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This keyboard-packing Android phone is one of the most interesting things at IFA 2019

Phones all look just about the same, don’t they? Thin slabs of glass and metal. The FX Tec Pro 1 is bucking that trend, bringing back a physical keyboard in the process.

Originally unveiled by London-based startup FX Tec earlier in the year, the Pro 1 is now ready to go on sale in October and instead of being another copy-and-paste iPhone wannabe, this is an Android phone with a secret: there’s a 66 key keyboard underneath the display.

I got the chance to spend a few hours with the final version of the Pro 1 at a briefing session ahead of the launch and while I can’t say it’s the complete package, it’s great to see a new brand try something different.

Related: IFA 2019

There’s clearly been a lot of thought put into the design of this phone. The keyboard, for instance, is backlit and feels far less cramped than any of the previous devices released under the Blackberry name from TCL. There’s also more ports and physical outer buttons than you’ll find on most 2019 phones, including a camera shutter button and a headphone jack. The addition of the keyboard leads to a thicker overall phone and I appreciate that space is used to improve the user experience.

For a phone where the keyboard is the main attraction, it’s a relief that it’s actually pleasant to type. To be completely honest I much prefer the feel of typing on a virtual keyboard, and while I often think I would prefer a physical version, when it comes down it, I never do. With the FX Tec Pro 1 though, I could see myself getting used to it very quickly. You do need to grip it with two hands, but the keys are well-sized and there’s enough room to comfortably move your thumbs around. I know lots of people who just downright prefer real keys when typing, and they’re going to be the target market for this phone.

Related: Best Android Phones 2019

Of course, with so much focus on one area, there is lots about this phone that feels lacking – especially when you consider the £649 price-tag. The Snapdragon 835 chipset is a couple of generations old, the 3200mAh battery feels a tad on the small side and the design can only really be described as mundane.

There is also the camera. Now, the model I was using during my briefing wasn’t running final software, but I can’t seem to get excited about the optics here. You’ve got a 12-megapixel Sony sensor and a secondary 5MP sensor for capturing depth, and a lot will depend on how FX Tec has tweaked the software. 

I know very few people are going to be buying this phone for the camera, but with the Pixel 3a and loads of phones from Xiaomi, Honor and Huawei all offering excellent snappers on phones nowhere near as pricey as this, I can’t help but feel this could the major Achilles heel.

Pre-orders for the Pro 1 are open now, with it shipping on October 1 for $699/£649. 

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