't like these things. Even with my old phone that has one on the back it just results in the words "too many attempts" after taking the phone from my pocket when enabled. Besides that, if an adversary doesn't go for copying one of the many fingerprints I left on the screen, the next most straightforward attack would be stealing my finger. No thanks. I'm sticking to the pattern lock which I like. Other reviewers may comment on this one instead :-).

Nit Picking

No phone in this world is perfect and it's always possible to complain, so let's get that out of the way. The first thing I'm not super impressed by is the camera shutter button: it lacks tactile feedback, there is some but you need a very soft touch to feel it. There are two steps to it, press it halfway down to focus and press down more to take a photo. Anyone who has used a real camera will probably appreciate the usefulness of it as you can aim at what you want in focus, half press and frame the picture before pressing down all the way. The problem I have is that the last step is very subtle, although you can feel it it's hardly noticeable. On, for example, the Nokia n900 I felt the tactile feedback from the shutter button was much more distinct. Maybe I'll get used to this, and I'm still very happy it has a camera button at all.

Nitpick the next is the curved screen, I'm not totally convinced because it limits options for screen protectors and seems more fragile while providing not many tangible benefits. However, it does make the device easier to pocket and looks pleasing to my eye.

Nitpick the third is that it picks up my far away Wi-Fi just a tad worse than the other two phones I used before this, disconnecting occasionally in one side of my room. It does better than some other devices I've tried though so I can't really complain, I should just place an access point upstairs.

And lastly there seems to be no way to turn quick charging off (in software anyway) and the phone gets quite warm when quick charging if the battery is very low. I will likely just use a charger that doesn't support quick charge to save the battery since I always let it charge overnight in any case. And maybe this could be fixed in software, I have no clue :-).

None of these things are dealbreakers to me and this section was named "nitpicks" for a reason, all-in-all there is not much to complain about which I count as an absolute win :-).


The device comes with Android 9, and other than a launcher that is customized to work better in landscape there is not much changed or added which is a good thing in my opinion. I'm not a huge fan of Android but it's the only way they could sell this to an appreciable amount of people and even am stuck to some social media apps that only work on android because friends.

As you would kind of expect there are some bugs in the firmware since the device is extremely new. I can't put this in the nitpicks section as bugs are definitely being actively fixed and there have already been several updates that improve the situation. F(x)tec actively helping the development of other operating systems like Lineage and Sailfish along is also a huge redeeming factor here as it means we can fix many issues ourselves if we want to (and also it's a very nice thing very few manufacturers bother with).

Given what was stated in the previous paragraph this is sort of beside the point, but for the sake of examples, one bug that bothered me personally was that the keyboard would only register one key at a time. However, I went to fixing this in the kernel code for Lineage that was published, and have now been in contact with the company about this so eventually it should be fixed for everyone :-). Another smaller annoyance is that the keyboard backlight doesn't wake up if the device goes to sleep and is awakened with the keyboard still open. I may look into this next, or someone else may, but I think it's a fair assumption all of such things will be fixed in due time. Other than what I already mentioned there were no serious problems so I'd say the software is good, especially this early (at the time of writing serial numbers of the pre-orders that already shipped appear to be between 0 and 200).

I briefly tried Lineage on the device and everything I tried worked (keyboard, phone calls, SMS, camera). Very nice. I only went back to stock to test bugfixes, but will likely move to Lineage later as it fixes some of the annoyances I have with plain Android 9 such as going to split screen mode being convoluted and annoying while on Lineage it still works like in Android 7 where you longpress the square button and there you go. I could write a book about things that annoy me about Android but that's something for another time. The alternatives have problems, too, but in the end it's flexible enough that you can make it nice enough by investing some time.

Getting root access in both the stock Android and Lineage is easy. By using Magisk manager to patch the boot image, you can download and then flashing it to the device via a PC. I found you can also change the key mapping by editing `/system/usr/keychars/Vendor_181d_Product_5018_Version_0001.kcm` (after remounting / as rw).

Speaking of key mapping, by default the escape key maps to the back key, I don't like it because vim needs esc, but in the aforementioned file you can fix it by adding the line `map key 158 ESCAPE`. Additionally, you can make it send a back key to applications that don't handle esc by modifying the block about the escape key in that file like so:
key ESCAPE {
    base:                               fallback BACK
    alt, meta:                          fallback HOME
    ctrl:                               fallback MENU

If you don't want to root or mess with the system files, Finqwerty can also do this for you :-). A minor but annoying quirk of this fallback is that Firefox and Chrome will accept esc as an escape key on some websites and then get stuck in that behaviour even after you navigate away from that page (YouTube for example). No big deal but it helps to know.

With that out of the way, using SSH on the phone to talk to computers with Connectbot or Termux works like a dream :-). Unrelated to that, android seems to handle keyboard stuff quite acceptably, key combinations like ctrl-a, ctrl-c, ctrl-v, ctrl-z and ctrl with arrow keys work like you'd expect, allowing you to navigate many apps mostly by keyboard. Finding an acceptable text editor / notes app that isn't trashy adware was a chore, but I'm quite happy with Markor, which I'm using to write this review. On other software I've tried the included launcher is pretty alright but KISS Launcher and LaunchTime work quite nicely in landscape mode if you're looking for something different.

I also ended up trying an Android 10 GSI after all what I wrote above, thanks to relatively good compatibility with Project Treble this worked almost flawlessly. The only things I could find that are broken are related to the keyboard (the backlight not working and Android assuming the keyboard is always open, and there is no magic to force apps into landscape mode). A little birdie told me this will improve in the future ;-), and failing all else it wouldn't be extremely hard to modify AOSP to work perfectly with the kernel and vendor images that exist. I think this is pretty awesome, if you need the latest and "greatest" Android 10 already it can be had if you can live with (or fix) the quirks I mentioned.


The final verdict from me is that this is a great phone with a great keyboard. It's everything I could want from an Android smartphone but with a built-in keyboard as I believe they should all have. This is my phone now and I love it. It is the best phone. I love it more than any phone before. I can't imagine being without one anymore and will likely order a second one as backup once retail sales start. It’s exactly what it promised to be and what I’ve wanted, seems quite polished, and is done as well as I'd expect from a big established manufacturer (which Fxtec isn't, yet).

I don't know if this is the best phone for everyone, but if you want a physical keyboard on your phone you should definitely consider the Pro¹. I think it's likely the one you'll want (there's not many options alas, but really, this one is good). If you do think it's also for you, here is their official website were you can (pre?) order it or find out more. There is also an unofficial but very lively and fun Discord chatroom about this phone :-).

Much thanks and appreciation to Chen Liangchen and everyone else in the F(x)tec team for making this device a reality, I hope there will be many more.

- Written on my Pro1 :-)
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