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Astro Slide 5G review: Keyboards on phones are back

The Astro Slide 5G makes a convincing case for phones with keyboards

Astro Slide 5G
(Image: © Future)

Laptop Mag Verdict

The Astro Slide 5G stands out from modern smartphones by adding a built-in, backlit mechanical keyboard that’s a dream to use, but it can’t escape the downfalls of its average specs — especially at its flagship price.

Pros

  • +

    Fantastic keyboard

  • +

    Stellar 6.39-inch AMOLED display

  • +

    Dual USB-C ports and headphone jack

  • +

    Good performance

Cons

  • -

    Bulky

  • -

    Terrible camera

  • -

    Runs Android 11

  • -

    Slide-out isn’t sturdy

Astro Slide 5G Specs

Price: £729 (around $889)
OS: Android 11
Display: 6.39-inch FHD+ (2340 x 1080) AMOLED
CPU: MediaTek Dimensity 8000
RAM: 8GB
Rear cameras: 48MP Sony IMX586
Front camera: 13MP Sony IMX214
Storage: 128GB
Battery: 4,000mAh
Size: 6.7 x 3 x 0.7
Weight: 11.4 ounces

Who knew there would be a demand for keyboards on phones in a world of on-screen keyboards and haptic feedback? Back in 2020, London-based mobile company Planet Computers set up a crowdfunding campaign for the Astro Slide, a 5G smartphone with an actual keyboard. Not those clicky phone buttons on the long-extinct BlackBerry; as in a full-on mechanical backlit keyboard.

Over £2.1 million and more than 6,100 backers later, the Astro Slide 5G is now out in the wild and brushing shoulders with modern smartphones. What’s that? The noughties want their smartphone back? Well they can’t have it, as Planet Computers has given a reason for keyboards on phones to still exist with the Astro Slide.

With a 6.39-inch AMOLED display, surprising performance for its MediaTek Dimensity 8000 processor, and a wicked slide-out keyboard with programmable keys, I didn’t really feel like I stepped back into a time before iPhone and Android took over. In fact, I wrote some of this review using just the phone.

But then I thought to myself, “wait, I have a perfectly good laptop with a wider screen, non-squished keyboard layout, and fully capable Windows OS sitting right next to me.” This is where the cracks start to show, as there are only a handful of ways a bulky phone running Android 11 with subpar cameras can truly come in handy. I’m not sure if I can rank this among the best smartphones

Astro Slide 5G price and configurations

 The Astro Slide 5G is priced at £729 in the UK and €819 in Europe. Sorry US folk, it currently isn’t available in the States, but those prices are equivalent to around $889. While not pro-tier smartphone status, that puts it in the realm of flagships like the iPhone 13, Samsung Galaxy S22, and Google Pixel 6 Pro (even though “Pro” is in the name).

(Image credit: Future)

Spec-wise, however, the Astro Slide can slip into the mid-range phone category, but even then it doesn’t quite match what’s under the hood of its competition. For instance, take the £699 Poco F4 GT and £599 Realme GT Neo 3. These phones come with 12GB of RAM, and a powerful Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor and MediaTek Dimensity 8100 5G, respectively. That’s a step up from the Astro Slide, even though it’s more expensive. Clearly, customers are paying more for the keyboard, but Planet Computers held back on bringing a few flagship specs to keep the price down.

While the drawbacks are understandable, what you’re really paying for here is a nice AMOLED screen and slide-out keyboard. 

Astro Slide 5G design

At first glance, it looks as if the Astro Slide 5G belongs in the 2000s section of a museum. But Planet Computers has done enough to give it a more modernized look, especially once you whip out the keyboard. Still, with current flagship phones striving to be slimmer, the Astro Slide is as brick-y as it gets.

(Image credit: Future)

That’s not to say the mobile company didn’t do a fantastic job fitting a proper keyboard on the phone. The way the display effortlessly slides out and rests on the edge of the keyboard with a slight tilt, mimicking the angle of a laptop, is magnificent. That’s thanks to the RockUp Slider Hinge, which allows the phone to essentially split into two parts: The top for the 6.39-inch AMOLED display and the bottom housing the keyboard (along with the rest of the phone’s components).

I’m impressed by how this works, and couldn’t think of any better way to stick a keyboard on a phone without it being detachable. That said, it still can’t escape being an absolute chunk. For smartphone users that adore smaller sizes (including me) like the iPhone 13 mini, this is definitely not for you. But even compared to bigger phones, like the iPhone 13 Pro Max and Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, it’s still unwieldy to carry around in your pocket. This got me thinking about what scenarios the phone would be used in.

(Image credit: Future)

It’s not exactly pocket-friendly, with dimensions of 6.7 x 3 x 0.7 inches and weighing a whopping 11.4 ounces, it makes even the sizable iPhone 13 Pro Max (6.3 x 3.1 x 0.3 inches, 8.5 ounces) seem small and lightweight in comparison. It could be a device to throw in your laptop backpack, but that defeats the purpose of being an easily accessible phone. Plus, why would I resort to using something that small when I could pull out a reliable MacBook Air or Dell XPS 13? It’s difficult to find the middle ground for the Astro Slide due to its bulky design.

(Image credit: Future)

While the hinge is impressive, the slide-out function isn’t very solid. A slight movement when swiping will have the screen wobble, as there’s no mechanism for the display to click into place once the keyboard is covered. It’s annoying, and feels like if I placed it in my pocket or bag the wrong way, the hinge would break.

(Image credit: Future)

Other than that, the Astro Slide has a nice flair to it. Its display is great to look at, although its sizable top and bottom bezels give it less “flagship” vibes. At least the hole-punch front-facing camera doesn’t get in the way of the screen. Around back, the hinges seamlessly blend into the design. You’ll also find a dark blue plastic back cover with the type of small ridges that you’d run your nail against when you’re procrastinating (just me?). Slightly similar to the Pixel 6, there’s a bar along the top housing the single 48MP camera lens and flash, along with a Planet Computers logo engraved next to it.

(Image credit: Future)

Trying to bring a bulky smartphone a couple of decades into the 21st century is a bold move, and the company did an admirable job considering the surprisingly comfortable keyboard it packed in. Still, as a smartphone first and foremost, its design makes it a very niche product. 

Astro Slide 5G display

The Astro Slide 5G’s 6.39-inch FHD+ (2340 x 1080) AMOLED display with a 13:6 aspect ratio is an absolute highlight, although it is stuck at a 60Hz refresh rate. This is a phone designed for typing, however, not for playing games at high refresh rates. Still, high refresh rates go a long way when navigating through apps, so it’s a shame it doesn’t make the most of an otherwise great display.

To test it out, I decided to spark some nostalgia and watch Lightyear on Disney+. As everyone’s favorite space ranger (who falls with style) first steps onto T’Kani Prime, the display beautifully portrays all the colors of nature on the alien planet. From the sun glinting off Buzz’s shiny green and purple space suit to the subtle hints of red leaves on top of trees, it was a delight to see Buzz in such crisp detail.

(Image credit: Future)

I then decided to go a round in Call of Duty: Mobile. While not the most graphically demanding game, gameplay was smooth and it was easy to spot enemies firing shots at me in the distance on scattered maps like Crash or Crossfire. For a phone at this price, this is the type of display I’d expect, bar the 120Hz-less refresh rates. 

Astro Slide 5G audio

While watching and playing on the Astro Slide 5G, it is better to use its 3.5mm headphone jack than let the bottom-firing stereo speakers do the heavy lifting. They’re not bad, but I wouldn't purposely use them unless I wanted to show off a quick TikTok or YouTube video to people.

(Image credit: Future)

The speakers are mediocre at best, and Beyoncé’s “Summer Renaissance” proves it. The heavy beats have no “oomph” to them, and the famed singer’s voice gets lost in a slightly distorted blend of synth sounds and “boops.” The tune didn’t sound tinny, and the quality of each element could still be heard enough to qualify for a quick groove. Otherwise, I’d recommend sticking to the best wireless headphones to make the most out of whatever tune you listen to. 

Astro Slide 5G keyboard

Never did I think I’d add a keyboard section to a phone review, but the Astro Slide 5G has changed the game. Planet Computers added a full-blown mechanical keyboard with backlit keys that also come with five brightness levels and are programmable.

Typing on a touchscreen, especially when there are haptics involved, is the de facto smartphone experience, and many are so accustomed to it that they can type faster than they would using a keyboard (certainly not myself). It’s the fastest way to shoot off a text, tweet, or comment on social media, but when typing long-form articles, it can only go so far.

(Image credit: Future)

This is where Astro Slide’s keyboard comes in handy, and despite being on a cramped form factor to fit the dimensions of a phone, the key layout and their actuation points are well suited for speedy, comfortable typing. It takes some time to get used to, especially considering the spacing between each key is minimal compared to proper keyboards, but you’ll soon be typing away to shoot off emails or write a report in no time.

I’m not an incredibly fast typer, with my average word per minute reaching around 70 on 10FastFingers.com. When I first tried the typing test using the Astro Slide, I managed (embarrassingly) 20 wpm. Yikes. After a few days using it, I tried the test again and managed to get a 57-wpm average. Still not incredibly fast, and this is due to being used to typing on laptops with a wider keyboard layout. However, I’d still prefer to type using physical keys rather than a touchscreen.

(Image credit: Future)

It’s important to note that I’m placing the phone on a surface in order to use all my fingers, rather than holding it to just use my thumbs. While this is definitely an option, I may as well be using a touchscreen keyboard at this point, as the length of my thumbs would accidentally press other keys when I reach for keys closer to the middle.

(Image credit: Future)

There are a bunch of different features the Astro Slide’s keyboard comes bundled with, including a fingerprint reader, a programmable smart button to open apps, take a screenshot, or trigger different functions like an emoji input or turning Airplane mode on or off. Keys are cleverly placed, much like a 60% keyboard such as the HyperX Alloy Origins 60. I also found the base of the Astro Slide to be stable enough that I could type without worrying it would shift around.

As far as keyboards on phones go, the Astro Slide 5G has the best one around. Although, competition is pretty scarce. 

Astro Slide 5G performance

Sporting a MediaTek Dimensity 8000 processor with 5G support and 8GB of RAM, the Astro Slide 5G is by no means a flagship killer. But it can still do just about every task without any big hiccups, and can even run games pretty well.

As always, I put the GT Neo 3 through its paces by opening a couple of dozen active Google Chrome tabs while watching Lightyear on Disney+ in a small window. I also slipped between the Chrome tabs and Call of Duty: Mobile to see how fast it could switch between the two. While switching back to CoD, the app was playing music but there was nothing on display. It only required a quick close-and-open to get it back up again, but it shows the Astro Slide isn’t the best at multitasking. I also noticed a slight sound when the phone was booting up apps. You know the last whisper of air leaving an unopened bottle of Coke? That’s what it sounds like, just slightly weaker.

(Image credit: Future)

In the Geekbench 5 test, the Astro Slide delivered a multi-core score of 2,003. That’s not nearly as good as the Realme GT Neo 3 (Mediatek Dimensity 8100 5G, 4,035) or Poco F4 GT (Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, 3,683), despite their more affordable pricing. The iPhone 13 left everyone in dust (A15, 4,436), while the Samsung Galaxy S22 (Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, 3,341) still had it beat.

(Image credit: Future)

It didn’t fare much better in the 3D Wild Life test, where it clocked an overall score of 1,710 and an average frame rate of 10.2 fps. It can’t compare to the GT Neo 3 (5,231, 31.3 fps) or the F4 GT (2,584, 15.5 fps). Needless to say, it got trounced by the Galaxy S22 (60 fps).

(Image credit: Future)

In real-world testing, I didn’t find the graphics and performance to be as bad as the numbers made it out to be. I was still playing Call of Duty: Mobile with medium graphics and frame rate, which was a smooth experience, and I was still navigating through apps without any trouble. 

Astro Slide 5G battery life and charging

The Astro Slide 5G packs a 4,000mAh battery, which is disappointing for a phone at this price. Normally, we would see capacities around 4,500mAh, but it’s still admirable they could fit a battery this size into a phone with a keyboard.

(Image credit: Future)

Regardless of the battery it packs, it still offers over a full day of battery life with medium use. With heavy use, I could still get just under a day of battery life. This included watching YouTube videos and Netflix shows, playing a couple of rounds of Call of Duty: Mobile, scrolling through social media, video calls, snapping pictures, and shooting video. From waking up at 8 a.m., I got just over 9 hours.

(Image credit: Future)

Charging speeds aren’t anything special. Putting it on the charger when it hit 47%, the Astro Slide stated it would take 1 hour and 14 minutes to charge to full. After 30 minutes, I checked again and it was at 66%. Compared to the 100W+ charging speeds some Android phones have, like the Poco F4 GT and Realme GT Neo 3, the Astro Slide falls behind.

Astro Slide 5G cameras

The Astro Slide isn’t just unique for having a keyboard, it’s also one of the few phones on the market with a single lens — and not a particularly great one, either. Despite it having a commendable 48MP Sony IMX586 main sensor, mainly used on mid-range phones, pictures are noticeably grainy, brightness levels are all over the place, and color saturation looks way too dull.

The Astro Slide’s camera software is minimal, with the only options being to switch from photo to video, flip the camera, and turn HDR and flash on or off. The app alone shows that there wasn’t much effort put into the camera department. At least the front-facing 13MP Sony IMX214 camera does a better job at taking selfies.

(Image credit: Future)

I went on a walk along my local canal during a semi-clouded day, with quick bursts of sunshine peeping through the clouds. Perfect for testing how the Astro Slide’s camera handles dodgy lighting. As it turns out, not so well. When taking the picture of the long-hanging tree, I constantly had to adjust the brightness to get a decent shot of the greenery. The picture isn’t incredibly detailed, although you can see the different shades of green along its branches. That said, colors still seem off, and the otherwise blue sky just looks like a white background.

(Image credit: Future)

Continuing along the canal, I got a chance to snap a picture of a swan with the backdrop of houses. The swan wasn’t that far away, yet it was completely grainy, and the blue sky peeping through the clouds only shows how blurry everything looks. More pictures showcase how colors are quite dull, from the yellow canoe to the green canal boat.

(Image credit: Future)

The front-facing camera does a better job at capturing cleaner images with accurate colors. When taking a selfie, the lens could capture the small freckles on my face, along with the hint of sunburn I have thanks to the UK’s summer sun. It also brought out the slight green in my eyes, along with the deeper dark green of my t-shirt. Oh, and a few stray facial hairs.

For a flagship price, the Astro Slide doesn’t do much with its camera. Even if you just like to snap a few pics every now and again, you’d do better with a more affordable smartphone.

Astro Slide 5G software

The Astro Slide is behind the times in the software department, running the aging Android 11. There isn’t much to the OS on the surface, but Planet Computers has added its own set of apps mainly centered around the keyboard. With Android 12 already around for nearly a year and Andoird 13 on the horizon, The Astro Slide should be more up to date. Plus, it’s hard to know how many major updates Planet Computers aims to bring.

(Image credit: Future)

While the different configuration options for the keyboard are welcome, as mentioned earlier, the rest of the apps the Astro Slide includes are more like bloatware. There’s OneSearch, Airmail, Notes, and task planner Agenda, which I would never use considering that the majority of my work, as with other professionals, use Google and Microsoft apps. While the Notes app can come in handy for jotting stuff down quickly, I can imagine the rest will largely go unused. 

Astro Slide 5G: Bottom line

The Astro Slide 5G is one of the more interesting smartphones to come out this year. After getting the funding to develop it, there’s clearly a demand for phones with a fancy keyboard stuck on it. Albeit, a niche demand.

While the keyboard itself is a wonder to use once you get used to it and the AMOLED display looks great, the Astro Slide falls behind in other departments, especially with a flagship price tag. It’s not up to scratch even when compared to mid-range phones, and its design, although very well put together, leaves it in a twilight zone between an unwieldy smartphone and a shrunken down laptop.

I’m positive there are many out there that will make full use out of the Astro Slide, and you’d be hard pressed to find any other phone with a full-on keyboard on it. Despite it lagging behind current smartphones in terms of specs, those in need of a small keyboard on a phone will surely enjoy all the sliding and typing.

That said, you could also look at getting a small tablet and a detachable keyboard, like the iPad Air and Magic Keyboard, which works out to be a not-much-more-expensive $898/£849. And, you could swap out Apple’s keyboard with a Smart keyboard Folio to bring it down further. Better yet, you could also nab the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 with a Book Cover Keyboard Slim for $838.

If you’re after keyboard-less phones, check out our list of best smartphones

Darragh Murphy
Darragh Murphy

Darragh Murphy is fascinated by all things bizarre, which usually leads to assorted coverage varying from washing machines designed for AirPods to the mischievous world of cyberattacks. Whether it's connecting Scar from The Lion King to two-factor authentication or turning his love for gadgets into a fabricated rap battle from 8 Mile, he believes there’s always a quirky spin to be made. With a Master’s degree in Magazine Journalism from The University of Sheffield, along with short stints at Kerrang! and Exposed Magazine, Darragh started his career writing about the tech industry at Time Out Dubai and ShortList Dubai, covering everything from the latest iPhone models and Huawei laptops to massive Esports events in the Middle East. Now, he can be found proudly diving into gaming, gadgets, and letting readers know the joys of docking stations for Laptop Mag.