I love a good rugged phone, but I’m the first to admit many of them fall victim to the same design tropes. They tend to be large and chunky, with thick bezels, metal plates, and rubberized edgings. Of course, there’s a reason for all that — more protective materials means more protection, and protection is the aim of the game where rugged outdoors phones are concerned. The Unihertz Titan hits a fair few of those tropes, but it’s all thrown aside with one huge addition. A physical QWERTY keyboard.
Yes, you read that correctly. 2019 is host to a keyboard-equipped smartphone that doesn’t have BlackBerry branding. What exactly is Unihertz pulling with this bizarre stunt? I took the Unihertz Titan for a spin, and I found that while the phone is solid, with strong performance and easy-to-use software, I really couldn’t imagine who this phone is for.
Design, display, and durability
While I knew the Unihertz Titan was going to be large, nothing prepared me for how enormous it really is. It’s only slightly taller than the BlackBerry Key2, but it’s almost a full inch wider at 3.64-inches. It’s also twice as thick at 0.65-inches, and almost twice as heavy at 303 grams. It’s a truly massive phone, and not one for those with small pockets. This is a phone that’s meant to be slipped into a bag when not in use, and that makes it hard to recommend for the average person.
The display is a square 4.6-inch IPS LCD running a 1,440 x 1,440 resolution with a sharp pixels-per-inch measurement of 451. Despite the square aspect ratio, it’s a good enough screen, though nothing special. The keyboard sits below the display, with the bottom edges of the keys curving slightly to match the device’s curved bottom edge. The middle key functions as a trackpad and fingerprint scanner, with function keys at either side.
As you’d expect with a rugged phone, the Titan is extremely well protected. Metal panels reinforce the sides of the phone, while a metal plate protects and emphasizes the single camera lens on the rear. The rest of the phone — except for the keyboard — is covered in thick rubber. It’s hard to imagine this phone breaking from normal use, as it’s extremely solid. It’s not as waterproof as I’d like though, sporting only an IP67-rating for dust and water-resistance, but I imagine some concessions needed to be made for the physical keyboard.
There are a lot of extras in here too. There’s a headphone jack at the top, and there’s dual SIM support. If you don’t need a second SIM then you can shove a MicroSD card in there instead.
But enough about that — what about the headline attraction? The keyboard is what makes the Titan stand out, and I’m pleased to report it does a good enough job. The keys click nicely when pushed, and due to the phone’s width, each key has plenty of room. It’s not perfect though. Some of the keys are in odd places — the shift key being above the keyboard and backspace being found beneath the P key — so it’ll take some getting used to for most.
It feels basic compared to the BlackBerry Key2’s excellent keyboard.
There’s also no way to access punctuation or numbers from the keyboard. There’s a software bar at the bottom of the screen instead. It does a good job of knowing when you’re likely to need easy access to a number bar and punctuation, but it still feels unnatural to reach up and tap the screen when you’re using the keyboard. It slows you down significantly, and I wish they’d just incorporated this into the keyboard itself.
The Unihertz Titan’s keyboard is good, but it feels basic compared to the BlackBerry Key2’s excellent keyboard.
Performance and battery
The Unihertz Titan is powered by the MediaTek Helio P60 — the same processor as the Doogee S90 — as well as 6GB of RAM and a hefty 128GB of internal storage. While I experienced a couple of laggy moments, performance has, on the whole, been solid and reliable. You won’t want to game on this phone though. The processor isn’t really up to handling the latest 3D games, and even if it was, the square aspect ratio and keyboard make holding the phone sideways a chore. While day-to-day performance is good, skip the Titan if you’re looking for a good gaming phone.
Unihertz makes the most of the phone’s thickness, packing in a massive 6,000mAh battery. After several days of testing the battery still hasn’t drained, so Unihertz claims that the phone offers up to 42 hours of talk time on a single charge and will last on standby for a week seem credible. In fact, it has lost just 50% in four days on standby. It has a USB-C port for recharging, but there’s no fast charging advertised. There’s support for 10W wireless charging though, which is an unexpected bonus.
Oddly for devices that spend a lot of time outdoors, rugged phones tend not to come with great cameras. The Unihertz Titan is no different in this regard. There’s a single 16-megapixel lens on the back of the Titan, and it’s not going to be winning any photography prizes any time soon. Pictures tend to come out over-sharpened, even in the best lighting. It also suffers in highly contrasted lighting, and once you hit lower lights, images come out muddy. There’s no optical image stabilization either, which means images on the move will come out blurred. The front-facing 8-megapixel selfie lens suffers from many of the same problems.
It’s not the best camera phone by any means, but it will serve just fine if you only need to take pictures of documents — which is what it was most likely intended for in any case.
You’ll find Android 9.0 Pie on the Titan, but it’s not as pure a version of Android as it could be. Unihertz has slapped a custom skin over the top of Android, and while it looks extremely similar to stock Android, there are a few giveaways. The lack of an app drawer is a dead giveaway, as is the lack of any gesture navigation. It’s smooth and snappy, and I found little to complain about. There are a few additional apps, but they’re all standard for rugged phones, and include an SOS app and the Toolbox app that comes with functions like a compass, plumb bob, and pedometer.
Don’t hold your breath where updates are concerned though. Unihertz has a terrible record with updates, whether that’s OS upgrades or security patches. The Unihertz Atom has still to receive a single update of any kind, and I can’t see the Titan getting better treatment.
Who is it for?
My major question while playing with the Titan was always “who will buy this?” Sure, there’s a lot to love about the Unihertz Titan — it’s one of the few phones with a physical keyboard, it’s protective as heck, and it’s well priced. But there’s also a lot that makes it extremely niche. It’s too large to fit in many pockets, the display shape is odd, and it’s one of the heaviest phones I’ve ever held. The entire philosophy behind the phone is strange. It takes the BlackBerry Key2 — an already niche product — and making it more niche by adding a rugged element.
Still, there are undoubtedly people this phone appeals to. And we say “undoubtedly” because it is beyond doubt — at the time of writing, the Unihertz Titan has raised over $700,000 on Kickstarter. That’s seven-times its initial goal. The weird thing is, I can see its appeal. The Unihertz Titan is a cool looking phone, and after playing with it, I can certainly forgive its flaws. It’s big and heavy, but it has a certain gravitas. Performance is snappy, the battery is long-lasting and while the keyboard is oddly laid out, it’s fun to use.
If you’re interested in checking out the Unihertz Titan, it’s currently available exclusively through Kickstarter. You can reserve yours by pledging $259 — which is $100 off the retail price. Unihertz is estimating a delivery date of December 2019 for the device. When the Kickstarter campaign is over, you’ll be able to find the Titan on Unihertz’s website.