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Smartphones are boring these days. Many are just the same variation of a glass sandwich with a front completely filled by a touchscreen and a back full of cameras. But in the past, phones came in many different shapes and sizes, and brand-new form factors used to be the norm. Specialty phone manufacturer Unihertz taps into this nostalgia to bring back something that we thought was dead: a Blackberry-like slab equipped with a physical keyboard.
The Titan Pocket is just another phone in a long line of niche creations launched by Unihertz, including the larger, non-Pocket version of Titan. Like its predecessors, the Pocket relied on a Kickstarter campaign to make sure there's enough interest in the phone before it starts mass production, and it more than surpassed its funding goal.
|SoC||Mediatek Helio P70|
|Display||3.1-inch display, 716x720|
|Camera||16MP rear camera / 8MP front camera|
|Miscellaneous||Headphone jack, dual SIM/microSD, NFC, infrared, fingerprint sensor, hardware navigation keys, Bluetooth 4.1, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac|
|Bands||GSM: Band 2/3/5/8
WCDMA: Band 1/2/4/5/6/8/19
TDSCDMA: Band 34/39
FDD/TDD LTE: Band 1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/12/13/17/18/19/20/25/26/28A/28B/34/38/39/40/41/66
|Measurements||132.5mm x 73.2mm x 16.8mm, 216g|
|Price||$299 MSRP, currently HK$ 1,710 (~US$220, ~€182) on Kickstarter|
|Keyboard||It takes a lot of getting used to coming from touchscreens, but I appreciate the return of this form factor.|
|Battery life||The battery might not be that big, but coupled with the small low-res screen, it comfortably lasts more than a day.|
|Current software in old hardware||I love the concept of old-looking hardware coupled with the latest Android version.|
|Head turner||This phone will certainly attract attention.|
|Headphone jack||I just appreciate the addition in this day and age.|
|Camera||This is not a camera phone.|
|Performance||It shows that this phone has a 2019 processor.|
|Screen||Apps just aren't built for 1:1 screens, and that shows in the user experience.|
|Chonk||The Titan Pocket is much thicker and heavier than most phones are these days.|
|Charging speed||The Pocket charges at 7.5W max.|
Design, hardware, what's in the box
The oxymoronic name Titan Pocket describes the phone well. It's both big and small. That's because it's not a flat glass sandwich but more of a small brick with a thickness of 16.8mm — for reference, the Galaxy S21 is less than half as thick at 7.9mm. That isn't necessarily bad, apart from (subjective) aesthetics. The Pocket should fit your ... pocket much more easily than many long and tall phones of today, and I've got a much better grip on it in my hands.
The inclusion of a keyboard means tradeoffs in other areas, though. The low-res square screen is tiny when judged by modern standards, and content on it doesn't look particularly nice, nor does it get very bright. Its side and top bezels are also massive compared to its peers, further cementing the vintage look and feel of the phone. At least this is the first device in years I wasn't afraid of dropping. Its rubberized top and bottom, paired with an aluminum alloy on the back, should protect it well enough. It's not waterproof, though.
The backlit keyboard feels pleasant to the touch, but it still takes a lot of getting used to — I'm confident I still type faster on touchscreens than on this physical keyboard, which is further impaired by poor autocorrect. It also doesn't help that almost all modifier keys like shift, alt, etc., are at the top of the keyboard while you find them at the bottom in any other keyboard, physical or virtual.
The $299 phone also comes with some features you don't often see in flagships these days. There's an IR blaster, a headphone jack, and a notification LED, along with physical navigation buttons. Additionally, there's an extra programmable button above the power key, which you can use for almost any imaginable action.
The Titan Pocket's unassuming box includes a SIM card removal tool, a USB-C to USB-A cable, and a 7.5W charging brick.
Software, performance, and battery
The Titan Pocket may look like a phone from the 2000s, but it comes with Android 11 pre-installed. The software behaves a lot like it does on Pixel phones. There's also little to no added bloatware, apart from some custom apps for the IR blaster and FM radio functionality. . There are also a few useful odds and ends like a note app and a sound recorder that mostly get out of the way, but aren't uninstallable.
Small screen weirdness.
The all but square screen makes the Titan Pocket a weird phone to use, coming from almost any modern smartphone. That starts on the homescreen, which only gives you a four-by-four grid for your apps, leaving little to no room for widgets. While that cramped display isn't a problem for apps if all you want to do is bang out some text messages on the physical keyboard, things get problematic when you want to consume content. Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and the likes are all a pain, forcing you into excessive scrolling sessions just to view a single post in full. At least Unihertz added a mini mode that emulates a more traditional 9:16 layout on the screen, which helps you view full social media posts. But the mode also makes the screen so small that it's nothing more but a band-aid solution. Similar problems exist on video streaming apps like YouTube, Netflix, Prime, and so on, given that most current shows and movies come in 16:9 or 21:9. And don't even think about gaming on the Titan Pocket.
More interface weirdness.
The keyboard isn't dead space when you want to interact with the screen, though. Like the Titan before it, the Pocket lets you use the keyboard as a capacitive scroll pad. While scrolling isn't as smooth as it is when using the touchscreen, it's fantastic to be able to keep your fingers clear of the already too small viewable area. You can also use each and every button on the keyboard as a shortcut for launching apps or activities, as well, mitigating the cramped to an extent.
The Pocket relies on the 2019 Mediatek Helio P70 coupled with 6GB of RAM and a generous 128GB of storage. While the processor doesn't have too many pixels to push, its age still shows. Launching apps takes noticeably longer than on the Snapdragon 865+ equipped Asus ZenFone 7 Pro, and scrolling through websites and social media could be less janky with a more recent processor.
Despite the rather small 4,000mAh battery, the Pocket lasts quite some time, with many of my days ending with more than 50% battery life left. There might be some power optimizations in the background, and I find myself not using the Pocket as often as a "normal" smartphone, but the small screen is certainly doing its part, too. It's just a shame that the Pocket charges at a max of 7.5W, which is nothing even compared to the Pixel 5's relatively low 18W.
Let's just face it: Don't buy this phone if you need a good camera. Neither the 16MP back camera nor the 8MP front camera produce particularly compelling images. There's no HDR and little to no post-processing in the default camera app, making for washed out, unevenly lit images that just don't compare to the competition.
You can still use the camera to quickly digitize documents or for video calls, but don't expect to shoot pristine, Instagram-able photos with it.
Should you buy it?
Only if you know what you're getting yourself into. Don't get me wrong, the Titan Pocket is interesting as a concept, but I don't think it's a good fit for most people these days. Most of us have gotten so used to touchscreen typing that it takes a ton of effort to go physical again, and many of us use our phones to take photos, consume videos, scroll through social media, and play games — all things the Titan Pocket is bad at.
I still think the phone is worth it if you know without a doubt that you want a physical keyboard. If you absolutely don't care for entertainment on your phone and use it for texting only, this might be your best pocketable option in years (apart from the regular Titan). After all, your options are limited ever since TCL stopped making Blackberry phones.
Like its other phones, Unihertz funded the Pocket via Kickstarter, and you can now sign up on the Unihertz website to be notified about the general launch. Since all of the company's other products successfully launched and were delivered timely, we're confident that things will go well for the Pocket, too.
Buy it if...
- You want a physical keyboard
- You want a phone that starts conversations
- You don't care for modern smartphones
Don't buy it if...
- You take pictures with your phone
- You consume content on your phone (videos, social media, etc.)
Where to buy
- Unihertz (Pre-register)
One month later
I've picked up the Unihertz Titan Pocket again about a month after my initial review, and it remains a weird phone. As I predicted, using the keyboard gets easier the longer I keep at it, but I'm just so used to touchscreen keyboards I personally still don't see the utility. And Gboard's excellent autocorrect and multi-language input options do their part to make me miss my touchscreen keyboard.
That said, I am actually starting to appreciate touchpad navigation a lot on this phone, though I also have some problems with it. As detailed in the original review, you can use the capacitive keyboard to scroll through websites, social media, the homescreen, and co. It's slowly becoming second nature to me, and I like that I don't have to obscure part of the already small screen just to scroll. What I don't like is that keyboard scrolling feels jittery and that it doesn't work with some apps at all. Then there are also others like Twitter that won't automatically hide top bars when you start scrolling, obscuring more screen real estate than necessary. It's still a neat feature, but it feels like it hasn't been thought through all the way.
Overall, my opinion about this phone has only cemented after returning to it. It's a special interest device marrying the Blackberry design of yesteryear with the latest and greatest Android software. While that makes for an interesting experience, I personally don't see myself using a form factor that just doesn't fit with modern software.
With the Kickstarter campaign over, there's currently no way to purchase the Titan Pocket. However, Unihertz has just announced that it's starting mass production, so keep your eyes out for details about the general launch, which should hopefully start sometime in September. You can sign up for updates on the Titan Pocket website.