Planet Computers Astro Slide Review

Planet Computers Astro Slide Review
A 21st century pocket computer.

Pros
  • It exists
  • Unique hinge design
  • Backlit mechanical keyboard
Cons
  • Typing is awkward
  • Screen is cramped in landscape
  • Very bulky
Our Verdict
  • The Astro Slide delivers its promise of a full mechanical keyboard working with Android, but its bulk and awkward size mean it’s best as a short-session companion device rather than a truly useful tool.
I considered writing this review on the miniature keyboard of the Astro Slide, but thought better of it.

Even though the Astro Slide looks like a tiny laptop, with its angled screen on a hinge and small mechanical keyboard, it’s not actually trying to be one. This is a device designed by and made for computing enthusiasts. It’s a secondary device, even though it can be used as a phone.

The Slide is best thought of in this way, similar to how it’s best to approach the Microsoft Surface Duo 2. It’s for composing emails on the train or fixing a line of code without turning on your PC.

As a phone for phone calls, it is cumbersome. As a smartphone, it is awkward. But as the mechanical keyboard device it sets out to be, it just about nails it.

So, if you’re hankering for a mobile device with a keyboard after mourning the latest death of BlackBerry, this could be the niche product for you.

Design & Build

The Astro Slide is its design, and a BlackBerry it is not. This is a unique phone, so much so that I struggle to even call it a phone – in a good way. It’s wonderful that something like this exists.

It has a sliding hinge you reveal by pushing the left edge of the display up with your thumbs while holding it in a landscape orientation to reveal a full – but not full-sized – mechanical QWERTY keyboard. Keep pushing and the mechanism locks into its one fixed position at a slight angle, and the phone now sort of looks like a laptop.

The back of the phone is a tasteful silvery blue and is made from plastic. This is a sensible decision to keep an already weighty device as light as possible, though it still clocks in at 325g. It’s too big and heavy for a pocket.
Planet Computers Astro Slide Review

It bears a closer resemblance to the Nokia Communicators and Psion Series 5 of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Someone at Planet Computers is clearly nostalgic for a bygone era but thankfully they have made the Slide more usable than those old gadgets thanks to a much more usable, sensibly sized keyboard.

The Slide isn’t purely an enthusiast curio (although I am sure it is only enthusiasts who will have waited a full two years to receive their device since they paid upfront for one on Indiegogo). There is genuine usefulness here, helped by the presence of a headphone jack and two (two!) USB-C ports for simultaneous charging and data transfer.

Though the hinge only locks into one position it is a mightily sturdy one, with only a little bit of give if you push down on the screen as you may want to tap buttons. The unit doesn’t budge when placed down on a desk to type thanks to four small but grippy rubber tacks on each corner.

Despite the clever design I am worried after hundreds of days of use and thousands of slides back and forth that the mechanism could break. It also means it has no IP rating for water or dust resistance.

Keyboard

The keys themselves are little mechanical wonders. It’s impressive that Planet Computers was able to fit the whole thing into what is still a relatively small device, even if it is clunky compared to a regular smartphone – and it’s backlit! The geek in me struggled to contain a smile when it first lit up.

There’s a full lettered keyboard with a number row, cursor keys, and Enter key, plus an all-important Function button that lets many of the keys double up as symbols or, more commonly, for shortcuts to things such as brightness, volume, and other functions.
Planet Computers Astro Slide Review

At first the smaller size of the keyboard was what made me type slowly and in a a more considered fashion. But when I got used to it after a few days and sped up, it was missed keystrokes that slowed me down again. I found that typing at my regular, relatively quick speed on the Slide resulted in missed keystrokes. I’m not sure if it’s because you need to hit each key quite firmly or dead-on, but when I got faster, I looked at the screen and saw typos thanks to missed letters from keys I’d definitely pressed.

It’s a relatively big gripe seeing as it’s the Slide’s main selling point. I couldn’t ever be totally confident that what I was typing would appear on the screen, and that hurts the device’s value. Sure, it’s not exactly a product on which you’re going to write a dissertation or white paper, but if your shopping list or line of code is missing some characters then it’s going to irk.

I ended up most satisfied with the keyboard when poking at keys with just my index fingers. After 20 minutes or so I got a little wrist pain, but for editing documents on the fly, the Slide was a dream – preferable to opening a Google Doc on a vertical smartphone where half the screen is covered by a virtual keyboard.

I tested a UK keyboard version, but you can pre-order the Slide with practically any regional physical keyboard layout including Japanese, Korean, Russian, and Arabic as well as several European languages.
Planet Computers Astro Slide Review

Display And Audio

The display is one of the Astro Slide’s weaker points. It’s a 6.39in AMOLED that gets plenty bright and is clear to type on with a 1080 x 2340p resolution but look closely and fonts are less than pin sharp. It’s also calibrated to a very saturated level, with colours on the vivid side.

Other displays of this size at 1080p look better but touch response is good when swiping about the OS to open apps and skip about menus. The rounded corners evoke the look of the Google Pixel 2 XL but on a device designed to be used landscape they cut off precious space and make the screen look a little cramped.

You can type out quick searches or messages when the keyboard is stowed with Planet Computer’s own software keyboard (or your installed software keyboard of choice) but because that mechanical keyboard just sitting there begging to be tapped at I barely used the display to type.

It’s only 60Hz though, so there’s no ultra-smooth high refresh rate, and text does noticeably ghost when you scroll on webpages.

Audio is handled by stereo speakers that are on the left edge of the Slide so they face toward you when you’re using the keyboard. They don’t get awfully loud and are quite trebly but will do fine for video calls or listening to podcasts. Playing music sounds tinny but at least there’s a headphone jack for traditional (read: easy) wired audio.
Planet Computers Astro Slide Review

Specs And Performance

The £729 Slide makes use of the MediaTek Dimensity 800, a decidedly mid-range chipset. This is reflected in benchmarking where it scored similarly in the Geekbench 5 multi-core test to the Realme C31, a £129 phone. In the more general GFX Bench framerate tests the Slide held its own against the £419 Oppo Find X5 Lite.

But a device like the Slide doesn’t need the latest high-end processor because it’s not designed for gaming or video editing. Planet Computers likely had to opt for a mid-range chip to keep costs down – this is a complex device with a mechanical keyboard after all.

I didn’t come across too many performance hiccups in my time with the Slide, so 8GB RAM seems like enough, but occasionally I would tap a menu icon and nothing would happen. Sometimes this was in the camera or settings app and it happened enough that it annoyed.

Despite the laptop look, the size of the display means this is not a device to multitask on, so again, the hardware isn’t too taxed because you’re almost always going to be working inside one app at a time.

There’s 128GB storage expandable via microSD, and space for that alongside two nano SIM cards. The phone supports OTG and video out but only via a USB-C to HDMI dongle, which is a little disappointing. Planet Computers charges £33.32 for such an accessory.

I noticed in some YouTube videos the settings would not let me push beyond 480p, a much lower resolution than the 1080p display is capable of. I also noticed TechRadar Pro reporting the Slide has a hardware limitation in its Dimensity chip that means it cannot output DRM protected video from apps like Netflix above 480p.

I asked Planet Computers’ PR directly about this claim and was told the Astro is capable of 1080p on YouTube, but did not address my question about TechRadar’s claim. For what it’s worth, Netflix did not even appear in the Play Store for me when using the Slide. Planet said it was looking into this.

Battery And Charging

The battery is decent enough on the Slide considering it’s powering a screen and a keyboard backlight. It lasted 10 hours and 49 minutes in PC Mark’s Android battery rundown test, which is an average result similar to budget phones such as the Realme C35 (10:40) and flagship ones like the OnePlus 10 Pro (11:20) but miles off the 18 hours 30 minutes of the Realme 9 Pro.

It goes to show battery life varies massively depending on specs and usage. The Slide is nothing special in this area but will last you a day. It has a 4000mAh battery and ships with a wired USB-C charger, but this is painfully slow to top up with a rate of 1% per minute in my testing: 15% in 15 minutes and 30% in 30. It took over 100 minutes to top up to 100%.

There’s also 10W (even slower) wireless Qi charging built in but it wouldn’t work with some of my wireless chargers, often registering but not able to draw enough power.
Planet Computers Astro Slide Review

Camera

No one is buying the Astro Slide for its camera, which is a good thing as the lenses are merely fine. The single rear snapper uses a 48Mp Sony IMX586 sensor that produces acceptable photos in good daylight, though there is a lot of edge sharpening and not a lot of warmth to the shots. Some looks quite washed out, but it’s a solid enough camera for everyday point and shoot needs. Digital zoom quality deteriorates rapidly.

Around the front a 13Mp Sony IMX214 sensor does a pleasingly good job for the occasional selfie or video call.
Planet Computers Astro Slide Camera

Planet Computers Astro Slide Camera

Planet Computers Astro Slide Camera

Planet Computers Astro Slide Camera

Planet Computers Astro Slide Camera

Planet Computers Astro Slide Camera

Planet Computers Astro Slide Camera

Planet Computers Astro Slide Camera

Software And Updates

Planet has pre-loaded the Astro Slide with a suite of its own apps, presumably designed to work better on the form factor and with the types of things the company expects users will want to do.

But when I tried to use the email app, Airmail, Google told me it had not been verified, so recommended I not use it. I very rarely see this on Android, and I was concerned enough not to want to log in. The calendar and notes apps were also well polished, but I could not get them to sync with my Google account, which rendered them a tad unhelpful.

Thoughtful touches include a Mac-style dock that appears when you tap a key with the Planet logo on it and you can map other functions but otherwise, I found myself treating the phone like any other Android device, plus struggling to scroll and find things in the landscape view.
Planet Computers Astro Slide Review

The Slide ships with Android 11 but Planet told me it plans to update it Android 12 soon. The company also plans for security updates for three to six years “subject to volume”. If this tiny independent can come good on three years of security patches, then 2022 Slide buyers should be happy, but this vague timeline is far from a guarantee.

Android is the main OS at present, but Planet is also promising it will be able to boot in Sailfish, Linux Debian, and Linux Kali in the future, another hint at its coder and tinkerer audience.

Price And Availability

People who pledged money to the Slide on Indiegogo about two years ago are finally receiving their units in June 2022 but the device is also now on general sale.

You can buy it direct from Planet Computers at a cost of £729, with worldwide shipping on all keyboard layouts expected for June, July, or August of 2022 at the time of publication in June 2022. Cost is converted to local currency at checkout.

Verdict

Planet Computers is a great company making nostalgia-inducing products for a niche market. The fact it exists and is succeeding in making pocket communicator devices is reason to celebrate, and the Astro Slide succeeds in what it set out to be – a QWERTY keyboard smartphone.

The demand for it might be low but that’s not the point. If you can adjust to the keyboard, and perhaps type a little slower than usual, then the Slide could be a great companion device for editing documents or writing code on the go.

You’re not going to write a novel on it, and you probably won’t want to use it as your main phone because of the size, but aside from the oversaturated display with potential streaming resolution issues and the fragility of the construction, the Astro Slide is what it says it is. It just won’t appeal to many buyers.

Specs

  • Android 11
  • 6.39in 1080p AMOLED, 60Hz
  • MediaTek Dimensity 800
  • 8GB LPDDR4X RAM
  • 128GB expandable storage up to 1TB
  • 50Mp, f/1.6 main lens with OIS
  • 48Mp Sony IMX586 main lens
  • 13Mp IMX214 selfie camera
  • Fingerprint scanner (side mounted in power button)
  • Bluetooth 5.1
  • GPS
  • NFC
  • 5G
  • Dual-SIM
  • Dual stereo speakers
  • 4000mAh non-removable battery
  • 10W wireless charging
  • 172.4 x 76.5 x 18.7mm
  • 325g
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Planet Computers Astro Slide Review Planet Computers Astro Slide Review Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Wednesday, July 27, 2022 Rating: 5

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