TL; DR: London-based F(x)tec is setting new trends in the smartphone market with Pro1, a slim device that includes a full slide-out QWERTY keyboard, split-screen support, and a dual SIM card tray. The consumer-focused device is designed for those who want a functional and beautiful smartphone experience. With an upcoming product lineup focused on usability, F(x)tec aims to continue providing alternative solutions to the status quo.
We may be addicted to our smartphones, but that doesn’t mean they’re flawless. The frustration of triggering an accidental action with our thumbs — such as sending an unfortunately misspelled and then autocorrected text — is so common that it’s been dubbed fat finger syndrome.
And although we blame ourselves for such gaffes, they’re really a reflection of poor user experience (UX) design. Nothing says modern like a virtual keyboard, but are they the best option in all cases?
The folks at F(x)tec don’t think so. They’ve designed the Pro1, a slim smartphone with a full slide-out QWERTY keyboard in addition to a virtual option, to provide a richer, more functional user experience.
“There are some things that you can just do so much better with a physical keyboard,” Adrian Li Mow Ching, Co-Founder and Director of F(x)tec, told us. “Apart from the satisfaction of actually pressing keys, there’s the accuracy you get when you use physical keys.”
But the Pro1 doesn’t stop at keyboard versatility. The device also features a large display, split-screen viewing, support for a variety of operating systems, and a dual SIM card tray, among other features.
Adrian said F(x)tec’s approach is about putting user preferences — and common sense — ahead of trends. “The reality is, we’re not here to compete against a day-to-day Apple or Samsung smartphone,” he said. “Our product is for those who want to have the extra bit of functionality in their pocket.”
With an upcoming product lineup focused on usability, F(x)tec aims to continue providing alternative solutions to the status quo.
Striving for a Richer User Experience
The idea for the Pro1 came about when Adrian and Co-FounderLiangchen Chen were discussing the limitations of the latest BlackBerry smartphone.
“BlackBerry devices were still around in the form of TCL devices, but they were a little bit disappointing for us,” Adrian said. “We were used to full-size screens that went from top to bottom and worked a modern aspect ratio in landscape mode.”
In 2017, Liangchen Chen had founded the Livermorium keyboard accessory, which allowed users to add a QWERTY slider keyboard to the Moto Z phone.
“It was a good prototype to demonstrate what it would be like to have a physical landscape keyboard connected to a full-size Android smartphone — but it had limitations in that you were adding an accessory to a phone,” Adrian said. “The weight distribution wasn’t right — it was like a burger. So we decided to design our own phone.”
By July 2018, the team had its first discussions with a manufacturer. A prototype was available by February 2019. After extensive feedback from users and a certification process with various parties, F(x)tec released the first-ever Pro1.
“We think about the Pro1 as providing the best of both keyboards,” Adrian said. “My Pro1 is my daily driver, and it’s nice because when it’s closed, it’s just like every other great Android device. It’s slim, it has a 6-inch touchscreen, and when I need to do a bit extra, I’ve got the keyboard right there.”
A Smartphone Built for the Functionality-Minded
The Pro1, powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, features 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage, which is expandable to 2TB via a microSD card. The device is preloaded with Android Pie, but supports other popular mobile operating systems, including Lineage and Sailfish.
In addition to power and storage, the device packs a lot of punch in terms of functionality. The split screen, for example, available when the slide-out keyboard is in use, allows users to view two apps at the same time.
“If you want to send emails on one side while watching your favorite sports app, you can do that,” Adrian told us. “I’m certain that no other device allows you to do this because as soon as you start typing on anything else, you get that big virtual keyboard that pops up and forces you to lose that screen real estate.”
Adrian said that, when designing the Pro1, the team thought hard about the features they missed in devices of days gone by.“You’re in a special position when you can design your own handset and add your own features,” he said. “So, we decided to do things like keep the headphone jack. And we added stereo speakers so when you’re watching movies in landscape or a major announcement, you’ve got speakers from both sides of the phone.”
The team also included a dual SIM card tray so that there’s no need to have a second phone if you travel to another country. In addition, Pro1 is compatible with most of the world’s networks, so users can stay connected across the globe.
Putting User Opinions Before Mass Trends
“We’ve generally had very good feedback from our user base, which spans the globe,” Adrian said. “They’re quite engaged from a community perspective.”
The U.S. is one of F(x)tec’s largest markets, but the company has a significant number of users in Europe as well, where there’s even more linguistic diversity.
“We’ve had a lot of requests for multiple keyboard layouts,” Adrian told us. “We came out with a QWERTZ keyboard for the German market at the end of last year, and when the time is right, we’ll start adding additional layout options to the phone.”
The fact that the physical keyboard is integrated into the phone really optimizes its capabilities. Thanks to its tactility, F(x)tec is able to serve the gaming community in a way that other device manufacturers can’t. “The physical buttons offer an experience that you just can’t have anymore unless you’re carrying a portable gaming device with you,” he said.
Whether with gamers, frequent travelers, or any other user group, F(x)tec is committed to maintaining the feedback loop that keeps the device in demand.
“We ask all kinds of questions to gather customer input,” Adrian said. “It could be simple things like ‘Would you prefer a larger or a smaller screen,” or ‘What do you think about the sliding mechanism, the weight, the keys?’ We really value a response that is independent of our own.”
An Upcoming Product Lineup Focused on Usability
F(x)tec has additional innovations in the pipeline, including another version of the current device to be released toward the end of the year.
In the future, the company is looking beyond physical keyboards. Adrian said there’s a lot of exciting twists and turns on the product road map moving forward.
“Ultimately, our passion is phones that give you the ability to do more,” Adrian said. “If you really appreciate a high degree of interaction and usability on a device, the Pro1 won’t disappoint.”