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An early review of the F(x)tec Pro1. Early in my experience, (about a week) and early in the release timeline, probably.

1: Background
I have been a fan of phones with Keyboards since at least 2002 with the Palm Treo 755p. After that, I had the Palm Treo Po (windows mobile), Samsung Epic 4G (my first horizontal slider and first android phone), and Motorola Photon Q. In 2015, I got tired of waiting for another high-end keyboard phone, and tried a Samsung Note 4, hoping that the larger screen real estate would make up for the missing keyboard. In 2017, when the Indiegogo campaign was launched for the keyboard mod, I backed it right away (in February). I bought a Z2 Force in October, expecting to use it with the keyboard mod soon thereafter. So I am a fairly die-hard keyboard phone user, but not as committed as some.

This is a very personal review. My use cases may not match yours, so take these things with a grain of salt. I am a software engineer that uses linux all day.

The review will generally go from least to most interesting... The keyboard is at the end.

2: Software
2.1: Android

This is my first device with android 9, and I assume most of the differences between this and the Z2 force are due to differences in android. Overall, everything is fine. Android behaves very well. It's very smooth, and I haven't run into any crashes. I used the included launcher briefly, and it worked fine, but I've switched back to Nova which also works. The gesture control for switching apps is a bit different, and this is the first android phone I've had without a physical home button, but the software versions work well once I got used to the new gestures.

Android Auto has a minor improvement over the Z2: It can work with the screen off and locked. This will save a small amount of battery and may help prevent screen burn-in.

2.1.1: Brightness

One weird thing that has changed is the way automatic brightness works. On the Z2 Force, automatic brightness seemed to still take the brightness slider into account, so if a room was bright, and the slider was midway along, the phone would be somewhat less than full brightness in practice, and if the room was dim, the screen was really dim. Android 9 seems to only have one brightness level, and the automatic brightness adjusts it over the full range, ignoring any previous setting. I have found myself repeatedly lowering the brightness. This is probably just ingrained paranoia about battery life, which really hasn't been an issue.

2.1.2: WiFi Calling
One disappointment has been the lack of WiFi Calling. I was surprised by this. My Z2 had working WiFi Calling with the same SIM. It was a T-Mobile phone with a T-Mobile ROM, and this is all on an MVNO on T-Mobile, so that may be why it worked on the previous device. I had thought that WiFi Calling was now pretty much a standard OS-level feature, but I guess that could be wrong. Either way, reception is pretty good, actually, so this hasn't been an issue.

2.2: Support for customization
I'm very happy that F(x)tec supports customization of the software in so many ways. The ability to root a phone is critical to me. I have been able to customize what I want to, and have also been able to still apply OTA updates by flashing back the stock boot and system images, and then re-rooting afterwards. This and the unlocked bootloader is as good support as I've ever seen from a manufacturer.

3: Hardware

3.1: Body
The Pro1 is heavy. There's no getting around this. It's about the same weight as my Z2 with the battery mod, which isn't really that bad. If feels solid. Fits fine in a pocket.

The surface of most of the phone is an almost-shiny, but still matte finish. It is not the most slippery phone I've ever owned, but it is the most slippery one that I can't put a case on. I would definitely like to have some sort of a case on this phone, if only to improve the grip.

The phone is tricky to hold in general. The curved screen and the awkward location of the fingerprint sensor really make it difficult to get a safe grip on the phone without accidentally providing input somewhere. This has gotten *slightly* better as I've gotten used to the device, but it is still awkward. A rubberized surface like the Photon 4G Q had would make a huge difference.

3.2: Speakers

The speakers are definitely loud enough, but sound a little bit over-driven when volume is raised all the way up. Clicked down a couple ticks from max, and they sound pretty good. Definitely tinny, with almost no bass, but for a device this size they're fine. For any serious listening, they won't replace headphones. And hey, there's a headphone jack!

3.3: Performance

I'm not sure why or how, but despite having the same chipset, the Pro 1 definitely performs better than the Z2 Force. While setting up the Pro 1, I had occasion to compare several expensive operations side by side, ad the Z2 took more than twice as long to perform some operations. Maybe this is due to other hardware like memory or flash storage, or maybe it's due to android 9, but the results are a nice improvement.

3.4: Battery Life

Battery life seems more than acceptable so far. Better than the Z2 Force without the battery mod, but probably not better than it with the mod.

3.5: Screen

The screen is very good. Coming from the 1440p on the Z2 Force, I don't notice the lower resolution at all. It looks great. Seems brighter and more vibrant than the Z2 as well. Really seems comparable to the Samsung phones I've had, who are known for their excellent screens. I have not really used it outside, yet, but it is very bright, and there shouldn't be any issues.

It is a glossy screen. The included screen protector is also glossy, and has a *slightly* rubbery feel, which is actually quite nice.

The only negative about the screen, and in my opinion the worst thing about the phone is the screen curvature. As feared, the curved screen is constantly plagued with unintended inputs. The curve also seems to always have a glare when the phone is held horizontally. Reading text on the curved screen edge is more difficult, and is distracting. Overall, I don't think this is quite a *fatal* flaw, but I do wish that F(x)tec had chosen something more functional over this aesthetic choice.

3.6: Hinge mechanism
I've had multiple slider keyboards before, but this is my first hinged keyboard. The mechanism seems strong, like it will last a long time. I just pulled my Photon 4G out to compare, and the Pro 1 is definitely much more difficult to hold securely while opening the screen. Part of this is due to the curved screen, and part is due to where the fingers at the "top" have to be to give the initial input to start the opening movement. It's not a big difference, though. More practice will probably make it more natural.

There is a satisfying "thunk" sound when the keyboard is fully opened. There are two small rubber pads that the edge of the screen lands on when the screen is fully open which cushion the impact. When closing, there is a satisfying "clack" as the parts come together.

3.7: Buttons

The power button and volume buttons are in the middle of the side of the phone. I would really prefer it if they were higher on the side. There is very little to distinguish the buttons by feel other than size. Some sort of texture difference might have been nice, especially since they are so close together.

The camera button *is* textured differently, but it doesn't actually need to be, since it's at the corner of the phone. The camera button feels mushy, or like an analog button rather than one with two "steps". With a long-press, it opens the camera app. A soft press focuses, and a harder press takes a picture, but there is no physical feedback that it is done. While it's great that there *is* a camera button, just about everything else about it could be improved.

3.8: Fingerprint sensor

The fingerprint sensor works well, but is in a bad location. It is in a location that is extremely easy to touch, since it's on the lower half of the phone, but that also means it's *too* easy to touch. More than half the time when I go to actually use the fingerprint sensor to unlock the phone, the screen either says "Too many attempts. Try again later." or the phone is already unlocked. Neither of these are good outcomes.

It's also rather difficult to reach the sensor when the screen is open, since it's then in the middle of the back of the phone.

If F(x)tec ever makes another device, I would highly recommend moving the fingerprint sensor somewhere else. Somewhere near the top end of the phone would make it harder to accidentally touch and easier to touch while in landscape. And to head off the counter-argument, there would be far less risk of accidental touches when in landscape than it has now. I've never accidentally hit the camera button, for example. Another better location would be near the camera, where some Samsung phones have it.

A case might improve this as well, by making it harder to accidentally hit the sensor.

3.9: Camera
I have not used the camera very much, yet. Initial impressions are that it is better than the Z2.

The camera app has lots of options. I appreciate especially that the there is an option to disable the shutter sound.

Oddly, the icons used in the camera app for the shutter and video appear to be low resolution or fuzzy, somehow.

3.10: Keyboard
So after all those complaints, is the phone good? Yes, because of the keyboard. There hasn't been an option for a device like this in years, so the bar is pretty low, but F(x)tec did a really nice job with the keyboard. The feel is excellent, the layout is decent (more below) and the presence of all the modifier keys is great. I already feel fairly comfortable using this keyboard, and I'm sure it will get even better. I typed about half of this review on the phone with the keyboard.

The keyboard is a bit wide. I have fairly large hands, and sometimes need to reach a little, but really only when crossing over to a key on the other side. I can comfortably reach to T, G, V with my left thumb and to T, F, V with my right, and can reach one key further without too much trouble. The keyboard size is or course balanced by the screen size, and it's really nice to have all that real estate. I really like this size overall.

3.10.1: Layout
The layout of this keyboard could be debated forever. On the plus side, there are keys for just about everything, including six different modifier keys, with three of the on both sides of the keyboard. Control, shift, and yellow arrow are on both sides, while Alt, the F(x)tec key, and the Sym key are only on the left. I have yet to need to use the F or Sym keys at all. The Alt key has been useful, but only as a proxy for the arrow key, which some apps don't recognize.

I wish the arrow key did not exist. Most of the keys with yellow symbols would normally just use the shift key. Using a different key for these is distracting and unnecessary, and not supported by all apps. The only remaining symbols are ? and /. It would be better, IMHO, to lose one or both of the arrow keys to have these on a separate key.

3.10.2: Software support
As above, support for the yellow arrow key is tied to the android system keyboard layout. Some apps, probably in an attempt to provide customizable support for hardware keys, don't use the system layout and either don't see the arrow key at all, or see it as a regular key and not a modifier. Fortunately most of these apps do see the Alt key, and can use that instead for the symbols that need it.

The Escape key is usually mapped to "Back" in Android, and only a few apps support mapping it back to Escape. I had to switch terminal emulators (to Termux) to get proper support for Escape.

Software that I use extensively in landscape mode with the keyboard include: Termux (terminal/ssh client), Cataclysm: Dark Days ahead (roguelike game, can't map the escape key to escape), Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup (roguelike game, does not see the arrow key but can map keys), and various other apps to a lesser extent whenever exact input is required.

4: Conclusion
This is easily the best keyboard phone I've ever owned. All the previous ones have had significant shortcomings. The Epic 4G had less memory (or was it storage?) than its generational siblings, the Photon had a terrible camera, and of course the older Treos were portrait, and non-sliders, so they sacrificed a ton of screen real estate. And of course being modern, the Pro 1 beats them all by a mile spec-wise.

It's also probably the best android phone I've ever owned. The Note 4 might be competitive, objectively, since it was a true flagship and excelled at nearly everything, for its time, but side-by-side I'd pick the Pro 1 nine days out of ten.

There is still room for improvement, though. Besides the minor annoyances above, there has never been a true "flagship" horizontal slider phone since the Droid 1. Of course, a "flagship" would probably also mean no headphone jack, no repairability, and a much higher price, so maybe this *is* the best phone we could realistically have.

 

5. Addendum

5.1: "Just works"

Things that weren't mentioned above because they "just work" and have been no problem at all:

  • Bluetooth
  • Wifi
  • sd card
  • GPS

 

Edited by zurvan2
Added section for "just works"
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Regarding 2.1.2: WiFi Calling: Another user reported working wifi calling with T-mobile after getting the phone "approved" by them.

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17 minutes ago, zurvan2 said:

Maybe that will eventually trickle down to the MVNOs.

Did you try calling the MVNO to ask if they can enable it?

Great review.

Edited by david

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Mint forums have people posting similar questions. Mint does not have the ability to enable the phone on the T-Mobile network, and T-Mobile won't talk to you if you aren't their customer. So basically T-Mobile would have to approve the device type entirely to get it to work.

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Great review, @zurvan2 I agree pretty much with everything.

This is by far the best Android phone I have ever owned (previously a title held by my Nexus 5 which I had 4 years).  Although I felt this way long before I had a Pro 1 to hold in my hands, I just shake my head at people saying that the phones specs are aging.  The phone has exactly what it needs to create a completely premium experience.

On the fingerprint sensor, I just find it difficult, but not a problem as I prefer no to use it.  In fact, I have my lockscreen set to swipe.  I also plan to carry it without a case.  Despite some slickness, it seems to me the weight helps it settle firmly in the hand.  Guess I'm just a risk taker.  😉 However, I would never put any phone or PDA in my shirt pocket.  My devices have always had the left front pocket of my pants reserved for them.

Great comments all around.

Edited by Hook
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1 hour ago, Hook said:

Great review, @zurvan2 I agree pretty much with everything.

My thoughts exactly.  The only things I think I might mentioned differently is that I find it difficult to open/close and am really hoping I get the hang of it soon, and I don't notice it being any faster than Moto Z2F (but still plenty fast).  And haven't used wifi calling thru carrier (although I do use gvoice for such no problem.)

On the auto-brightness, it's supposed to learn from your changes where you like it, so over time it should get better, but for now mine is not behaving well either.

Edited by Craig
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Nice review.

I would recommend having a look at FinQWERTY. He is placing the final touch on an improved US for qwertY as well as an improved German for the qwertZ. It is basically to have shift combined with digits and some symbol keys giving the same as currently requires the Fn (Yellow arrow) key.

Hopefully this will also be included in the stock drivers in a later OTA update. But I guess they are too busy with more important stuff to improve this. A pity in MHO as the keyboard is THE thing for this device, so it would have been better of it was closer to perfect at launch, than awaiting an OTA update.

Keep an eye on this page, to see when he takes it from test to live 😎

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19 minutes ago, Craig said:

My thoughts exactly.  The only things I think I might mentioned differently is that I find it difficult to open/close and am really hoping I get the hang of it soon, and I don't notice it being any faster than Moto Z2F (but still plenty fast).  And haven't used wifi calling thru carrier (although I do use gvoice for such no problem.)

On the auto-brightness, it's supposed to learn from your changes where you like it, so over time it should get better, but for now mine is not behaving well either.

(also there is one minor mistake in your review Z; you say there are Alt keys on both sides, whereas its actually slant arrow that's on both sides and only one Alt key.)

I have found it really helpful on opening the keyboard to grip it completely on the left half, one thumb near the left edge and one thumb in the middle.  It allows me to provide more force without firing off the camera and I'm just more confident with it.

I never ever used or trusted autobrightness on Android.  I am quite capable of adjusting my own appropriate brightness and is almost always a lower setting than autobrightness. I tend to distrust anything in Android whose function name starts with "auto" 😄

Also, I forgot to comment above, the screen does very well in direct sun as long as brightness is turned up, but even at lower levels, you can see enough to adjust the brightness. 😉

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1 minute ago, Hook said:

I have found it really helpful on opening the keyboard to grip it completely on the left half, one thumb near the left edge and one thumb in the middle.  It allows me to provide more force without firing off the camera and I'm just more confident with it.

Those having issues opening: Two things

* It is super easy to lift the rear rather than pushing the front
* The problem pushing is that the intuitive thing to do is to push flat, but that is NOT the way to do it. It is super easy once you get it (like biking) but a bit complex the first few times. It is a movement of a few mm that is needed, and actually is a complex movement I tried to describe in an exaggerated image here and what those arguing for at completely flat screen does not realise is, that it would be HARD (if not impossible?) to open as pushing the top of a box shaped top. See the small gif in the link above, and follow the curve of the top edge closely. There is a VERY good reason why e.g. the E7 had the slanted edge, and the curved screen serves the same purpose here.

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52 minutes ago, Craig said:

(also there is one minor mistake in your review Z; you say there are Alt keys on both sides, whereas its actually slant arrow that's on both sides and only one Alt key.)

Great catch, fixed.

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27 minutes ago, Hook said:

I have found it really helpful on opening the keyboard to grip it completely on the left half, one thumb near the left edge and one thumb in the middle.  It allows me to provide more force without firing off the camera and I'm just more confident with it.

This seems to work really well. I think my problem before was trying to do the same thing with both hands. Holding the base with one hand, while opening with the other gives a reassuring amount of grip.

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2 hours ago, EskeRahn said:

Those having issues opening: Two things

* It is super easy to lift the rear rather than pushing the front
* The problem pushing is that the intuitive thing to do is to push flat, but that is NOT the way to do it. It is super easy once you get it (like biking) but a bit complex the first few times. It is a movement of a few mm that is needed, and actually is a complex movement I tried to describe in an exaggerated image here and what those arguing for at completely flat screen does not realise is, that it would be HARD (if not impossible?) to open as pushing the top of a box shaped top. See the small gif in the link above, and follow the curve of the top edge closely. There is a VERY good reason why e.g. the E7 had the slanted edge, and the curved screen serves the same purpose here.

Back when I saw fxtec would use pretty much the same mechanism as the E7 it was all I needed to know. You really have to build the muscle memory first but then it is the most satisfying thing. Your image illustrates it very well.

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Great review!

You said that the sound was ‘tinny’. Something I didn’t want to hear!

I use the Blackberry Passport and am spoilt with its great sound, to the extent that when I bought the Key2, I couldn’t sell it quickly enough. It was so tinny. Just totally unacceptable. 
I don’t know if you have ever had a Passport or Key2 but, if you have, how does the Pro1 compare?

Cheers!

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7 minutes ago, Daal said:

I don’t know if you have ever had a Passport or Key2 but, if you have, how does the Pro1 compare?

I don't. I can only compare it to the Z2 Force, really. The Z2 had a pretty good speaker. Side-by side, the Z2 has a bit more bass and "fullness" to the sound. (not scientific at all, here, just a quick impression). Might be improved a bit by using the Equalizer, depending on the app.

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Thanks for your reply, Zurvan.

I know exactly what you mean. The Passport has a lovely ‘full bodied’ sound which is probably the same as the Z2.

Having a conversation on the Passport speakerphone is a very pleasant experience whereas on the Key2.........😔

Unfortunately, it may be the same on thePro1. I’m afraid the Passport has spoilt me!

Thanks, Zurvan!
 

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7 hours ago, EskeRahn said:

Those having issues opening: Two things

* It is super easy to lift the rear rather than pushing the front
* The problem pushing is that the intuitive thing to do is to push flat, but that is NOT the way to do it. It is super easy once you get it (like biking) but a bit complex the first few times. It is a movement of a few mm that is needed, and actually is a complex movement I tried to describe in an exaggerated image here and what those arguing for at completely flat screen does not realise is, that it would be HARD (if not impossible?) to open as pushing the top of a box shaped top. See the small gif in the link above, and follow the curve of the top edge closely. There is a VERY good reason why e.g. the E7 had the slanted edge, and the curved screen serves the same purpose here.

I was a little oversimplifying with my previous description and I suspect I am doing what you describe here.  What I experience it as is that when I give a quick push with my thumbs, the screen travels a very short distance, my fingers grip the rear causing the rear of the screen to ride up on the fingers. Then without lifting the back any more (I find it fights you if you try to do that) a second harder push from the front snaps the screen back and into place behind the keyboard.  The first few times it's really clumsy and awkward, but pretty soon it's a quick and simple two-step.

Then again, it may be that there are an array of movements that will all work and it is whatever one you stumble on first and practice.  😄

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1 hour ago, Hook said:

I was a little oversimplifying with my previous description and I suspect I am doing what you describe here.  What I experience it as is that when I give a quick push with my thumbs, the screen travels a very short distance, my fingers grip the rear causing the rear of the screen to ride up on the fingers. Then without lifting the back any more (I find it fights you if you try to do that) a second harder push from the front snaps the screen back and into place behind the keyboard.  The first few times it's really clumsy and awkward, but pretty soon it's a quick and simple two-step.

Then again, it may be that there are an array of movements that will all work and it is whatever one you stumble on first and practice.  😄

Yup. If you (when closed) try to push it parallel, it 'locks', but if you try to push it slightly DOWNwards you will see, that the back lifts up, and I guess that is what you do manually. You really only need a single thumb, and not a hard press at all, when you get the odd movement in your muscle memory. The whole movement is a few mm only. Exagerrated here:

Pro1_Open_sketch.png

We should have someone good at making videos do a nice slow motion close up video of it, so people can get an "AHA, is that all it takes!"

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2 minutes ago, EskeRahn said:

Yup. If you (when closed) try to push it parallel, it 'locks', but if you try to push it slightly DOWNwards you will see, that the back lifts up, and I guess that is what you do manually. You really only need a single thumb, and not a hard press at all, when you get the odd movement in your muscle memory. The whole movement is a few mm. Exagerated here:

Pro1_Open_sketch.png

Yeah, now that I understand the two step, I have finally been able to start doing it one handed (on a surface, lol). Getting much easier now. (until tomorrow morning when I have to relearn it again. 😄  )

 

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3 minutes ago, Hook said:

Yeah, now that I understand the two step, I have finally been able to start doing it one handed (on a surface, lol). Getting much easier now. (until tomorrow morning when I have to relearn it again. 😄  )

 

It is just like riding a bike, hard at first, but then super easy....

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10 hours ago, EskeRahn said:

Nice review.

I would recommend having a look at FinQWERTY. He is placing the final touch on an improved US for qwertY as well as an improved German for the qwertZ. It is basically to have shift combined with digits and some symbol keys giving the same as currently requires the Fn (Yellow arrow) key.

Hopefully this will also be included in the stock drivers in a later OTA update. But I guess they are too busy with more important stuff to improve this. A pity in MHO as the keyboard is THE thing for this device, so it would have been better of it was closer to perfect at launch, than awaiting an OTA update.

Keep an eye on this page, to see when he takes it from test to live 😎

Have a sneak view of the extra layouts he is experimenting with: https://android.onse.fi/finqwerty/pro1-test18.html

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26 minutes ago, EskeRahn said:

Have a sneak view of the extra layouts he is experimenting with: https://android.onse.fi/finqwerty/pro1-test18.html

image.thumb.png.79e36c2cd8ba59db63dd3017e66aa54f.png

 

This is awesome!  This is what Fxtec should have shipped with!   Makes me really wish I'd ordered QWERTZ!

It took me a few minutes to understand how to understand his layouts as I've never paid attention to these before, but for anyone whose new like me, the first character on the key is normal, the second is with shift, and the third is with slant arrow (he calls function).  The pink means it is different than printed. The ones that have a grey accent too means you can add it to the letters on that key by pressing sym after you type the letter (I think - havent tried yet).  For example if I want é I do e then sym.

I looked at his attempted at US qwerty... impossible to make it as good as qwertz I fear... and he forgot question mark, but I understand its WIP.

 

Edited by Craig

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Curved screen:

Is it possible to disable the touch area at the curves? How?

 

Mushy camera button:

It should be possible to enable a slight vibration when the first press is reached...

 

Key functionality:

Is [tab] recognized in Android? As far as I know and as far as virtual keyboards can do, only a space is inserted (instead of jumping to the next section): ' '.

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