Along with the folding phones and hulking battery monsters that were released during and around the annual Mobile World Congress, an age-old mobile phone trend is clawing its way back out of the grave for what feels like the hundredth time. is here, and, folks, it has a keyboard.
Harkening all the way back to the iconic design of , one of the very first Android smartphones to take the iPhone on head-on, the Fxtec Pro1 has a classic 64-key physical keyboard that slides out from underneath the standard touchscreen. Apart from this old-school touch, it's a relatively modern handset, running the latest version of Android (9.0, aka Pie), sporting an OLED display, and cameras capable of 12MP photos and 4K video recording, all at a $650 price point. It's a pitch aimed at a very specific niche, folks who like everything about modern smartphones except the on-screen keyboard.
Great! Sure! Those people theoretically exist, but previous iterations of this trend suggest that perhaps there aren't very many of them anymore. As BlackBerry, once the king of smartphones, flailed in the wake of Android's ascendance, it too tried to hold on for dear life by clinging to its legacy of best-in-class keyboard phones and again. It didn't work. Attempts to add physical keyboards to phones that don't have them with (cheaper) bolt-on accessories have largely failed as well, though maybe more than anything.
Why have these gadgets failed to take off? Well, the problems of on-screen keyboards have just been better solved in other ways. Typos are kept at bay (mostly) by ever-smarter and always-learning autocorrect. What typos sneak through are a small price to pay for extra screen real-estate that's not always a keyboard. Plus, on-screen keyboards allow swipe-style texting that's a wonder for one-handed use.
What's worse is that physical keyboards are an enormous point of failure for devices that are notoriously unrepairable. And to top it all off, most physical-keyboard fans have just had to learn to just get used to on-screen keyboard life as their options for alternatives have gradually shriveled down . This will be the first time in a while they've had a choice!
And so maybe the Fxtec Pro1 will find a small clutch of devotees, but the target its aiming seems likely to only get smaller and smaller. Some day, eventually, maybe it will finally disappear.