BlackBerry fans who mourned the demise of the keyboard phone now have hope, thanks to a Shanghai-based vendor called Unihertz that has been developing phones, including several with keyboards, since 2017. Its latest of that genre, the Titan Slim, is a US$329.99 (about C$450) device reminiscent of the BlackBerry Key2 that could make users of the now-defunct device very happy indeed.
The Titan Slim is a bit smaller than a BlackBerry Key2, measuring 146.85 x 67.6 x 12.75 mm to the Key2’s 151.4 x 71.8 x 8.5 mm, but sits nicely in the hand, and weighs 204g (the Key2 tips the scales at 168g). The extra weight is primarily due to its 4100 mAh battery (the Key2 was powered by a 3050 mAh battery), which lets the phone last a couple of days on a charge – or more, depending on usage.
The screen measures 4.2 inches, not much smaller than the Key2’s 4.5 inch display, with a resolution of 768 x 1280, which is comfortably viewable, and is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass. With 6 GB RAM and 256 GB storage, it handles day to day tasks well, though reviews by avid gamers (I am not such a creature) note that its processor is too slow for heavy-duty gaming.
The keyboard is the raison d’être for this phone, and it has good points and bad points. Likely to avoid patent infringement lawsuits, the QWERTY keyboard’s Sym, alt, fn, and shift keys, on the bottom of the Key2’s keyboard, are across the top on the Titan Slim, interrupted in the middle by a capacitive Home button/fingerprint reader. Some keys are missing as well, and some functions moved to different keys than on the Key2, which means retraining of muscle memory. For example, zero on the Key2 was on the Mic button, which doesn’t exist on the Titan Slim, so it’s been moved to the Q key. And the Home, Back, and Recent buttons, usually soft keys at the bottom of the screen, are physical buttons.
The keys are about the same size as those on the Key2, but because the phone is a tad narrower, they’re closer together, which makes them seem smaller. People with large fingers may be challenged.
Like the Key2, the Titan Slim has a touch-sensitive illuminated keyboard that allows you to swipe up or down on it to scroll, or swipe horizontally to move between screens, but you have to enable the feature (it was enabled by default on the Key2). On the Titan Slim, the feature is called Scroll Assistant, and it and other features are managed through the Intelligent Assistance menu in Settings. In fact, there are enough interesting and useful (but hidden) features on this phone that it’s well worth grabbing the full user manual and actually reading it.
The Titan Slim’s cameras and camera apps are fairly basic. You get a 48 megapixel (MP) autofocus rear camera with flash, 4x zoom and anti-shake, and a front 8MP fixed focus shooter. The rear camera does have a video mode, a time lapse mode and a Pro mode (it isn’t full of features – it just lets you adjust for white balance, set ISO between 100 and 12800, and tweak the exposure). There is no night mode, so be prepared to use the flash when lighting is low. That said, both cameras do a decent enough job – in fact, they do very well for a non-flagship phone; I was amazed that the rear camera passed the Black Cat Test.
And what, you ask, is the Black Cat Test? Anyone who owns a black cat knows that most cameras have great difficulty focusing on the critters, so any camera that can get a decent picture of a black cat passes one of the ultimate tests, regardless of what other fancy features it does or does not possess.
The Titan Slim offers near field communication (NFC) support, and Bluetooth 4.1 as well as Wi-Fi. Its sensor collection is composed of a G-sensor, gyroscope, proximity, ambient light sensor, and compass, as well as the fingerprint reader embedded in the Home button. If you prefer other methods of authentication, it also supports the usual suspects: password, PIN, or facial recognition.
Its USB-C port allows USB OTG (on-the-go), which lets the phone act as a USB host that other devices can connect to. There are no other ports (though Unihertz includes a USB-C to 3.5mm jack adapter for headphones), and no external storage such as microSD. There is, however, a blast from the past – an infrared (IR) blaster, which allows the phone to act as a universal remote (with appropriate software; there’s a program provided).
The FM radio relies on wired headphones – the cable acts as its antenna – so if you’re a wireless earbud user, don’t count on it functioning. The phone also has a programmable key on the left side that allows you to quickly launch a chosen app, take a screenshot, turn the flashlight on and off, record a phone call, and more. It’s configurable through Shortcut Settings in the Intelligent Assistance menu in Settings.
The phone supports dual nano SIMs, but the internal storage is all you get – it does not have a microSD slot. And you’re limited to 4G LTE at best – it does not offer 5G. Confirm with your carrier that its supported bands (listed in the specs on the product page) will work on their network.
Charging is via the included A/C adapter – wireless charging is not supported. I’ve found the phone lasts several days with average usage. And, to stretch that time, you can program the phone to automatically shut down and turn back on at designated times.
Have a peek at this promo video for a look at more features of the device.
The Titan Slim comes with a fairly vanilla version of Android 11, which works fine, but – and this is a huge but – it arrives with the August 2022 security updates, and Unihertz support says there’s currently no plan for an update. This is a worry, and I hope the company rethinks its strategy (and it may have – it just updated one of its other Titan models). Users need to push back, hard, at all vendors who don’t update in a timely manner.
The phone has run all software I’ve tried on it (except one augmented reality game that is grumpy even on some Android 13 phones). And it does not come with quantities of bloatware as some phones do.
To make it more Key2-like, I even installed BlackBerry Hub+ Services and BlackBerry Inbox (both available in the Play Store), and both work perfectly.
If you’re looking for a flagship-grade phone, this isn’t it.
What the Titan Slim gives you is a respectable device with a BlackBerry-ish keyboard that offers much of what the BlackBerry of yore offered: good battery life and a physical keyboard, but with better cameras and a newer operating system (the Key2 ran Android 8.1). Sure, it’s chunkier (2.25 mm thicker and 36g heavier than the Key2), but not unacceptably so, at least to me.
Granted, it does not support 5G, or wireless charging, and does not have a microSD slot. If any of those things are important to you, this is not the right phone.
But if that physical keyboard makes your heart beat faster, the Titan Slim is well worth a look.