The Astro Slide is a 5G smartphone with a 6.5 inch display and a physical keyboard that slides out from behind the screen, allowing you to use the phone like a tiny laptop computer. It will ship with Android, but the plan is to also make GNU/Linux distributions including Debian and Ubuntu Touch available for download.
First announced by Planet Computers in March, 2020, the phone went up for pre-order through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $1.6 million in hopes of shipping the Astro Slide to customers by March, 2021.
Now the makers of the phone are providing an update – because of pandemic-related delays it will likely ship in June instead. And the specs have changed (the phone has more RAM than initially planned, but a less powerful processor and smaller battery).
Rather than a MediaTek Dimensity 1000 processor, the phone will ship with a Dimensity 800 chip. That means the phone will have less CPU and graphics horsepower than anticipated, and it will not support WiFi 6 or BLE audio.
In an interview, Planet Computers CEO Janko Mrsic-Flogel told me that the company wanted to use the Dimensity 1000, which was the most powerful MediaTek chip at the time that planning for the phone was underway. But MediaTek ultimately declined to make that processor available to Planet Computers, instead offering the 800 chip.
The good news is that this is a more energy-efficient processor, so Mrsic-Flogel says he expected all-day battery life even though the company opted to use a 3,500 mAh battery for the Astro Slide rather than the originally planned 5,000 mAh battery.
It’s also a 5G-capable processor, making the Astro Slide the only smartphone I’m aware of to feature 5G support and a physical keyboard. It’s also the first 5G-ready phone I know of that will offer official support for Linux… although Planet Computers is largely relying on members of the mobile Linux community to developer software for the phone.
The company notes that, as with its earlier devices including the Gemini PDA and Cosmo Communicator, the plan is to send prototypes to Linux developers as soon as possible (probably in March) and if Linux-based operating systems aren’t in good enough shape to distribute by the time the phone ships in June, they’ll be made available from the Planet Computers support page once they’re available.
Planet Computers will provide kernel source code and the bootloader will be unlockable. But Linux software for the phone will most likely use the same kernel as the version of Android that runs on the smartphone and use libhybris to allow Linux distributions to use Android drivers to communicate with the phone’s hardware.
More details about Linux support should be available closer to launch.