Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
edlinfan

I built my own keyboard phone. Here's what I learned.

Recommended Posts

Hi,

 

In late 2017, I got tired of waiting for the market to produce a good Android keyboard phone, so I made one :) My Galaxy Note 3 has had a Bluetooth keyboard permanently attached for the last two years. It started life as a nasty duct-taped "clamshell", then evolved into the slider you see in the attached pictures.

 

The existence of Fxtec is, honestly, a dream come true. Your hardware is way better than anything I could put together myself. And your design philosophy of "taking the best features from all generations of phone" is something that strongly resonates with me. Needless to say, I have a Pro1 on pre-order, and I can't wait until the summer!

 

Given the UX refinements Fxtec is working on right now, it seems a good time to share some of the good and bad about using a landscape keyboard phone full-time. I may have also been just a little inspired by EskeRahn's post written after using the Pro1 hands on!

 

What has worked well:

 

- Having a keyboard has made the phone useful for many traditional "laptop" jobs, such as longform writing and coding. Speed is about 50% of a fullsize keyboard -- my personal best was 70wpm on Type Racer.

 

- Android's keyboard support is honestly, very good. Ctrl-A to select all, Ctrl-X/C/V for the clipboard, and shift-arrows for text selection are extremely useful, and automatically supported most places.

 

- I use Home/End very frequently for jumping to start/end of current line. Are these keys available on the Pro1? (Or, is there some other way to do this on the Pro1?)

 

- Launching apps by typing their name. In my old version of Android (5.0) it is not supported, except via 3rd party apps. I use an app called Taskbar which binds my Windows key to a pop-up start menu. Then typing will filter apps by name. It is very slick. I'm glad to see the Pro1 has this feature!

 

- App compatibility is, honestly, not as big a problem as I expected. Some apps are ugly in landscape, but it's rare for them to break outright.

 

What could be improved:

 

- Portrait vs. landscape mode. I am wondering if you have considered an option to lock the phone to landscape mode when the keyboard is slid open? My phone does not automatically do this, so I rely on a 3rd party app called Rotation Locker. I have found always, when the keyboard is shut, I want portrait and on-screen keyboard. (This is also a good compatibility-mode for those few ill-behaving apps that don't work in landscape.) Conversely, when the keyboard is slid open, I want landscape.

 

- Keyboard lifetime. In 2 years, my original Bluetooth keyboard wore out, and I had to switch to a spare. How is the lifetime of the Pro1 keyboard? Do you have an approximate # of keystrokes rating?

 

- App switching. I am on Android 5.0 so it is hard to manage the "set" of running applications. This becomes especially relevant when I am using my phone for say, research, and I am switching frequently between a web browser, a pdf and a text editor. How is the built-in app switcher of Android Pie? Does it feel sufficient for heavy workloads like this, or would additional shortcuts help?

 

- (I am jealous of the "long press key" app-shortcut feature from the Pro1. I wish my phone did that! App switching (and managing multiple concurrent apps in general) on phones is very awkward, so every shortcut helps!)

 

- Can the Pro1 keyboard be used to switch panes in Android's built-in "side-by-side multi-tasking" mode? This seems like a very nice "desktop-like" feature that would further aid productivity.

 

Thank you for reading! And thank you for doing what you do. I can't wait for the Pro1 to be ready :)

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Brilliant work, thanks for sharing :). I always found it strange there isn't more slider keyboard cases on the market, I've seen something like it sold for iphones iphone slider keyboard thing and of course the moto mods keyboard. I've always wanted to get one of those iphone keypads and just glue it onto a case for my phone but for whatever reason that never happened (I had a hard time finding them at the time and ended up using a nokia e72 a good long while then forgetting of the plan).

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the nice post edlinfan. And nice tinkering.

I tinkered something for Iphone 6- my self that worked well, had it not been for the horrors of Ios, I might still have been using it....

 

I can confirm that the pro1 indeed offers an option to have it in landscape while open :)

 

And Alt-Tab and Alt-Sh+Tab is supported too (The last triple-combo hard to do hand-held though)

 

I see no reasons why Home/End could not be assigned to a combo. Could be the yellow-arrow plus some arrow key.

 

Frankly I never even tried the pane functionality, imho even these huge 6" screens are too small for splitting. But sure there could be apps where it makes sense. So thus have no idea if there are any handy shortcuts. But if they are in the Android API, I see no reasons why they could not be assigned a key-combo. (To be honest I did not even know how to turn panes on, had to google it...)

I can go ONE way, from the split app TO the rest with Alt+Tab

I tried with various combinations of the modifier keys and arrows/tab - if the return jump is there I did not guess it...

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I’ve always wanted to get one of those iphone keypads and just glue it onto a case for my phone but for whatever reason that never happened

 

I experimented a bit, and as I tried it I could get the keyboards available for Android to work quite well on Ios devices, but not the other way round!

They REGISTER fine by bluetooth, but keystrokes are ignored. I have tried at least five different models.

You can see a little blah blah on those I wrote here a couple of years ago.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I played with a Bluetooth Keyboard slider attachment for the Samsung Galaxy S4 for a while - it was horrible. The reasons for that are, that the thickness was just too much, and the quality of the keyboard itself was even worse than using the on screen keyboard. The clicks were so loud that it was not possible to not attract strange looks while typing, the overall handling was difficult and not thought through, intermittend conneciton issues, especially when i was using other bluetooth connections (hands-free, tethering, filetransfer).. switched back to the Photon Q pretty quickly, but did not stop searching for better solutions of an attachment slider. then there was the Moto Mod, and you know where that journey ends.. cheers to edlinfan for trying so hard and sharing your experience!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

After my Galaxy S Relay got far too slow, I switched to a pixel1 and keyboard. I used the iphone keyboard in the image above, snipped off the edges and superglued to a stock thin pixel1 case. I then use "External Keyboard Helper" to map useful keys like Ctrl so I can use things easier via ssh. The mechanism doesn't last more than a couple months and I've grown tired of repairing them. I do have a spare 3rd keyboard (they're £6 each) but haven't gone through this process yet after the 2nd broke. I reluctantly started to use the on-screen keyboard but miss a fully integrated device. I'm very excited by the F(x)tec Pro1 but had also pre-ordered the Planetcom "cosmo"

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
After my Galaxy S Relay got far too slow, I switched to a pixel1 and keyboard. I used the iphone keyboard in the image above,

 

Interesting that you got an Iphone keyboard to work with android, that failed on my attempts.

The type of keyboard you used looks like similar to the ones I played with, so maybe Samsung had some smart trick to work with Iphone keyboards? I do not quite recall what phones I attempted to connect to. It was my own SonyEricsson (Neo) Pro, but also some of my friends devices at the time.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Samsung Galaxy S Relay was the last good keyboarded android, so I didn't use that with this keyboard. Sorry actually I did as I tested before I got the pixel. But basically I wanted a top of the range phone (this was ~2 years ago) so I used the Google pixel (apparently htc). This is nothing more than basic BT HID I don't see why you'd have any problem with any keyboard unless there are some weird bespoke iPhone keyboards out there.

 

It was actually pretty sweet for a while but the mechanism just grew too wobbly over a couple of months each time eventually being too risky to keep attached to the phone.

 

Listing ended but it was this: https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Apple-Wireless-Bluetooth-Slide-Out-Keyboard-Mini-Case-Cover-For-iPhone-5-5S-SE-/311722685830?var=&hash=item48941eb586:m:mcai0aiKEcfOHDvWPH3ZeMg

 

I have one spare left

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The Samsung Galaxy S Relay was the last good keyboarded android, so I didn’t use that with this keyboard. Sorry actually I did as I tested before I got the pixel. But basically I wanted a top of the range phone (this was ~2 years ago) so I used the Google pixel (apparently htc). This is nothing more than basic BT HID I don’t see why you’d have any problem with any keyboard unless there are some weird bespoke iPhone keyboards out there.

 

It was actually pretty sweet for a while but the mechanism just grew too wobbly over a couple of months each time eventually being too risky to keep attached to the phone.

 

Listing ended but it was this: https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Apple-Wireless-Bluetooth-Slide-Out-Keyboard-Mini-Case-Cover-For-iPhone-5-5S-SE-/311722685830?var=&hash=item48941eb586:m:mcai0aiKEcfOHDvWPH3ZeMg

 

I have one spare left

 

Just tried to pair the Pro1 with an old Iphone BT keyboard I dug up, and look and behold it worked!! (Not that it makes much sense though)

So why it did NOT work with the Android phones I tried earlier I do not know....

 

ADD The same old thing also worked on my Samsung S8- , so all points to the problems I have seen no longer exists??

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Samsung Galaxy S Relay was the last good keyboarded android, so I didn’t use that with this keyboard. Sorry actually I did as I tested before I got the pixel. But basically I wanted a top of the range phone (this was ~2 years ago) so I used the Google pixel (apparently htc). This is nothing more than basic BT HID I don’t see why you’d have any problem with any keyboard unless there are some weird bespoke iPhone keyboards out there.

 

It was actually pretty sweet for a while but the mechanism just grew too wobbly over a couple of months each time eventually being too risky to keep attached to the phone.

 

Listing ended but it was this:

 

I have one spare left

Just tried to pair the Pro1 with an old Iphone BT keyboard I dug up, and look and behold it worked!! (Not that it makes much sense though)

 

So why it did NOT work with the Android phones I tried earlier I do not know….

 

ADD The same old thing also worked on my Samsung S8- , so all points to the problems I have seen no longer exists??

 

I do have the experience that some combinations of bluetooth devices can be amazingly quirky and intermittently decide to not work atall... Maybe you tried it on an unlucky day, or an update came and fixed stuff?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@ravelo I decided to answer in this thread so we will stay in topic.

Pictures: https://imgur.com/a/Pbvpo

The keyboard of my DIY QWERTY Android phone was decent but not particularly great. The build-quality felt cheap but the response of typing was 
surprisingly good. I think that was okay for 20 bucks. The buttons did swing little bit. If I compare the typing experience to Droid 4 I would say it was much worse but acceptable. For me the biggest issue was the missing fifth number row but I managed to solve it with software tweak. I used Minuum Keyboard with Mini Mode for an extra row in landscape. (You could use Null Input Method if you didn't want virtual keyboard at all). If I used to phone portrait there was a tweak which changed the virtual keyboard to another. I used Keyboard Manager to change virtual keyboard based on orientation automatically.

Total dimensions were 139 x 69.6 x 16 mm and weight was about 228 g. The weight distribution was pretty stable. I mean if I opened the keyboard and left the phone to the table it would stay steady. I could even push the screen part and it would go back to where it was. It didn't feel that it was going to flip when I was holding it. Of course there was more weight in the screen part in opposite to Pro1. In summary, it was better than nothing 😊.

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I started the same project a few months ago. I wanted to built the keyboard without bluetooth to save on energy and complexity. I already designed the pcb for the keyboard and also finally found the usb-c to flex cable I needed. Last step was to build the thing and then work on version 2 which would have a usb hub inside to host 2 other usb-c ports which would also support quick charging.

I only stopped working on the project because the fxtec was getting realistic enough. When I first heard about it  I was very skeptical but things seem to work out.

Heres the project repo if anyone is interested: https://gitlab.com/XenGi/mkbd65
Most of the final work on cases and external cabling isn't documented yet because I was still looking for compatible parts. I still haven't found the right sliding rail. Maybe I'll continue work on that. Depends on how happy I am with the pro1. 😛

Edited by XenGi
  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

Terms