Physical QWERTY Keyboard vs Touch Screen

Qwerty keyboard of mobile phone

The Nokia Asha 210 and the leaked NEC Terrain will come with a QWERTY keyboard, and I you might be asking yourself if those companies live in the past. I thought that QWERTY keyboard is dead, even BlackBerry Z10 and BlackBerry Torch come without a QWERTY keyboard. The thing is that even in the days where smartphones with touchscreen rules the market, there is a large crowd that still prefer typing using a physical keyboard, not a virtual/digital one.

It seems that keyboard is not the thing of the past according to Nokia. Nokia ran a poll last year on August 2012, asking people to vote for their preferred input method. They have been given four options: number keypad, Qwerty keyboard, Touchscreen and Voice commands. To my surprise, the QWERTY keyboard won with 48.64% of the votes with touchscreen in the second place with 34.69% of the votes.

Many people find the Qwerty keyboard to be the fastest and most convenient way to write messages. It’s more accurate and more responsive for many users. I think that people loves the separation between the keyboard and the screen itself, and I personally find the virtual keyboard annoying to use on devices with a small screen. I find myself correcting many typos that are due to me having large fingers and pressing the wrong letter many times while typing.

The Nokia Asha 210 is the latest Qwerty phone from Nokia, but this phone like many others, don’t run on Android.

Having said that, there are some Android phone with physical QWERTY keypad, including the following:

  • Motorola Droid 3 (Android 2.3, 4-inch)
  • Motorola Droid 4 (Android 2.3, upgradable to 4.0, 4-inch)
  • Motorola Pro + (Android 2.3, 3.1-inch)
  • Samsung Galaxy Pro B7510 (Android 2.2.2)
  • Samsung Epic 4G (Android 2.1)
  • Samsung Galaxy M Pro B7800 (Android 2.3, 2.66-inch)
  • Samsung Galaxy Y Pro (Android 2.3, 2.6-inch)
  • Sony Ericsson Xperia Pro (Android 2.3, upgradable to 4.0)
  • Sony Ericsson Xperia mini (Android 2.3, upgradable to 4.0)
  • Samsung Captivate Glide i927 (Android 2.3, upgradable to 4.0)
  • Micromax A78 (Android 2.3)
  • HTC ChaCha (Android 2.3 2.6-inch)
  • HTC status (Android 2.3, 2.6-inch)
  • LG Optimus Pro C660 (Android 2.3.3. 2.8-inch)
  • Motorola Fire XT331 (Android 2.3.4)
  • Acer beTouch E130 (Android 2.2)
  • Huawei U8350 Boulder (Android 2.2, 2.6-inch)

There will be less and less of those Qwerty Android phone as people will be adjusted to using a touch screen for typing and as the virtual keyboard technology improves.  So how can it be improved? – well, I can think on one way. If the one can recognize which part of the finger press the key. We usually press the keys with our thumb, and it depends on the distance of the key from the sides and the part of the thumb we use to click the key. For example, If I am right handed, I will probably use the right part of my thumb to press the ‘p’ key and use the middle part of the thumb to press the ‘f’ or ‘g’ keys. The screen will need to know how to recognize the whole part of my finger before I touch it. We already have this technology that allows us to use air gestures, like on the Samsung Galaxy S4. So this can help improve the accuracy of the virtual keyboard, not just by using word completion and correction, what we have right now.

Qwerty phones come in two main designs: as slide out QWERTY keyboard or Candybar QWERTY keyboard. Slide-out (some referred to it as pull out) keyboards come in two variations, either portrait or landscape. Some prefer the landscape / horizontal orientation because the keys are wider, and that leads to less typos for people with large hands.  The advantage of pull out QWERTY keypad is that it allows phone manufacturers to use a larger screen. Those phones are usually thicker than the Candybar qwerty phone. because it comes the slider resides as a second sliding part beneath the screen part.

Candybar QWERTY phone vs Slide out QWERTY Phone

Candybar QWERTY phone vs Slide out QWERTY Phone

Not all Qwerty keyboard are the same, some comes with more rows (ie.  Samsung Epic 4G comes with 5 rows, myTouch 4G Slide comes with 4 rows) and some incorporates unique button layout and functionality.  Some comes with a joystick like keypad for games, others come with dedicated Android buttons.

There is also the Traditional number keypad option, where you can press the keys once to several times to get the appropriate letter. This of course is the less convenient way, because it takes more key presses to write a letter or word.

A Virtual keyboard has many advantages over the physical hardrware Qwerty keyboard, including:

  • Change to letter from different languages (more than two languages) – you can change to a English, Arabic, Spanish to Japanese if that’s what you need
  • One click to enter symbols (ie. ampersand, dollar sign, brackets, copyright symbol, trademark symbol, etc.)
  • Custom keyboard layout and functions, among them Hacker’s Keyboard, Swype and Smart Keyboard Pro (for Android devices, downloadable from Google Play apps store)

So it depends on how you sue the phone, the languages that you are communicating with, your finger’s size and what you are used to with previous phones.  The goal is to type fast without needing to correct yourself. Virtual keyboard have much better flexibility, but many users don’t have the option to choose between the two.  Most people don’t buy a phone based on whether it has a Qwerty keyboard or not, they buy it for its large screen, processing power, longer battery life or whether it has dual-SIM cards or not. These are a few reasons, but the fact is that most phone manufacturers don’t release phones with Qwerty keyboard.

QWERTY phone variants

Some QWERTY phone keypad layout variants

It’s still nice to see new devices with QWERTY keyboard, but inside I know that the days of the Qwerty keypad are numbered. Most people who are into those type of physical Qwerty keyboard buy a Blackberry device, which its OS optimized for it. With the BlackBerry Q10, BlackBerry took the hybrid path, offering all-touch or QWERTY, offering users the best typing experience. So with the Q10 you won’t have to chose between the two, you have the option to use both. The downside is that the screen is only 3.1-inches, so it’s pretty small for today’s standard, and especially for a touch sensitive screen. For the mass market, the alternative is to indeed choosoe the hybrid path and pick up one of the Qwerty Android devices that I’ve mentioned above. The downside is that you will have a thicker and most probably heavier device, but if you are used for Qwerty keyboard, the advantages will outweigh the cons.

If you already are use to work with Android devices and you want a physical QWERTY keyboard, I recommend going with a pull out QWERTY phone, which you can enjoy a QWERTY keyboard but also enjoy a relatively larger touchscreen as well.

So which one do you prefer, a physical QWERTY keypad, touchscreen or the hybrid one (both physical and touchscreen)? – share your thoughts by commenting below.

{ 1 comment… add one }

  • Holly Hartman December 12, 2013 at 1:19 am

    I will be so sad to see a qwerty keyboard go by the wayside. I use my cellphone all the time for emails and texts and such and can guarantee that I’m faster than someone on a virtual keyboard. I wouldn’t mind dictating the email or text message but fixing typos is a slow process. I may be a physical-keyboard-loving dinosaur but I’m a very productive, efficient one!

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