Two decades ago, practically every phone would come with physical input keys, with the hip ones like the Sidekick bearing an actual QWERTY keyboard. With the advent of touchscreen phones, physical keyboards on phones are mostly a thing of the past; mostly because a small group of manufacturers like F(x)tec still cater for the niche need of contemporary phones with such physical input. Among those manufacturers is Unihertz which recently launched a crowdfunding campaign for the Titan Slim smartphone.
Packing a vertically oriented physical QWERTY keyboard, a touch screen 4.2” display and Android 11, the smartphone started at a Super-Early Bird price of $189 (the current available perk is at $249) and comes with the following items:
- Unihertz Titan Slim smartphone
- Screen protector
- SIM tray remover
- USB-C cable
- User Guide
- Headphone jack adapter
Considering the price, the contents are quite a bargain as it’s always welcome to have a screen protector and a bumper to protect your new phone out of the box. However, the price also reflects on the specs which are mid-range. You can find more specs details below:
Of course, the most striking feature of the Titan Slim once it’s out of the box is its physical QWERTY keyboard. Occupying the lower quarter of the device’s real estate, the Titan Slim and its iconic feature is reminiscent of Black Berry phones of yesteryear. Aesthetically, it looks like a sleek, stylish device, especially with that glossy back finish. The front-facing fingerprint sensor is neatly concealed between the back and menu buttons, making it easily reachable with the thumb to unlock with the device while also being very responsive.
Running on Android 11 means that you can indeed use the Titan Slim as your daily driver as it will run most of your favourite apps, with chat apps and document editing apps being a real delight to use on the device. Typing is swift and accurate, and the soft audible feedback helps you register that you’ve pressed keys and the backlit keyboard helps you easily type in any lighting condition. The keys bear a nice feeling to the touch and actually using them for typing really gives that sweet experience of using physical keys which is sorely lacking in contemporary phones.
Its vertical orientation also endows the smartphone with a unique look and it really has been designed to be used in this orientation. The keyboard design allows for a rather easy one-handed use as the tapered keys are easily accessible with the thumb. However, you’ll likely need to use both hands when using the Alt key to use symbols and numbers. There’s an adjustment period with the Titan Slim’s keyboard, given its compact layout which isn’t very common with physical keyboards, especially if you spend your days on a laptop. You’ll also need to learn where the numbers and symbols are located but these are etched on the keys. There’s also the option to toggle an on-screen keyboard add-on to access emojis, numbers and symbols quickly on the touch screen.
In addition, the keyboard is touch sensitive, allowing you to scroll across it in four directions (up, down, left and right) just like you would scroll on your touchscreen to navigate your apps. This helps to free the screen from your thumb, allowing you to take in all the information and feed unobstructed. This aspect of smartphones with physical keys to be able to view the screen without a virtual keyboard blocking a good chunk of it is personally appealing. However, scrolling on the keyboard can be slower than scrolling on the touchscreen but given that the Titan Slim bears a touch display, using the touchscreen is always an option. But I’ll admit that I’ve stuck to keyboard scrolling when reading online articles or checking my news feed.
It’s nice to see that the Titan Slim’s camera is flush with the body, which differs from the camera bump which has become staple of current smartphones. The main camera is a 48MP one while the front-facing one is an 8MP one, and they are both serviceable for video calls and occasional shots. Given that there is only one lens at the back the quality of the picture will depend on the lighting condition, so I wouldn’t recommend the phone for its photographic prowess.
While it might not be evident from the pictures, what’s also striking about the Titan Slim out of its box is its thickness. At 12.35 mm, it is thicker than gaming smartphones like the Black Shark 4 Pro, which are themselves among the thicker end of the smartphone spectrum. So it’s a bit of a misnomer for the Titan Slim, which even gets slightly thicker with the included bumper wrapped around it.
And despite its thickness, it does not bear a headphone jack, which is quite surprising. Unihertz claims that this decision has been made to enhance the connectivity of the phone. But they do include an IR sensor that doubles the phone as a controller for TVs but I think a headphone jack would be more useful. Even thinner smartphones manage to include a headphone jack and I wish it was included in the Titan Slim as well. Thankfully, Unihertz says that it will include a USB-C to headphone jack adapter in every order (but one was not included in this early review unit, so I cannot comment on the functionality). But this means that you’ll have to carry an accessory around which is also prone to be misplaced and/or lost.
Regarding the USB-C port, it does not support video output which is a bummer as this prevents the Titan Slim from being connected to an external display. Such an option could further sell the phone as a productivity device as you could use the keyboard to easily type while viewing a bigger screen. In other cases, with a USB-C with DisplayPort, you could mirror your screen on AR glasses like the Rokid Air which are slowly becoming common for a personal big screen experience. Given the relatively small 4.2” screen size of the Titan Slim, having the option to expand it via external monitors would have been welcome.
Another glaring issue with this smartphone is that it packs only one speaker at the lower right end. This offsets the audio whether you are watching YouTube videos or playing a podcast and the quality isn’t as good as other smartphones I’ve recently tested. Having a headphone jack to easily plug in your favourite headset might have provided a quick fix but, if you don’t want to carry the adapter and risk losing it, you’ll have to rely on Bluetooth headsets which can drain the battery further.
The 4,100 mAh battery lasts for around a day and a half of regular use, browsing the net and social media with Wi-Fi switched on and off occasionally. But charging it takes at least 1 hour or even more and this feels rather long, especially since I’ve been used to the Black Shark’s super fast 120W charging.
As for the screen, the panel feels rather underwhelming. Colours often feel dull and don’t pop out as much as an AMOLED display. Granted, the price also reflects on the choice of components but it can be a hard compromise.
Regarding the performance of the Helio P70 Octor Core processor, I would get rather modest scores on GeekBench as it is not a particularly beefy chip. That said, given that the Titan Slim integrates physical keys, I was of course enticed to see how and if these work on emulators and touch mapping tools for gaming. I am an overt supporter of physical controls for gaming phones and I wondered if the Titan Slim, even with its downsides, could offer some of those coveted physical gaming controls.
Unfortunately, for Android games like Final Fantasy VII: The First Soldier and Dead Cells that recognise physical input, the Titan Slim’s keyboard was not recognised as a gamepad. I thought of using the Mantis Gamepad Pro app as a workaround but even that software did not recognise the keyboard buttons as gamepad inputs. Those games do run well but would still benefit by being able to use the physical controls to perform certain actions and using part of the touchscreen to move your character.
But this was a different story for emulators. You can imagine my joy to experience that every emulator I tried did recognise the Titan Slim’s physical input. This included AetherSX2, Dolphin and Reicast. However, you have to manage your expectations as this is not a particularly gaming-oriented device. Shadow of the Colossus on AetherSX2 ran at a max of 20fps with choppy audio and I wouldn’t recommend getting this phone to emulate PS2 games. Similarly, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess would run at around 20fps with crackling BGM.
Less demanding systems like Dreamcast (via Reicast) runs better, with Crazy Taxi playing at a steady 60 fps. GoldenEye 007 on M64Plus FZ would run at 25 fps without noticeable audio hitch. And you can expect decent performance from older systems. In fact, with the Titan Slim’s portrait orientation, I think that retro handhelds like the GameBoy and GameBoy Advance are rather fun to play on the device with physical keys mapped.
However, the 768*1280 resolution of the screen means that you won’t find virtually any system that fits the display without encountering black bezels in portrait mode if you don’t want weird scaling. The screen size also feels limiting, particularly if you’ve used a larger sized device before and this extends beyond gaming to regular usage as well. An alternative could have been to include a full-sized screen with a sliding or flip mechanic like the F(x)tec Pro1 adopts to access the physical keyboard. This would also help in gaming as for titles that don’t support the keyboard input, the keys can get in the way, requiring some reach with your thumb to hit on-screen buttons.
I’d like to say that the Titan Slim is a promising way forward for Unihertz but this is far from their first smartphone, let alone their first smartphone with a physical keyboard. Their latest device feels lacking in several regards: it is considerably thick, has only one speaker, packs an underwhelming screen, does not feature a headphone jack and bears mid-range specs at best. While the price is indeed attractive, the compromises are evident.
However, it’s still commendable to see smaller companies come with original products and for that Unihertz delivers. It’s a budget phone in every aspect but with an attractive physical keyboard.
If you want to consider the Titan Slim as your next daily driver, I’d only recommend it if you desperately need a phone with an integrated keyboard and mostly use your phone for short bursts of texting. As a writer, landscape keyboards I prefer landscape keyboards as I felt my hands cramping when typing on the compact keys of the Titan Slim for extended periods of time. Hopefully, the company learns from this step to make a more compelling device in the future, or maybe even a phone with physical gaming controls… one can hope.
- Integrated physical QWERTY keyboard
- Scrolling support on keyboard
- Sleek and stylish look
- Affordable smartphone
- Keyboard is mappable for emulators
- No headphone jack
- Only one speaker
- Lacklustre screen
- USB-C port does not support video output
- Keyboard not recognised as gamepad input for Android games