This 5G smartphone comes with Android, Linux – and a keyboard. Back to the future with the Astro Slide

IT news
astro-slide-modes.jpg

The Astro Slide, in PDA mode (left) and smartphone mode (right).

Images: Planet Computers

London-based Planet Computers is on a mission to reinvent the iconic Psion Series 5 PDA for the smartphone age. Although mobile professionals — especially those old enough to remember the 1997 Series 5 with affection — are often open to the idea, the company’s previous efforts, the Gemini PDA and Cosmo Communicator, have had their drawbacks.

The Gemini PDA, for example, is a landscape-mode clamshell device that, despite a great keyboard, is difficult to make and take calls on and only has one camera — a front-facing unit for video calling. The Cosmo Communicator adds a small external touch screen for notifications and some basic functions plus a rear-facing camera, but you still have to open the clamshell to do anything productive.

The Astro Slide, announced today via a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, has a new design with one large (6.53-inch) screen that slides open to reveal the keyboard, transforming the device from a portrait smartphone to a landscape PDA via a patented RockUp mechanism.

astro-slide-main.jpg

The Astro Slide’s patented RockUp mechanism transforms the device from portrait smartphone to landscape PDA.

Images: Planet Computers

Here’s how the Astro Slide stacks up against its two predecessors.

Planet Computers phone/PDA specs

Astro Slide

Cosmo Communicator

Gemini PDA

Dimensions

164 x 76.6 x 15mm

171.4 x 79.3 x 17.3mm

171.4 x 79.3 x 15.1mm

Form factor

palmtop transformer with RockUp Slider and physical keyboard (backlit)

clamshell with physical keyboard (backlit)

clamshell with physical keyboard

Weight

300g

326g

308g

Chipset

MediaTek Dimensity 1000

MediTek Helio P70

MediaTek Helio X27

RAM

6GB

6GB

4GB

Internal storage

128GB

128GB

64GB

MicroSD slot

yes

yes

yes

Operating system

Android 10

Android 9 (Pie)

Android 8.1 (Oreo)

Linux support

Sailfish, Debian, Kali

Sailfish, Debian, Kali

Sailfish, Debian, Kali

Battery

4000mAh

4220mAh

4220mAh

Fast charging

yes

yes

yes

Wireless charging

yes (Qi)

no

no

Display size

6.53 inches

5.99 inches

5.99 inches

Resolution

2340 x 1080 (395ppi)

2160 x 1080 (403ppi)

2160 x 1080 (403ppi)

Multi-touch

yes

yes

yes

Scratch-resistant glass

yes

yes

yes

External screen

n/a

1.91-inch touch OLED

no

Rear camera

48MP

24MP

5MP (optional add-on)

Front camera

5MP

5MP

5MP

SIM slots

2 x Nano SIM

2 x Nano SIM

1 x Micro SIM

eSIM

yes

yes

no

Wi-fi

802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6)

802.11ac

802.11ac

Cellular

5G

4G LTE

optional 4G LTE

Bluetooth

5.1

5.0

4.1

GPS

yes

yes

yes

NFC

yes

yes

no

Sensors

accelerometer, ambient light, gyroscope, magnetic sensor

accelerometer, compass, ambient light, gyroscope, magnetic sensor

accelerometer, compass, ambient light, gyroscope, magnetic sensor

Fingerprint reader

yes

yes

no

USB

2 x USB-C

2 x USB-C

2 x USB-C

Microphone

ambient noise suppression

ambient noise suppression

integrated ambient

3.5mm audio jack

yes

yes

yes

Price (inc. VAT)

£799 (target)

£799

£499 (Wi-Fi only), £599 (4G + Wi-Fi)

As with the Gemini PDA and Cosmo Communicator, the designer behind the form factor is Martin Riddiford, who was also responsible for the industrial design of the original Psion Series 5.

“We started this process by looking at devices with dual screens, which we thought was a big compromise on the keyboard,” Janko Mrsic-Flogel, CEO of Planet Computers, told ZDNet. “Then we looked at the usual kind of flip-up, like the F(x)tec, but that reduced the size of the keyboard. So we came up with a couple of designs that didn’t compromise on the keyboard — we patented both, and are launching one of them now.”

When closed, the 6.53-inch Astro Slide looks like a conventional large-screen smartphone — albeit a hefty one, thanks to the physical keyboard. It measures 76.6mm wide by 164mm deep by 15mm thick and weighs 300g, compared to 73.7mm x 161.9mm x 7.8mm and 186g for Samsung’s Galaxy S20+ for example.

The Astro Slide is powered by MediaTek’s flagship Dimensity 1000 chipset, a 7nm SoC with an integrated 5G modem that provides support for dual 5G SIMs and carrier aggregation resulting in up to 4.7Gbps performance. The standard model, with a target price of £799, will come with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage (expandable via MicroSD), although Mrsic-Flogel said there may be a premium model with more RAM and 1TB of storage in due course. It supports Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and has a 48MP rear camera — a big step up from the Cosmo Communicator’s 24MP. The front-facing camera is unchanged at 5MP.

SEE: IT pro’s guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (free PDF)

The Astro Slide runs on Android 10, with a multi-boot option supporting various Linux distributions. It comes with Planet Computers’ software suite — Agenda (calendaring & to-do lists), Airmail (email), Data (database) and Notes (note-taking & dictation). One software tweak for the Astro Slide will be the ability to specify different quick-access icons for portrait and landscape mode.

Summing up “the first 5G phone with a keyboard”, Mrsic-Flogel said: “It’s a little bit of a departure…it looks like a PDA, but will provide even better no-compromise functionality for portrait and landscape use, and one-handed use, which was missing a little bit. Cosmo Communicator users appreciate the ‘semi-engaged’ mode when the device is closed and the ‘fully engaged’ mode when it’s open. That’s great for Nokia Communicator/Psion users, but we really wanted to bring more people into the fold. We see this more for the BlackBerry people who want a keyboard on a traditional smartphone.”

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