Review of the F(x) Tec Pro1 Keyboard Slider Smartphone (2019)

Discussion in 'General Smartphone/Handheld/Wearable Discussion' started by Hook, Dec 25, 2019.

  1. Hook

    Hook Professional Daydreamer

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    Note: This is patched together from several posts in the on-going "Hook Looks For a Future New Phone" thread and edited to (hopefully) make the merge read smoother. I just decided to make it easier for someone searching for information on the Pro 1.

    For more information on the phone and company, or to order, go to F(x) Tec's main web site.



    Hookette loves her new body!

    I've spent two weeks with this phone now and the bottom line up front is this is the best phone I have ever owned. It's not perfect—what is? But it far surpasses expectations. It's incredible to think Chen got this to market in a year.

    [​IMG]

    The first thing you notice is the build quality. This is a solid phone. The body is metal and every joint is tight. There is no wiggle or wobble either when opening or closing the keyboard. By the way, the Pro 1 is only a smidge taller and no wider than my Moto G6, and about 1/3 thicker. The back is not as textured as I was hoping for, but Hookette will stay naked. The phone has a nice heft to it that settles nicely into your hand.

    The keyboard is great. It is a perfect size for my large hands and thumbs. The keys don't make much sound, just a faint click, but they have nice travel which gives good haptic feedback. The combination of good spacing and rounded keys that are slightly higher at the center makes it very easy to type.

    However, there are a few odd things about the keyboard which are surprising. I don't mind the "shifted Qwerty" layout. That means they put a column of keys between far left ESC-TAB-Caps-Shift and Ctrl column and the beginning of the letter keys in order to place the letter keys in the middle of the keyboard. That is a fairly simple motor learning bit. What's strange is all the shifted symbols over the number keys and "/" as well as "?" are colored yellow and require not shift to activate but an odd slanted arrow key that is also yellow. I mean there are two shift keys. Lol.

    The directional arrow keys are nice but their usefulness will depend on software making use of them. Right now I can use them to change home pages, or, if I open a drop down menu in TextMaker with my finger, I can arrow over opening other menus or arrow up and down to make selections. I finally have a D-Pad again, and I hope the Pro 1 becomes popular enough that devs might program for them.

    The one thing that I don't care about but will drive gamers batty is there is no n-key rollover on this keyboard, meaning if you press more than one key, only one key is output. However, there is already a solution for this that will come at some point in an OTA update.

    I should note that opening the keyboard is not trivial. It really takes some pressure. However, it is learnable nd I now open it easily. I can even do it one-handed.

    However, overall, the keyboard is a great experience. I'll hold off a moment while I cover other aspecys of the phone and then will deal with the keyboard in detail and from a writer's perspective.

    The screen is magnificent, a crisp AMOLED with deep blacks and bright colors. I probably should find software that turns down the brightness completely as at their lowest setting it still gives off a bit of light unless you put it in night mode. The color is very rich, although it gets a bit murky at lower brightness levels, as if brightness is somehow yoked with contrast. It's been reported and, as with most bugs on this device, I suspect software is to blame, which is good. As for the screen being curved, I don't mind it. You can get used to the curved screen but you still get accidental consequences from an unintended touch, like launching an app. However, turns out there is great app in the play store called "Edge Null" that can be used to deactivate the curved edges. I can see why folks prefer flat screens with minimum bezel.

    At first, I couldn't get it on Verizon as they do not consider it a device certified for their network. The Verizon techs I went to see went gaga when I opened the keyboard and told them it was a Droid 5. I had to use *#*#4636#*#* to pull up the phone menu and switch on VoLTE provisioning which is off by default. This works because my old Moto G6 was already provisioned for and using VoLTE. Even though the Pro 1 has CDMA, Verizon won't authorize unknown phones to use it. So Verizon still shows my Pro 1 as a Moto G6, which makes it the perfect backup phone.

    The Snapdragon 835 SOC is not a problem. The Pro1 is fast and responsive. Battery life seems good-- it will definitely last a day, but obviously will go down faster if the screen stays on a lot-- which is the downside of being productive. :vbwink: On days where I am testing things all day (and I mean all day) I get down to about 50%.

    Speaking of productive, having a horizontal slider with a 5.9" screen finally makes split screen useful. Here is my word processor (TextMaker) with a manuscript I'm working on along with a pdf that has research open so I can refer to it. And, yes, the type is small but perfectly readable while I'm working.

    [​IMG]

    The software is basic and good. It comes with a very small set of Google Apps which I was grateful for. So far, all of my deal breaker apps do very well in landscape. The only trouble is store type apps which are simply appified web sites, which stubbornly refuse to rotate, but I don't care about them. When Lineage, which is being developed specifically for the Pro1 (also a Sailfish (Linux port)), is ready, I will able to install a much smaller batch of Gapps. I already have the factory image for the Pro 1 stashed away and they have provided instructions for flashing it with ADB and fastboot, so I can play around with stuff pretty freely. I haven't rooted yet, but I'm sure I'll get around to it.

    Their launcher is a version of launcher 3 which they tweaked a bit for being Landscape, but it is a very underfeatured launcher and neither of the two main tweaks work that well. One tweak was to organize the homescreen into columns. This makes it so that switching from landscape to portrait creates less chaos, but it also makes it so widgets won't go in the middle of the screen. Then there is the built in assigning keyboard keys to launch apps. It turns out this has a serious flaw which, I'm sure, will be fixed with an OTA software update at some point (I have had two OTA updates already). Right now, any app that opens up input-ready (login screen for password safe, word processor) will have a string of the letter you are holding down typed into it. I've switched from the stock launcher to Nova, which works well. I suspect there would be more problems if I had more widgets as widget size and placement are more of a challenge. There is a launcher I haven't tried called Total Launcher that lets the portrait and landscape home screens be designed independently.

    [​IMG]

    I haven't had a chance to test sound or camera. Lower priority for me. I was able to log into my friends Linus server with an SSH terminal app and oh boy, was it great having a full keyboard with a Ctrl key and everything.

    Having a physical button for the camera is nice, when I remember to use it. I'm so used to the onscreen button that I just go for it without thinking. The unfortunate thing is it is hardwired to the default camera app (which fortunately is a good one) and can't be reassigned to a different camera app. Pictures seem pretty good, but I don't care enough about having a camera to do a decent review. Same for the speakers, which sound good to me, but I rarely use them.

    Using the Pro1 Keyboard,

    Here is a shot of the Pro 1's qwerty keyboard. (There is also a Qwertz version you can pick when you order).

    [​IMG]

    Th quality of the keyboard is remarkable. The keys are nicely rounded and have just enough space between them. You can see the keys are backlit. The backlighting unfortunately has a serious bug right now. When the screen shuts off, so does the key backlight...but it doesn't come back on when you wake the screen. You have to close and reopen keyboard. :vbrolleyes: The arrow keys are handy. In TextMaker, for example, I have to touch to open one of the menus, but from there I can use the arrow keys like a D-Pad, switching menu dropdown and arrowing up and down to find my selection.

    The layout is referred to as "shifted qwerty" you can see it in the pic above, but it is even clearer in the next pic:

    [​IMG]

    There is an extra column of keys inserted between the marginal modifier keys and the letter keys. This was done to put the letter keys more in the middle so that one thumb didn't need to travel further than the other. It works fine and I think it is only a problem if you already have a different phone keyboard you have been using for years, but seems all right for even those folks to adjust to. It would have made sense to also shift the number keys. The keys have a nice feel. They have a soft click and just enough travel to give your thumbs or fingers feedback. Honestly, typing on this keyboard is fantastic. It's not that it provides faster typing, although I seem to be getting faster, it's that I get about 99% accuracy with much less editing/fixing needed as with an on-screen keyboard with autocorrupt, and that, in the end, makes anything I'm doing faster.

    This final picture shows, for my big hands, the range across the keyboard of one of my thumbs. I easily cover the keyboard with my thumbs.

    [​IMG]


    I like having a Caps Lock (called Caps), unlike most keyboards in the world where I hate it. That's because it is not that easy to hit it accidentally while thumb typing. It has a small green LED that lights up when engaged. The key with the F(x) Tec logo on it (looks like a big F) is a home key. Ctrl keyboard shortcuts all work (Ctrl-C, V , X , A etc). Unfortunately, Alt keyboard shortcuts don't work since there is no num-pad, so I'm not entirely sure what the Alt key is used for. Probably terminal stuff. The Sym key does nothing right now, but I assume it will eventually provide symbols you can select in a future update.

    One curious thing is that the Esc key does not actually do Esc-- if you are using it in a terminal, it won't do what Esc is supposed to do. Instead, it wakes your screen if it has timed out without having to reach for the power button on the back. I love having a key that wakes up the device. Currently there is a problem with their attempts to implement tap-to-wake for the screen, so having a wake-up key is second best.

    The really odd decision they made was to add a slant arrow key (like a Fn key on most keyboards) and have all the special characters (in gold), even the ones over the number keys, be accessed by holding the slant arrow key instead of shift. The only reason I can see is because two of them, / and ? are on letter keys where Shift is needed for Capital letters. Heck, there are two of these slant arrow keys... couldn't they have a /? key? And yes, using the slant arrow key is learnable, it's placement is more awkward than Shift.

    Luckily, there is a great free (and ad free) app called FinQwerty (because the developer is Finnish, I believe.) This is an amazing app that does keyboard reassignments for hardware keyboards including, specifically, the Pro 1. It gives me access to all the special characters with Shift except, of course, / and ?. But that is still much better. I lose the wake-up function because, being a tech guy, he restored Esc to the correct function. Lol. I contacted the dev and I think the next version will assign wake-up to another key. And that's the great thing-- this phone already has a number of devs on-board and it will only increase as the phones get out there. I made a feature request to the FinQwerty dev on a Sunday morning and had an apk to test an hour later. As I mentioned before, we have devs working on Lineage OS and Silverfish (Linux). There is a real community supporting this phone.

    So how is the Pro 1 for writing?

    Superb but not perfect. It is a quality typing experience which makes producing paragraphs of text doable and even pleasant. I wrote several paragraphs of this review on my Pro 1 until I started inserting pictures on my Pro 1 ( I only stopped then because I didn't have the tools on the phone to easily reduce the size of the pictures for BH's requirements). I can definitely use it for editing and making notes. If it's all I have and I need a few paragraphs, it is easy and pretty painless to do. Am I going to write my next novel on my Pro 1? No. But I didn't expect to want to do that. However, it means I can do quite a bit on the only computer that is always with me. I don't have to "wait until I get home so I can do it on a real keyboard."

    I say not perfect because I wish I had been in on the keyboard layout planning sessions. They probably wouldn't have listened to me because I would have pushed writer-centric ideas. :vbgrin: But this is light years ahead of any other handheld I have ever used to try to scale my writing work to. And I expect the community to keep making it better.

    It's a niche, but it is a fantastic pocket computer.

    It was worth the wait! :thumbsup: :newpalm:


    A couple of final notes here. There are no doubt some rough edges in the software, which the much more technically savvy IT folks on the forum are picking up, many of which don't really affect me. I expected this from a small shop effort and from very the picky as well as eagle-eyed folks that are supporting this device. I have no doubt these issues will get resolved.

    Also, the logistics for this device is very messy. This is a small operation the first time through a manufacturing and shipping process. They have a very high QC demand, resulting in discovering a lot of units that fail to pass inspection, obviously slowing down delivery. They also, as a small company, probably have lowest priority to assembly line scheduling and Logistics scheduling. So these devices are rolling out, but it is slow, painful and they aren't great at keeping their customers in the loop. So, yes, if you order one now, you will have a wait. But they are rolling out and I would love to see them get more business. I'm thrilled and lucky to have one.
     
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2019
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  2. boczkowski

    boczkowski be gentle with me

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    :thumbsup: Nice review Hook. I'm glad it was worth the wait.
     
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  3. RickAgresta

    RickAgresta Peanut, leader of the Peanutty Forces

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    Good to see you're still around!
     
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  4. Hook

    Hook Professional Daydreamer

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    Bocz is around a bit more often over on the Flickr Alphasmart forum/group. Glad he stopped by over here.

    https://www.flickr.com/groups/alphasmart/
     
  5. raspabalsa

    raspabalsa Brain stuck BogoMipping

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    Thank you for the comprehensive review, Hook. I'm glad it turned out to be such a finely crafted device. I'd been looking hard at this phone as a possible upgrade, but decided against it because regulations on the countries I travel to make for a very convoluted process to homologate and thus authorize a new phone model. Skip this and the phone will not be allowed into the networks. Still, I upgraded to a new phone just 1 day shy of the new year (see my updated signature :cool:).
     
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  6. Hook

    Hook Professional Daydreamer

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    Nice! Congrats! :newpalm:
     
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  7. scjjtt

    scjjtt A Former Palm User

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    Raspy - congrats on the new phone. Our daughter and her husband just got the S10 last week. Let us know how you like it.

    Mrs scjjtt and I are still using the LG v10. Fortunately, there hasn't been any more boot loops, but recently while talking someone, her and my phone cuts out. We can hear the other person but they can't hear us. Her phone started with the problem first and mine is doing it from time to time. Rebooting the phone seems to fix the problem. I'm thinking of getting new SIM cards before factory reseting the phones. I do have our LG G4's that we could put our SIM cards in. Of course, if it was an app update that caused the problem, I imagine the same would happen on that phone too.

    Maybe it is time for a new phone? The release date for the LG v10 was October 2015. I still like the phone, especially being able to swap out the battery, but if the phone aspect of the phone doesn't work - is it still a phone?

    Anyway, I'd love to hear how you like the S10 and why you decided to make the change.

    Sent from my Samsung Galaxy Tab A (10.1") /128GB using Tapatalk
     
  8. EdmundDantes

    EdmundDantes Mobile Deity

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    I think I might seriously consider it but for the fact that I'm 99 percent ready to go to iPhones and I use Verizon as a carrier.
     
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  9. scjjtt

    scjjtt A Former Palm User

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    I'm happy to report that without doing anything Mrs scjjtt & my LG v 10's have been working fine now receiving & making calls.

    Someone said that it might have had something to do with T-Mobile rolling out their 5 G. I know my phone doesn't support 5 G but something might have been different with the network for a couple of weeks - anyway, our phones are working fine - except my batteries don't last as long as they use to last. I'd hate to invest in some more batteries & the phones die...

    Sent from my Samsung Galaxy S4 using Tapatalk
     
  10. raspabalsa

    raspabalsa Brain stuck BogoMipping

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    I'm glad (and very surprised) to know that your V10s are still working. I think getting new batteries is very much worth it, since they're so easily replaceable. I think I still have two V10 batteries back home. One has never been used, the other has 13 months of use :(. However, both are almost 3 years old and I can't check how much capacity they actually hold. I'll have to wait until the 3rd week of February to check, but if you want them I think I can send them to you, depending on what the Colombian mail service says about sending Li-Poly batteries abroad.
     
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