The Android smartphone scene has become very crowded, but also very good. Great competition means that no phone brand can rest on its laurels, flawed designs or bad ideas are quickly abandoned, new breakthroughs and popular ideas are quickly adopted across the board. This has resulted in an Android phone scene where all the mainstream phones are very good and very polished, but also very similar. If you look at the front of a new phone from Samsung, Google, or Vivo, you might not be able to tell them apart.
So for smaller phone brands to succeed, they need to think outside the box and try something different. Shenzhen-based Unihertz has been making phones with physical keyboards. I tried one a couple of years ago and while I liked the hardware, it was a bit of a bulky brick. Others also felt that way.
And so Unihertz’s newest product, the Titan Slim, is much smaller. It measures 5.79 by 2.67 by 0.51 inches and weighs 0.45 pounds. Despite the name, it’s actually not that slim as it’s easily thicker than most modern smartphones. But it’s narrow from left to right, making it easy to hold with one hand.
But this slimmer width also makes the keyboard feel narrower than previous Unihertz devices or other phones with physical keyboards. During the first day, I couldn’t type at a fast pace without making a lot of typos. But by the second day, my fingers got used to it, and the old muscle memory of using Blackberry devices kicked in, and I was typing long emails without much difficulty.
However, and this is a big however, considering the keyboard is this phone’s biggest selling point, I’m not sure I’d type any faster with this physical thumb keyboard than with a typical smartphone touchscreen. . A physical thumb keyboard requires you to press each button, which actually takes a fraction of a second longer than simply tapping an on-screen button. Tactile and clicky feedback feel satisfying, but most high-end Android phones now have excellent haptics that simulate the same tactile feedback.
But I may not be the target audience for this phone. I’m not exactly young, but I’m still a bit younger than the group of businessmen who used Blackberry devices a lot in the early 2000s (I was still in school at the time). That group, who should already be in their 40s, may prefer to have a physical keyboard. And judging by the enthusiastic response on Kickstarter where Unihertz is launching this phone, that group is still itching to get back to keypad phones.
Aside from the keyboard, the Unihertz Titan Slim is a standard budget Android phone, with an entry-level chip (Mediatek Helio P70), a sub-par 48 MP main camera and 8 MP selfie camera, and a screen. 4.2-inch LCD that refreshes at 60 Hz.
Whether it’s for brightness or color vibrancy, the screen here won’t beat even $200 Xiaomi phones, but for a phone that’s clearly aimed at productivity use, it’s fine. Texts are sharp enough on it.
The software is a stock version of Android 11, but Unihertz added nice software touches that take advantage of the keyboard. First of all, the keyboard also works as a kind of trackpad: sliding your thumb across the keyboard will scroll through the home screen or scroll through articles.
Second, you can assign a long press on a keyboard button to launch a specific app, like holding down the G key to quickly launch Gmail. Both are very useful and enhance the overall experience.
Above the keyboard is a fingerprint scanner that doubles as a home button, but you can also “go home” via swipe gestures like on most Android phones.
While camera performance, as mentioned, is pretty bad by 2022 standards, the phone has excellent battery life. A single charge can power the phone for at least two days, even with heavy use. Of course, heavy use is not graphically intensive tasks like playing games or shooting videos, but heavy use of social media, sending emails, and reading articles and documents.
By the way, you can play mobile games on this, it’s a typical Android phone that can run any Android app, but the screen is so narrow that it’s not the most ideal experience.
The Titan Slim also uses a cheap-feeling plastic case, but considering this phone’s price of under $250 and the fact that it comes with a rubberized case, the build material is acceptable.
There are other things I like about the Unihertz Titan, like the inclusion of a charger and support for global bands and dual SIM cards. So for those who really long for the days of Blackberry phones, the Unihertz Titan Slim wins by default, as there really aren’t many other options available.
However, if you’ve long adapted to the modern smartphone like me, a physical keyboard on a phone seems more like a gimmick than a necessity.