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My honest review of the Pro1 after almost 1 year of owning it


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First of all I would like to say I've been on quite the quest for a handheld device like the Pro1. I'm a Linux sysadmin and Linux enthusiast. I have Linux on both my home and laptop computers. I have a customised desktop environment containing my workflow made up of scripts and programs I created over time to make me more productive. My quest has been to find a device that let's me work in the Linux environment at an actual usable level while on the go.

Well, I can safely say the Pro1 is that device!

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In the picture above is my Pro1 running Arch Linux inside a chroot with full root access and separate user account. It is connected to via VNC, and the connection is pretty good. The window manager is i3. I have all my programs running here such as neomutt, weechat, vim, tmux, ssh connections, mosh connections, sshfs mounts, and even full chromium with extensions. I was even able to do some coding here and it was quite pleasant.

A lot went into this project to make it usable for me, because out of the box Linux on it is not functional. So I wrote a lot of scripts and did a lot of research to fix all of the bugs and glitches I encountered while setting it up. Back in July it was finally usable.

So, I said this is the device for me, but I was getting ahead of myself...

I decided to get the Pro1 back when the pre-order launched and I think I got my device around November 2019. I was following the Moto Keyboard since it appeared previously. I had a Galaxy Note 9 at the time but for the Pro1 with it's keyboard I was willing to switch from it. I transferred all of my content and apps, and after it was finally done and ready to use the device as my daily driver I put away my Note 9. 

I did a video call to my fiance. But, she was shocked to see that the quality of my picture was terrible and asked if I was sick because the colour was missing. She sent me a screenshot, and the best way to describe it is that it looks like a 90s webcam with 320x320 resolution and absolutely no colour depth... This was present on both Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger calls. It was absolutely no comparison to the quality of the Note 9. On top of that, she could not hear me speak well and said the microphone level was too low. So I put in my headset. She could hear me fine after that... but she could also loudly hear herself talking. It was unusable for her when I called her.

Back then we were not living together and could not visit each other, so it was very important that we could properly communicate through video call. I had to unfortunately put the Pro1 aside and wait for this to be fixed. I informed Liang Chen directly about it and he said he's working on it.

During this pandemic me and my fiance got the chance to be together, so I decided to go back to the Pro1 after the first stable build of Lineage OS 16 was released. I tested the video calls, but it was the camera issue from before and microphone issue still present like in stock. This time I just decided to go forward with using the phone and my other friends have to put up with the poor quality.

I have been using the Pro1 as my only device since July until November 2020, these are my final thoughts...
Pros
- For my Linux use case, it absolutely does the job because the keyboard is really good (albeit a few bugs).
- It charges very quickly.
- It provides a reasonably good Android environment.
- People see it and ask what it is!

Cons
- I did not have a single video call with people not telling that they A could not hear me or B that my picture was very bad. The same can be said with standard calls, with people claiming that I'm breaking up constantly.
- Taking pictures with the camera was not enjoyable as it would randomly crash often, fail to take the pictures without informing me it failed, and taking 2-3 seconds to take a single picture. I was used to opening my Note 9 camera, snapping quick a few times, and picking the best ones. I stopped taking pictures and videos because of the crashes.
- Finger print reader to unlock only seems to work 1/10 times, with me taking long to just unlock the device before I give up and just enter my pin and curse it every time. When I need to use my phone I look like an idiot staring at a blank screen while the fingerprint reader fails on me.
- I'm getting very slow performance of the phone, bootup takes over 2 mins and apps in the background are frequently "killed" so that when I open them again they have to reload. Also slow response of apps themselves, which slowly but surely gets on my nerves.
- With the placement of the power button I often press it by mistake, or find that the torch turned itself on and drained my battery in my pocket. I like that shortcut to use the torch so I'd rather not disable it.
- I found the keyboard enters random characters or brings up the symbols box, as if its lagging. It also misses keys quite often making it annoying.

Honest Verdict
In this day and age some of the most important features of a smart phone are the camera, being able to call and do video calls, and being fast/snappy. If I am totally honest, I am getting tired of using the Pro1 and putting up with the cons I listed. If the phone had no keyboard then I would have to say it would be a really average/borderline bad phone. It's got to the point where when someone asks what it is, I have to tell them that I can't recommend the device to them simply because it fails on the most simple aspects of what makes a phone these days. And it really hurts to say that, because I am in a love hate relationship where I pendulate between never using any other phone, and then I am reminded of the cons when they appear every day in my life.

So, I have a strong feeling I will be stepping off the Pro1 train soon and moving on to another device. That also goes for the Pro1-X, because from what I can see it's the same phone but just with an extra 2GB of memory. That's nice, but the phone needs much more than that. I will be checking out the Pro2, the Pro3, and whatever else comes from FxTec because they have still pulled off an amazing feat of engineering. Thanks FxTec very much for making the Pro1 and giving something to us keyboard lovers 🙂

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Are you on stock Anroid, or? If you do not need apps that requires it pass the safteynet test, then Lineage or AICP gives you a less buggy environment.

I too are a bit tired that calls only work stable with a headset on stock. I seldom use calls, and have not even tried video calls, so not as bad for my usage pattern. The camera works fine for snaps for me.

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27 minutes ago, Linkandzelda said:

Taking pictures with the camera was not enjoyable as it would randomly crash often, fail to take the pictures without informing me it failed, and taking 2-3 seconds to take a single picture. I was used to opening my Note 9 camera, snapping quick a few times, and picking the best ones. I stopped taking pictures and videos because of the crashes.

I had the same behavior with the stock camera app, clearing data/cache for it in settings->apps fixed that (it seems permanently). My best guess is that an updated version of the app can't cope with the data from the original version that comes on the phone.

Also my friends never complained of video quality, but they're used to me using a potato cam so I'm not sure that means anything xD.

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Thanks for posting your experience. I think my use-case is quite similar to yours.

I also use a self-made chroot with several user accounts. Also for me, setting this up has been a trial-and-error process (as this is my first Android phone). I posted my present set-up (including the chroot script) in another thread. Any suggestions for improvement are most welcome!

In your post, one thing in particular caught my attention:

On 11/27/2020 at 7:09 AM, Linkandzelda said:

 [...] It is connected to via VNC, and the connection is pretty good. [...] I was even able to do some coding here and it was quite pleasant. [...]

May I ask what combination of VNC-server (in the chroot) and VNC-client (in Android) you are using? At least among the FOSS VNC viewers, I found none to fully support the Pro1 keyboard. Mostly, the level-3 key events would not arrive at the VNC server, hence making programming impossible. I was not able to fix this X-server-side (with xmodmap et al.). So I now wrap my VNC in XRDP and connect from Android using MS (sic) Remote Desktop 8. This solution works nicely for me (including the keyboard), but probably does add some unnecessary connection overhead. Are you on stock Android 9 or LineageOS now (asking as I think there are differences in the keyboard drivers)?

I agree with you that the Pro1 -- while making a remarkably useful miniature Linux computer -- does have its flaws as a phone. Mostly I am not happy about the bad quality of the main camera (mostly software problems, I guess) and the poor WiFi reception (manages to loose signal within my 40 m² flat, hadn't thought that was possible).

However, I think that despite these small problems, the Pro1 functions sufficiently well also as a "regular smartphone". This dual-use scenario (smartphone + GNU/Linux palmtop) is precisely what I was looking for in the Pro1, and I believe it fulfills this double role quite well (or at least better than all competitors I know of), so I have no second thoughts yet. 

Edited by claude0001
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1 hour ago, claude0001 said:

Mostly I am not happy about the bad quality of the main camera (mostly software problems, I guess)

Right, there are GCam mods which are much better than stock camera and also better than other solutions.
That way it can take really good photos.

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9 hours ago, VaZso said:

Right, there are GCam mods which are much better than stock camera and also better than other solutions.
That way it can take really good photos.

GCam has been recommended to me before. I do believe that it makes good pictures. Unfortunately, it does not run on a "pure" LineageOS (i.e. without Gapps et al.), as far as I know. So, whether Gcam is truly "better than other solutions" depends on personal priorities. My reasons for avoiding Gapps are more important to me than getting the max out of the camera.

Philosophical questions aside, last time I read about Gcam ports, there was none that could make use of the physical double-action shutter button. That one is important to me. Has that situation changed?

As I said: The out-of-the-box camera experience with the Pro1 is not very nice, but it is not a show-stopper for me. Compared to my good ol' N900, it did (still does?) take quite some time to get used to the quirks of this camera -- but using OpenCamera I feel like I can get it under control. (And it's FOSS, yay! 😎)

Edited by claude0001
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Yes Pro1, is a good smart device but a mediocre phone. Hope they can invest in fixing some of those call quality issues at some point. Had a long phone call this morning and that way too loud speaker volume was really bothering me.

With luck some of those issues will get fixed with Android 10, that's my hope anyway 🙂 but TBH I doubt it cause the driver layer is probably mostly the same.

Edited by Slion
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6 hours ago, VaZso said:

Right, unfortunately it is very likely because of the manufacturer of "Google Camera". 😞

Thanks for confirming this.

As you seem to be using a Gcam-port, I dare ask once more: can you actually use the double-action shutter button?

This may seem like a random detail to some. But for native SLR photographers, double-action focus/shutter is the natural way of taking pictures -- so the presence of that button on the Pro1 is quite important to us! OpenCamera makes perfectly good use of it, what about Gcam (ports)?

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6 minutes ago, claude0001 said:

As you seem to be using a Gcam-port, I dare ask once more: can you actually use the double-action shutter button?

Unfortunately, no.
It starts Snapdragon Camera.

Yes, that button is a good to have, however, the similar button of N900 was better (at least the feel of 1st stage).

However, any phone is not really comparaple with a correct DSLR, but still camera button is a plus.

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2 minutes ago, VaZso said:

Unfortunately, no.
It starts Snapdragon Camera.

Yes, that button is a good to have, however, the similar button of N900 was better (at least the feel of 1st stage).

However, any phone is not really comparaple with a correct DSLR, but still camera button is a plus.

I'm a little confused by your answer. 🤪

I was not asking whether you could use the button to launch the respective camera app (I really do not care about that function). I want to know whether you are able to use it in Gcam to actually take pictures. Goes like this: 1st-stage-press = focus-and-hold, 2nd-stage-press = shutter (without delay).

I was also not talking about the quality of the optics. Of course, any (D)SLR is superior to a phone. I learned photography on an SLR (without the "D" 😎), so I should know. I was talking about the workflow of taking pictures by double-action-pressing the shutter button as described above.

P.S.: This might be getting off-topic ...

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2 hours ago, claude0001 said:

I was not asking whether you could use the button to launch the respective camera app (I really do not care about that function). I want to know whether you are able to use it in Gcam to actually take pictures.

The first part of my message was related to this question.

Unfortunately it does not work with GCam (as their hardware do not have such button), but it starts Snapgragon Camera instead.
So I am in GCam, pressing the button (fully), then default camera app launches.
Half-pressing does nothing.

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well i have it for quite a while now this are my pros and cons:

pro:
-keyboard
-custom firmware (unlocked bootloader)
-good battery
-the n900 notification light
-good build quality
-what you would expect

cons:
-bad call quality (people can't understand you)
-weak wifi signal
-os not the best (if you want vowifi you need lineage), needs development
-ghost touches
-fingerprint sensor
-shifted keyboard layout to the right... why not use a normal one...
-proper camera software (or a gcam port that works)

things i would want to have but are not cons:
-smaller n900 like phone
-stylus
-wireless charging
-a case that fits
 

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On 11/29/2020 at 6:48 PM, claude0001 said:

Thanks for posting your experience. I think my use-case is quite similar to yours.

I also use a self-made chroot with several user accounts. Also for me, setting this up has been a trial-and-error process (as this is my first Android phone). I posted my present set-up (including the chroot script) in another thread. Any suggestions for improvement are most welcome!

In your post, one thing in particular caught my attention:

May I ask what combination of VNC-server (in the chroot) and VNC-client (in Android) you are using? At least among the FOSS VNC viewers, I found none to fully support the Pro1 keyboard. Mostly, the level-3 key events would not arrive at the VNC server, hence making programming impossible. I was not able to fix this X-server-side (with xmodmap et al.). So I now wrap my VNC in XRDP and connect from Android using MS (sic) Remote Desktop 8. This solution works nicely for me (including the keyboard), but probably does add some unnecessary connection overhead. Are you on stock Android 9 or LineageOS now (asking as I think there are differences in the keyboard drivers)?

I agree with you that the Pro1 -- while making a remarkably useful miniature Linux computer -- does have its flaws as a phone. Mostly I am not happy about the bad quality of the main camera (mostly software problems, I guess) and the poor WiFi reception (manages to loose signal within my 40 m² flat, hadn't thought that was possible).

However, I think that despite these small problems, the Pro1 functions sufficiently well also as a "regular smartphone". This dual-use scenario (smartphone + GNU/Linux palmtop) is precisely what I was looking for in the Pro1, and I believe it fulfills this double role quite well (or at least better than all competitors I know of), so I have no second thoughts yet. 

The VNC client app I like to use for all connections is VNC Viewer, because it has no on screen GUI to block views. Some have little bars or dropdowns for touch screen interaction, and this doesn't. The server is Xvnc which I think is TightVNC or TigerVNC.

It's LineageOS 16, the first stable official build.

Also have issues with wifi that I forgot to mention... anything 40% or lower drops in and out constantly on top of just generally weak reception on all networks. Another dissapointment.

This is a HTML version of my vimwiki page of notes on the project which has a lot of config files and documentation on the fixes I did. Maybe it's useful for you: http://wiki.laz.li/shared/f994e9b960893079fd101fd05b9ca4e9b1569466973f998ca728b18eba3928e7

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9 hours ago, Linkandzelda said:

The VNC client app I like to use for all connections is VNC Viewer, because it has no on screen GUI to block views. Some have little bars or dropdowns for touch screen interaction, and this doesn't. The server is Xvnc which I think is TightVNC or TigerVNC.

[...]

This is a HTML version of my vimwiki page of notes on the project which has a lot of config files and documentation on the fixes I did. Maybe it's useful for you: http://wiki.laz.li/shared/f994e9b960893079fd101fd05b9ca4e9b1569466973f998ca728b18eba3928e7

By "VNC Viewer" you mean this one? I'm pretty sure I tried that and I was unable to type most of the yellow level-3 symbols of the Pro1 keyboard. Do they work in your set-up?

I also use TigerVNC as server. But as I have always been able to type all symbols when connecting from an external (non-Android) VNC client, I do not think the server is the problem anyway. In the end, it is also used as backend in my present XRDP solution, where all keys work.

Thanks for sharing your project page. It contains a lot of interesting information. Though, it seems like you had to fix a lot of problems I never actually ran into. I installed my Chroot from scratch and do not use Linux Deploy. Maybe the latter comes with preconfigurations that do not work well in all cases.

One thing that is bugging me is that I am unable to get write access to Android file systems on the internal storage (like /storage/emulated/0) from the chroot, even as root. Is this working in your set-up? If yes, how are these filesystems mounted in your Chroot? 

Edited by claude0001
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On 12/2/2020 at 9:05 AM, claude0001 said:

By "VNC Viewer" you mean this one? I'm pretty sure I tried that and I was unable to type most of the yellow level-3 symbols of the Pro1 keyboard. Do they work in your set-up?

I also use TigerVNC as server. But as I have always been able to type all symbols when connecting from an external (non-Android) VNC client, I do not think the server is the problem anyway. In the end, it is also used as backend in my present XRDP solution, where all keys work.

Thanks for sharing your project page. It contains a lot of interesting information. Though, it seems like you had to fix a lot of problems I never actually ran into. I installed my Chroot from scratch and do not use Linux Deploy. Maybe the latter comes with preconfigurations that do not work well in all cases.

One thing that is bugging me is that I am unable to get write access to Android file systems on the internal storage (like /storage/emulated/0) from the chroot, even as root. Is this working in your set-up? If yes, how are these filesystems mounted in your Chroot? 

Yes, that's the one. All my keys work perfectly with it. Maybe it's a keymapping issue within the linux server? Try and use xev to monitor input.

Linuxdeploy mounts my phones Pictures, Documents and Downloads folder to my chroot's ~/ folders, so when I download inside or outside both sides can see it. I don't know how to handle mounts manually. Check my page and check the section on encryption keys, that was quite important.

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23 minutes ago, Linkandzelda said:

[...] Try and use xev to monitor input. [...]

I tried that of course. I'm pretty sure xev was not showing any signal for some key  combinations.

I'll give it another try at some point. I am actually now pretty happy with XRDP as that way the same client app can also transport sound to the Android side. 🙂

As for the mount: I was now pretty sure that it is Android security that prevents writing to the filesystems. This may be a side effect of not using a "helper app" like Linux Deploy (that is registered in Android to have write access). I'll read the respective section of your notes and come back if I have questions. Thanks.

Edited by claude0001
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On 12/10/2020 at 6:18 PM, Linkandzelda said:

Check my page and check the section on encryption keys, that was quite important.

That was it! Thanks @Linkandzelda!

I mostly use my chroot via SSH. Even on-device, I use termbot to access the Debian CLI. As in your Arch, also on Debian the PAM config prevents SSH logins to inherit the keys by default. Instead of patching the PAM scripts, I for now simply set "UsePAM no" in /etc/sshd_config. Up to now I see no disadavantage in doing so ...

In fact, in my X11 session, access to the /data/media/0 of Android had always worked -- as you write in your how-to, the Xsession inherits the keys automatically. I had simply never tried outside of an SSH session ... 🙂

Edited by claude0001
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7 hours ago, claude0001 said:

That was it! Thanks @Linkandzelda!

I mostly use my chroot via SSH. Even on-device, I use termbot to access the Debian CLI. As in your Arch, also on Debian the PAM config prevents SSH logins to inherit the keys by default. Instead of patching the PAM scripts, I for now simply set "UsePAM no" in /etc/sshd_config. Up to now I see no disadavantage in doing so ...

In fact, in my X11 session, access to the /data/media/0 of Android had always worked -- as you write in your how-to, the Xsession inherits the keys automatically. I had simply never tried outside of an SSH session ... 🙂

Glad it worked!

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