Hands-on with the Astro Slide 5G: Slider in your hand, Debian in your pocket
In the smartphone world, we pretty much only have two choices of devices when it comes to operating systems — iPhone and Android. However, Planet Computers has been finding a bit of a niche with past devices such as the Gemini and the Cosmo Communicator. Now it’s back again, this time with the Astro Slide 5G, and it packs some updated specifications and the ability to run popular Linux distributions, instead of (or even alongside) Android 11 if you prefer.
We managed to get some hands-on time at the company’s stand at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and it’s a fun little device that has a very different focus when compared to other devices powered by similar chipsets. Officially, there is planned support for Sailfish OS, Debian, and Kali Linux.
Astro Slide 5G: Specifications
|Specification||Astro Slide 5G|
|Display||6.53 inch, 2340 x 1080 pixel|
|Processor||MediaTek Dimensity 800 (4 x Cortex-A76 + 4 X Cortex-A55)|
|GPU||ARM Mali-G57 MC4|
|Cameras||48MP rear, 13MP front|
|Ports||2 x USB-C, 3.5m audio, microSD card slot|
|Wireless||5G (global), WiFi 5, Bluetooth 5.1, NFC, FM radio, GPS, GLONASS|
|Charging||10W Wireless + fast charging (wired)|
|Biometrics||Fingerprint sensor (on side of phone)|
|Keyboard||Backlit, slide-out, mechanical, with support for 24 language layouts|
|Dimensions||164mm x 76.6mm x 15mm|
Astro Slide 5G: Design and First Impressions
The Astro Slide 5G is aimed at a very different user to most. It doesn’t have the highest-end specifications, and the bezels on the front are pretty big. Not to mention how bulky the phone looks too, which can certainly put off some users.
However, all of that is because the company’s focus is on both the QWERTY keyboard and the phone’s software. You can pick up an Astro Slide 5G that runs Android out of the box, but then you can get Ubuntu Touch, Sailfish OS, or other popular Linux distributions too. Furthermore, they can be dual-booted so that you don’t need to lock yourself into one particular platform if you have different needs. We were able to play around with two devices — one with Android 11, and one with Ubuntu Touch.
The Astro Slide 5G is pretty thick thanks to the strange form factor. Not only does it have a screen that needs to be able to slide out and prop up against the body of the phone, but there are also a pair of USB-C ports — one at the top and one at the bottom. I asked for the reasoning behind this, and I was told that often, power users wanted the ability to have a dedicated USB-C port for data transfer while charging at the same time. For example, charging while also using a USB-C to ethernet adapter for wired network access. Given that you can run Linux distributions on your phone, it makes sense that device owners may have power-user requirements like these.
The hinge snapping back feels robust and strong, though I wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable constantly clacking it back and forth. It feels like while it can certainly take a beating, the plastic may snap if it’s used too harshly. I was scared of breaking the phone when trying to open and close it, as it felt like I was very close to accidentally snapping something I shouldn’t have.
All in all, this phone is aimed at a very specific type of user. I found typing on the QWERTY keyboard comfortable, and I could definitely see myself getting used to it. I was also shown how useful it can be when managing Excel spreadsheets, documents, and more, and I can see how it can be a useful device for businesspeople.
It’s bulky, and it’s definitely a different phone to most form-factors, but from my usage, I can see how it’s a useful device that’s sought after for those who fall into that particular niche. It’s the company’s third phone, and it’s a definite improvement over its past outings.
Astro Slide 5G: Pricing and availability
The Astro Slide 5G is available for pre-order right now on both the company’s website and through Indiegogo. It retails for £853.20 inclusive of VAT. it ships in April 2022, and there are a lot of different keyboards for a lot of different regions to choose from. You can check out the company’s website below if you’re interested.