The Android smartphone scene has gotten very crowded, but also very good. Major competition means no phone brand can rest on its laurels, that flawed designs or bad ideas are quickly dropped, new breakthroughs and popular ideas are quickly adopted across the board. This has resulted in an Android phone scene where every major phone is very good and very polished, but also very similar. If you look at the front of a new phone from Samsung or Google or Vivo, you may not be able to tell them apart.
And so for smaller phone brands to succeed, it has to think outside the box and try something different. For Shenzhen-based Unihertz, that has been making phones with physical keyboards. I tested one a couple of years ago and although I liked the hardware, it was a bit of a bulky brick. Others felt that way, too.
And so Unihertz’ newest product, the Titan Slim, is much smaller. It measures 5.79 by 2.67 by 0.51 inches and weighs 0.45 lbs. Despite the name, it’s actually not that slim, as it is easily thicker than most modern smartphones. But it is narrow from left to right, which makes for a very easy one-hand grip.
But this skinnier width also makes for a keyboard that feels more cramped than previous Unihertz devices or other phones with physical keyboards. During the first day, I couldn’t type at a fast pace without making plenty of typos. But by day two, my fingers got used to it, and old muscle memory from using Blackberry devices kicked in, and I was pounding out long emails without much difficulty.
However—and this is a big however, considering the keyboard is the biggest selling point of this phone—I’m not sure I type faster with this physical thumb keyboard than a typical smartphone touchscreen. A physical thumb keyboard requires me pressing into each button, which actually takes a split-second longer than just tapping an onscreen button. The clicky, tactile feedback do feel satisfying, but most high-end Android phones now have superb 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 am still a bit younger than the businessmen group that used Blackberry devices heavily in the early 2000s (I was still in school at the time). That group—who should be well in their 40s by now—may prefer having a physical keyboard. And judging by the enthusiastic response on Kickstarter where Unihertz is launching this phone, that group are still very eager to go back to keyboard phones.
Other than the keyboard, the Unihertz Titan Slim is a standard budget Android phone, with an entry level chip (Mediatek Helio P70), a sub-par 48MP main camera and 8MP selfie camera, and a 4.2-inch LCD screen that refreshes at 60Hz.
Whether it’s brightness or color vibrancy, the display here won’t beat even $200 Xiaomi phones, but for a phone that is clearly aiming for 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, the keyboard doubles as a trackpad of sorts—swiping your thumb across the keyboard will cycle through the homescreen or scroll through articles.
Second, you can assign a long-press of a keyboard button to launch a specific app, like I can hold down the G key to quick launch Gmail. Both of these are very useful and improve 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 the camera performance, as mentioned, are quite 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. Granted, the heavy use isn’t graphically intensive tasks like gaming or filming videos, but rather heavy use of social media, sending emails, and reading articles and documents.
You can play mobile game on this, by the way—it’s a typical Android phone that can run any Android app—but the display is so cramped it’s not the most ideal experience.
The Titan Slim also uses a plastic casing that feels cheap, but considering this phone’s sub-$250 price, and that it comes with a rubbery case, the build material is acceptable.
There are other things to like with the Unihertz Titan, like the inclusion of a charger, and support for global bands and dual SIM cards. So for those who really yearn for the days of Blackberry phones, the Unihertz Titan Slim sort of wins by default, as there really aren’t many other options out there.
However, if you have long adapted to the modern smartphone like I have—a physical keyboard on a phone feels like a gimmick more than a necessity.