Astro Slide 5G from Planet Computer

Astro Slide 5G from Planet Computer

Years ago, I owned the Psion Organizer, which, at the time, was the perfect device for taking notes using thumb writing. The Nokia Communicator 9000 series has taken this concept even further, adding a Qwerty keyboard to mobile, meaning no more hassle trying to get documents out of the device. I also had the opportunity to use the Ericsson R380 and the Blackberry Q10 became a pocket-friendly business, in situations where using a laptop was not possible. In those days, the main applications I used were for word processing and email. And before Q10, the best mobile internet available on those older devices was via WAP (Wireless Application Protocol).

However, today we expect a full-featured web browsing experience on our smart devices, online video, music on demand, instant messaging services, and mobile video conferencing.

It’s been two decades since I first used a phone with a full QWERTY keyboard and Astro Slide 5G from Planet Computers It rethinks this form factor – as a device for people who hate typing on a smartphone’s touchscreen. It will be interesting to see where Planet Computers puts the new 5G-equipped device. When I spoke to CEO, Janka Mrsic-Flogel, he said there are a number of key apps, which simply don’t have a great user experience on the usual smartphone touch keyboard. One of these is terminal emulation; The other manipulates the spreadsheets.

Both benefit from a large horizontal screen and separate keyboard with true cursor navigation keys. “Personally, I was missing some kind of device that I could actually write on and fit in the pocket,” he adds.

For Mrsic-Flogel, Astro Slide 5G is all about bringing users “the right empowerment in their pocket.” This, he says, was the impetus for starting the London-based company, which funded its first device, Gemini, in 2018.

In terms of specs, the Asto Slide 5G offers a full mechanical keyboard, FHD display with a screen resolution of 2340 x 1080 and a 48MP camera in a 172.4 x 76.5 x 18.7mm device and weighs 325g. There’s no denying that it’s a big device that definitely bulges out and weighs your pants or jacket pocket. But it runs Android 11, and Planet Computers supports the dual boot option in Linux.

How many hands

While Mrsic-Flogel describes the idea of ​​hands-free (i.e. touch screen only), one-handed and two-handed use, with Android Office productivity apps like Google Docs and Office 365, I found thumb typing more difficult compared to the devices I used. 20 years ago. But on a flat surface, it’s almost certainly easy to type correctly, given the keyboard is just over half the width of the Logitech K380 I’m currently using.

In an attempt to simulate how an IT administrator would use this device, I installed the Terminus app to connect via SSH to a Raspberry Pi. It’s definitely usable, much more than trying to access the Linux command line on a regular smartphone’s touch keyboard. I like the fact that the console appears as a full screen, which leaves the IT administrator free to type on the physical keyboard.

I also ran Chrome Remote Desktop to test access to a Windows PC, simulating the user experience of a Windows desktop broadcast. Again, it’s usable, but the narrow screen height means I need to scroll around the remote desktop a lot. Accessing the web and web-based applications is much easier, which I think is basically how to use Astro Slide 5G.

To enable the device to run operating systems other than Android, Mrsic-Flogel says Planet Computers has unlocked the kernel and bootloader allowing the open source community to develop Linux distributions that can be loaded onto Planet Computers devices. In fact, last year a version of Debian was made available for the Cosmo Communicator, the younger brother of the Astro-Slide 5G.

A replacement for a laptop?

It is clearly not a replacement for a laptop. I wish typing with thumbs were easier, as this allows you to place the device in the palm of your hands, rather than relying on a flat workspace. In the past, this allowed me to use devices with small keyboards in confined spaces, such as on a bus, or when standing in the driver’s seat of my car. But the Astro Slide 5G’s size means my thumb can’t reach all the keys easily. For some people, this won’t be an issue, and the Astro Slide 5G’s QWERTY keyboard works very well on a flat surface, notes Mrsic-Flogel: “So this device sits well on a small coffee table on a train or a small tray table in a plane.” , and you kind of do your stuff, you know, like you’re not worried about someone tilting their seat and ruining your laptop.”

I agree with Mrsic-Flogel because there are definite benefits in using something like Astro Slide 5G, to enable people to keep working in confined spaces for economy class flights or when traveling by train.

Among the questions I wanted to discuss with Mrsic-Flogel was about how he saw the Astro Slide 5G chip being used by field workers, who might need to carry a laptop daily when they are off site. “If you have a tablet, laptop, or even a Chromebook, you do certain things that will be more visible to someone else,” he says. For Mrsic-Flogel, a pocketable device, such as the Astro Slide 5G, allows people to directly write notes, reply to email or enter data into business applications in a way that is less straightforward than if they had to use a laptop or tablet. A device with a keyboard.

For power users, he says the physical cursor keys are a big win over the touch keyboard. However, the Astro Slide 5G is a niche device, one that will appeal to smartphone users who crave a true QWERTY keyboard at their fingertips.

There is no denying that smartphone technology is just as good, if not better, than the average laptop. Where smartphones fall into the physical limits of screen size and soft keyboards. Chances are, that some mobile phone users will make an argument for using VR headsets to display a giant screen of their smartphone screen. But this is not the market segment that Astro Slide 5G is trying to tackle. It is simply a mobile phone with a proper keyboard.

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