At 8am today, British company Planet Computers will launch its third Indiegogo campaign. Following the launch of the Gemini PDA and Cosmo Communicator comes something a little different. The Astro Slide.
What is the Astro Slide?
Where the Gemini and Cosmo were both clamshell designs straight out of the Psion Series 5 playbook, the Astro Slide’s keyboard slides out of view when you need it.
This isn’t a novel idea: the Fxtec Pro1 also features a sliding keyboard. But where that includes a keyboard more reminiscent of BlackBerrys, the Astro Slide includes a “proper” keyboard.
What’s so special about the keyboard?
I spoke to Planet Computers’ founder Dr Janko Mrsic-Flogel over Skype on Friday to find out more about the keyboard and sliding mechanism – they call it the Astro RockUp slider – and, well, I’m impressed. Or to put it another way, I’m well impressed.
At this point, Janko only has a prototype model of the sliding mechanism to show, but it’s enough to elegantly lock the screen into place. The hinges at the back even act as extensions to the case that touch the bottom of the surface it rests upon, which means that when you push on the screen it won’t rock back – difficult to explain in words so you may have to take my word for it for now.
This cleverness is due to Martin Riddiford, the original designer of the Psion Series 5. It also means the keyboard is almost precisely the same as the Cosmo, so you’ll enjoy properly delineated keys, plenty of travel and an adjustable backlight. Janko says it’s 1% slimmer, but otherwise identical.
Does the Astro Slide support 5G?
Yes! Janko took great pleasure in explaining that this was a full 5G phone, and that you’ll be able to use it all over the world (so long as 5G is rolled out there).
He went so far as to claim this is the fastest 5G phone announced to date, and that’s thanks to MediaTek’s Dimensity 1000 chipset.
Now, if you’re thinking “MediaTek? Count me out” then hold on. It’s true that MediaTek’s previous chips (including the ones in the Cosmo and Gemini) have not set the world alight in terms of performance, but the company is making some interesting noises this time around.
First off, it claims that the Dimensity 1000 is capable of “giving up to 4.7Gbps performance” thanks to “5G carrier aggregation“. In short, that means it can combine two 5G links, which typically max out at 2.3Gbits/sec. If true, that’s a meaningful upgrade over 4G.
The second is that it might just keep pace with the flagship chips from Qualcomm and Huawei with an eight-core CPU based on four 2.6GHz cores and four power-efficient 2GHz cores.
I’ll retain my cynicism about this for now as MediaTek doesn’t actually back this up with specific speed claims.
But the third reason the Dimensity 1000 chipset is interesting is that MediaTek claims its Mali-G77 CPU can hit 120 frames per second in the GFXBench Manhattan 3 test.
The Astro Slide’s screen
Right now, Janko estimates that the Astro Slide will weigh around 300g and be roughly the same overall thickness as the Cosmo (so 15mm). You’ll certainly notice it in your pocket.
But the big advantage that it holds over its siblings is that you can generally use it as a normal smartphone. For example, it can be a pain to browse the web on the Gemini or Cosmo as the keyboard simply gets in the way.
The screen itself uses IPS technology and measures 6.53in across the diagonal. With a Full HD+ resolution – so 1,080 pixels across the horizontal – it will look sharp. I can’t comment on quality yet, other than to say that previous Planet Computers’ screens have been perfectly good quality.
Note that it includes a 48-megapixel rear camera and a front-facing camera in a pinhole arrangement, but it’s too early to talk about their quality.
The Linux question
As with the Gemini and Cosmo, the Astro Slide will support Linux thanks to its “multi-boot functionality”. How good and wide-ranging this support will be is entirely down to the community.
What I can be more certain about – as I pressed Janko on it – is that this Android 10 phone will fully support Google Play, so you get access to apps such as Docs, Maps and Calendar.
Astro Slide specifications
- Eight-core MediaTek Dimensity 1000 chipset
- Mali-G77 graphics
- 5G support
- Wi-Fi 6
- 6GB of RAM (at minimum; this is to be confirmed)
- 128GB of storage (expandable via microSD card slot)
- 2 x nano SIMs plus one eSIM
- Fingerprint sensor
- NFC capability
- 48-megapixel rear camera
- Front-facing camera
- 3,500mAh to 4,000mAh battery (final capacity to be confirmed)
Astro Slide launch date – and how to back it
You can back the Astro Slide today on Indiegogo, with “super early bird” deals costing $549. The later you leave it the closer the amount will be to the expected retail price of $899, although Janko says he’s hoping that will be $799. It all depends on the cost of the components at launch.
And when will that launch be? Well, March/April of 2021 is the target, with Janko expecting to show the Astro Slide at the consumer technology show CES in Las Vegas in January 2021.
I’m hoping to get my hands on a sample late this year, and rest assured that if I do I’ll update this page accordingly.