A different kind of product review
This is the most brilliant phone I ever had, it has plenty of power, the keyboard in combination with its free-software operating system Ubuntu Touch, the ability to plug it into an external monitor and use it as a fully blown desktop make it one of a kind and the true flagship Linux-Phone this world deserves.
This, or something similar, would have been what I had written here if this device was anywhere near what had been promised in the indigogo crowd funding campaign and I had actually gotten it in 2020.
I had high expectations for this phone, it was a new hope during dark times for the galaxy (yes this is where I am going with this). But to understand why this phone still is important to me, let me take you back in time for a bit.
A brief history
There is an unseen battle going on for the future of earths people.
The dark lords of the proprietary side of software rule with an iron fist and allow no deviation from their way of computing. Making the population believe that they are on their side they secretly took control over the worlds computers from their glass palaces in California. Step by step they took away more and more freedom and privacy from their subjects and every year they would call them to their palaces to attend something they called developer conferences. Showing the world the latest blessings they would bestow on them and having their subjects worship them in their great halls.
But there still was resistance, when the first humans learned to use the software to process information another side formed as well, the light of free software. Those following this path vowed not to abuse their power to control others, like the dark lords did, but to put it to good use and free users and their computers from the dark lords. Unseen by the masses to this day they hold against the dark lords. And their followers grow in number year by year.
In the year 2007 one of the most ingenious of the dark ones, Darth Jobs introduced his subjects to something new. He called it an iPhone. A pocket sized computer that could be used to access the internet and make calls. Sold at the same price as a proper computer, but with less power and only the promise to one day make life for his subjects better, once more “Apps” where available. But it would also play music for them, that was available it right now. It was brilliant, if this took off, he would not only control them, when they where at home or at the office working on his computers, no, now he would have taps on them every waking hour.
The other dark lords laughed at him, surely none of their subjects would go and buy it, too expensive and they would see right through the plan. The most powerful of them all, Lord Palmer who recently took over the Microsoft Empire from his former Master, Lord Gates, was the most vocal about it.
But they were wrong, Darth Jobs succeeded, he even brought down the undefeated ruler of mobiles called Nokia. Lord Palmer lost his empire due to his error in judgment. Not even his too late attempts of gaining some power through Windows Phones could save him.
In the end the two dark organizations of Apple and Google divided the world between them and their dark lords rule the mobile market supreme.
However the light side was not yet defeated. Sudo master Mark Shuttleworth of Ubuntu saw the suffering of the people and decided to offer a way out. In 2013 he tried to rally forces to strike back and help to introduce the “Ubuntu Edge”. A true, proper smart phone, built on the foundation of free software that would break users free from their dark rulers. Not designed to serve them ads and lure their attention in, it would be what a smart phone should have been in the first place, an open and free computer that could be put into a pocket, attached to an external monitor and used however one wanted. The one device a user would ever need.
I was among those who stood with him that day, one who put down the money he asked. One who hoped for him to succeed.
He failed, he got nowhere near to the support he needed, but he didn’t give up. Without the means to get the hardware he needed, he still had the power of free software and he found an ally willing to aid him. A Spanish phone maker by the name of BQ. Together they brought the first linux phone to the world. The BQ Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition.
I got one and it was horrible.
Back to the subject at hand
In 2019 Linux phones did return to the news. The first one I noticed was the Librem 5 from Purism, the second one that popped up was the PinePhone from Pine64. I think the Librem 5 was announced way earlier, but that was when I noticed it first. I kept checking back on Pursims website and never pulled the trigger on one, but I did get the Pinephone in 2020, still have it.
I remember the early days with the PinePhone, everything was slow, almost nothing worked and the phone came without an OS. But in all fairness, I knew that when I ordered it. Fore one thing I wanted to support Pine64 financially, so they kept going and I also believed in the approach they took, providing the hardware and forming a community of developers to get the software to where id needed to be, the other thing was, I still had faith in the concept of a Linux phone. But progress was slow, steady, but slow.
Suddenly in October 2020 F(x)Tec announced the Pro1X. A new snapdragon 8(something) powered smartphone with a physical keyboard. The keyboard alone would not have made me order it, but it was also announced to run ubuntu touch. I think they promised to deliver in December originally? Something like that. Oh and it would also support a full desktop on an external monitor. Basically the dream of the Ubuntu Edge reborn.
Compared to the PinePhone, this was a true game changer, powerful, pretty and running the Phone OS I wanted it to run and it would be fully functional and in my hands, way before they got the PinePhone at a state I would want to run it as my main phone. I ordered almost immediately.
Things have tendency not to work the way you want them to and sadly the Pro1X was no exception to this rule. It arrived, but not in 2020, not in 2021 but in August 2022. It arrived, but not with a snapdragon 8(something) but with a snapdragon 662. It arrived but not with Ubuntu Touch or even Lineage OS, but (and that is the worst of all) running Android. 11 at that not 12 or 13, 11 but that was kind of current when it should have shipped, so…
Long story short, the shortcut to a working linux phone did not go too well.
However the hardware is here, the bootloader is unlocked by default and work on both lineage and ubuntu touch is underway. The hope lives on. But for now, let me tell you about the part I already have. The hardware.
First thing I saw, was the box said Pro1, which got me sacred they sent the old phone. But it was actually the Pro1X, so lucky me.
The box did also contain a cable and a charger. But not only that, adapters were included as well so one could use the charger abroad. In a world of phones without chargers, a nice thing to see.
The phone itself is huge, and heavy, when compared to my daily driver, the iPhone12 mini. And thick, almost 2 iPhones in height. But all of that was to be expected. Here are a couple of pictures for you:
Let me start with the positive things.
The keyboard is really good. Typing on it is smooth and quick.
For what it is, the keys have a nice travel to them. Nowhere near to a blackberry passport, but easily the best keyboard on a smartphone (including the pinephone) these days.
Once you figured out (read the manual, oh they also provided an actual, printed manual in the box) how to open it up, the mechanism springs into place, no wobbling. Feels rather stable. I think the hinge is metal, but I can’t swear to that.
They also where smart enough to put hardware controls like volume etc on the opposite side of the keyboard so you don’t trigger them by accident while typing, which can’t be said about a certain Microsoft Surface Duo….
The screen is more than bright enough to be used in sunlight and the colors seem to be rather well calibrated.
It has a headphone jack!
Now to the less fortunate things.
The speakers are stereo, that I can say about them, but they not the best I ever heard. At maximum volume they are completely unusable, below that they are on the lower end of okay.
I said that the placement of the buttons was good, but the buttons themselves are less so, the volume ones are plain plastic and all three, volume, power and camera wobble around in their holes. But, plus points for a physical camera button! If only one could set it to use something else than the standard camera app….
Speaking of the camera, 48MP, single flash nothing to write home about, but it gets the job done. If you do the job with open camera instead of the provided qualcom app it does so even better. Funny enough the homepage lists the camera as rear cameras (plural) and as a 12MP sensor.
But, let me put that but in capital letters because it is a huge but. BUT the camera sticks out of the case. Why??? Thinness obviously was no concern with this phone, a couple more millimeters would not have mattered. But the camera sticking out means the phone doesn’t lie flat on a table. No problem on a normal phone, but this is a phone with a keyboard. That will be used like that a lot and a keyboard that isn’t stable on a table is something they use in hell to torture programmers (who wrote the windows update routines).
The sim slot is designed to be used without any tools, which would be a good thing, if it worked. I am not able to pull the tray out without a small screwdriver, which made me scratch the case on day one. If implemented like that, I would prefer a sim removal tool.
Usage of the device
To be honest, I haven’t gotten to use it a lot. For one thing I didn’t really have the time to do a complete transfer of everything from my iPhone to it and the other thing is, I don’t see the point to do so just yet. As soon as lineage or Ubuntu Touch are available, I will be reinstalling it anyway. But for the sake of this blog, I did install a couple of things. F-Droid, K-9 Mail, Tuskey, Fennec and Termux among them.
Please let me say at the very beginning of this, navigation through text on a smartphone is horrible. But not with this phone. The arrow keys are already helping, but the discovery of being able to ctrl + arrow key and jump words, or jump to the end of a line, like one a proper computer gave me a mini orgasm.
The rest of my experience was mixed. The CPU is more than powerful enough for my needs and 8GB of Ram are so too. But it is limited by the OS it runs.
No, this is not me bashing android. Android is a good OS for phones. But that is kind of the problem. The Pro1X isn’t a normal phone that lives its life in portrait orientation. This is a horizontal phone and most android apps are note designed to work that way.
There are good ones, like K-9 Mail that has a sepcial mode for horizontal use or Termux which in combination with the keyboard lets you forget you are even on a phone. Homeassistant is just a bliss.
Fennec (Firefox) works too, as soon as you switch it to desktop mode.
But Newpipe (youtube) does not do so well, 1/3 of the screen is used up by the red header bar, the rest of the content lives on the left side of the screen and almost all of the screen is blank (unless you watch a video). The arrow keys don’t let you skip through the video either, so there is that.
Tuskey is doing fine, but not brilliantly with each toot taking up the entire width of the screen. But at least the topbar is thin and on top and doesn’t take up too much of the screen.
And then there is jtxboard (nextcloud notes)
The small line of text in the middle is the actual interface you work on.
The thing with phone software is, it’s not designed to be used like that. Our own app the the worst of the bunch, I won’t show you an image of that.
So, where do I stand on this phone?
I like it, for the most part. I don’t like the OS it came with however, it is tainted by the dark side, so to speak, running full google loaded Android. Maybe Android 12 with its tablet features would make a difference in usage, but still, dark side.
For now I removed all the google apps and serviced from it, which kind of is annoying because it keeps sending me notification that google services are needed to run properly (funny thing, it still runs), but I guess that’s the best I can do for now.
I think this thing will really come to brilliance once it is running Linux. Ubuntu touch could truly unleash it and I can’t wait for it to be available.
I guess until then, I will allow it to collect a bit of dust and exercise my patience….
One more thing, I said I would have been a big fan of this phone in 2020. I was a full time Linux user back then, my Phone was a Fairphone 3 with /e/-OS on it and I even used Subsunic and Jellyfin to escape Netflix and Spotify. I spent a lot of time on my computer and phone to keep everything running.
In 2022 I am less so, the reason for this is, that from a free software enthusiast who would have happily used a Linux phone as his daily driver, I have fallen to the dark side. All my client devices run a fruit based OS these days and that works very well for me.
My fall isn’t complete just yet, nothing but Ubuntu LTS will ever touch my server, the only cloud I will use will be one I host on that machine and I won’t be switching to Microsoft Office from OnlyOffice or to anything but Thunderbird and Firefox. Facebook won’t lure me in and Google can kiss my behind.
But MacOS and iOS are taking away a lot of the headache Linux and de-googled Android gave me. Guess we will have to wait and see if this new hope frees me from the dark side or if Darth Cook will turn me completely….