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6 Smartphone Keyboards Compared 161

Posted by timothy
from the none-can-stack-up-to-my-thrift-store-board dept.
Barence writes "A debate that crops up time and again is whether it's better to have a dedicated keyboard on your smartphone or whether an on-screen keyboard with text correction is adequate. Some phones with screen-based keyboards have started to provide tactile feedback, either using an ultra-quick spin of their vibration alert or, like the BlackBerry Storm2, using clever piezo-electric technology to simulate the feel of a button press. But which system works best? PC Pro's Paul Ockendon gathered six of the most popular handsets around and put them through a timed typing test to see which proved quickest and most typo-free."
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6 Smartphone Keyboards Compared

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  • Swype. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Karganeth (1017580) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @03:41PM (#31429848)
    I downloaded swype for my Nexus One and haven't looked back. It's so much faster than the old virtual keyboard for "hunt and peck". The videos of it don't do it justice. It's much easier and faster than the old ways.
  • Bias? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mewsenews (251487) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @03:42PM (#31429874) Homepage

    The author acknowledges that this test is barely scientific, but I'm left wondering why he didn't disclose which phone he actually uses day-to-day. The muscle memory he's built up using his primary smartphone should give a huge bias to the results.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DIplomatic (1759914)

      The author acknowledges that this test is barely scientific, but I'm left wondering why he didn't disclose which phone he actually uses day-to-day. The muscle memory he's built up using his primary smartphone should give a huge bias to the results.

      Not only that, but he is using out of the box phones. The predictive text-correction learns as you use it. The results would be much different for a phone that sees use.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

        Also the touchscreen keyboards need calibration to work best. The little quick start guide tells you how, it's easy.

        I found the HTC Hero to be much more accurate after calibration when compared to before calibration.

        That said, I'd still expect to see a physical keyboard to be a little faster and more accurate than a touchscreen, because you can feel the keys before you type, lending a lot to confidence which helps accuracy and speed.

        Still, using them out of the box is atrocious, it doesn't reflect the capab

    • by Dan East (318230)

      Certainly. Tests of this nature are completely, totally worthless. His previous experience with other devices may actually be to the detriment of his performance with devices with dissimilar keyboard layouts.

      A proper study would use a number of individuals. Each would be given a phone, tested on that phone, instructed to use that phone over the course of a week, and then tested again. Then they would move on to another phone. Each individual would be given the phones in a different order, so the perfor

      • by hazydave (96747)
        A proper test would look at the beginner's experiences with different entry methods, and also experts -- folks using these things regularly for months or years. There's every chance of a "Coke vs. Pepsi" situation here, where some are simply easier to use out of the box, but others work better as the user gains proficiency. I'd add in other alternate virtual keyboards, too, like Swype.
    • by Wingsy (761354)
      Bingo! Been waiting for someone to point out the obvious flaw in this unscientific research.

      The resident teen here types so fast on her iPhone that the feedback clicks sounds like a woodpecker. Once I asked to see what she had typed and saw no typos (but several abbreviations). Hand her a Blackberry and I'll guarantee that her results would be the opposite that obtained by the keyboard scientist.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by t0p (1154575)

        Bingo! Been waiting for someone to point out the obvious flaw in this unscientific research.

        So you noticed the flaw earlier but decided not to point it out? Maybe you thought a "me too" remark would be more useful?

        The resident teen here types so fast on her iPhone that the feedback clicks sounds like a woodpecker. Once I asked to see what she had typed and saw no typos (but several abbreviations). Hand her a Blackberry and I'll guarantee that her results would be the opposite that obtained by the keyboard scientist.

        I can "type" like a woodpecker on my Sony Ericsson dumb-phone - you know, the kind that has 3 (sometimes 4) letters on each button of the number pad. Using T9 predictive and both thumbs quickly becomes second nature. And once you've used it for a while it will "learn" the abbreviations and "unusual" words you regularly use and typos will be rarer than hen's teeth.

        Does that make the du

    • "Barely scientific"? It's barely a "test". I don't see my phone listed on there. I can use a virtual keyboard with or without vibration feedback in portrait or landscape. I can also slide the display to expose the 4-row, physical qwerty keyboard. And, now that I think about it, I wonder if I can pair this bluetooth keyboard with it......

  • I've been using Swype on my Nexus One for a month or two and it's incredible. I wonder how it'd perform on that chart (Or is one of those phones the windows phone that includes it? "Swype" didn't show up on the article page at all).
  • by guruevi (827432) <<evi> <at> <smokingcube.be>> on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @03:42PM (#31429880) Homepage

    Depending on what you're used to on existing devices and who is typing, these results will vary wildly. I'm used to a physical keyboard on my phone so I have trouble whenever I try to use something else. I tried tactile feedback screens once and the vibrations felt funny making me go even slower.

    I've got a really flat, sensitive keyboard with repeat all the way up and key delay all the way down and a trackball mouse. Most people that try to type on it or use my mouse can't because the keyboard is too sensitive and they don't know what to do with the mouse (some try to move the whole unit, some just look at it and seem to poke at it). I however can type faster on it than any other keyboard and be precise in even difficult 3D shooters.

    These 'tests' really require a decent sample size of users and a decent sample size of devices with said screens. Not everybody implements the on-screen keyboard in the same way either.

    • by zullnero (833754)
      Exactly. I have a vertical slider because I use my phone vertically about 90% more than I use it horizontally, and having to spin my phone just to send a text message annoys me. I also prefer a smaller keyboard because I know it shrinks the device profile and fits better in the pocket...I don't need a Blackberry keyboard, not at all. So when I type messages out on my Pre with a vertical slide out keyboard, I'm about as fast as anyone else...but when I hand my phone off to a BB person, they start cursing
    • by natehoy (1608657)

      These 'tests' really require a decent sample size of users and a decent sample size of devices with said screens.

      No. Sorry, but no.

      These 'tests' really require that you as a consumer go into a phone store, narrow down the selection based on what features you need, then grab each and every surviving model in your own sweaty paws, and spend 10 minutes with each. This will quickly narrow down the choices. Take your two finalists and spend a quality half hour with each. Thank the salesperson for his/her Jobesian patience, then buy the one that works best for you based on actually using it for a while.

      If you don't plan

  • Blackberry (Score:3, Insightful)

    by physburn (1095481) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @03:44PM (#31429910) Homepage Journal
    But doesn't it depend on the size of your fingers.

    ---

    Mobile Phone [http] Feed @ Feed Distiller [feeddistiller.com]

    • Re:Blackberry (Score:5, Informative)

      by natehoy (1608657) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @04:11PM (#31430250) Journal

      Absolutely. My wife, she of the toothpick-sized fingers, does pretty well on her iPod Touch. She prefers my Blackberry keyboard for any sort of serious data entry, but then again she has little need for that on a phone - that's what her netbook is for.

      Personally, I can't type three consecutive letters on the iPod Touch or an iPhone without screwing it up. But I can burn through text like a sonofabitch with my Blackberry.

      • by Pieroxy (222434)

        Personally, I can't type three consecutive letters on the iPod Touch or an iPhone without screwing it up. But I can burn through text like a sonofabitch with my Blackberry.

        Funny, it's the exact opposite for me. Maybe it's because you're used to your BB an I'm used to my iPhone?
        Really this typing test is a poor joke. I'd bet a lot that his primary phone is the one having the better score. Guess why....

        • by natehoy (1608657)

          Maybe, but I had an iPod Touch for a few months before getting my Blackberry, and I never could master the iPod's soft keyboard. Took to the Blackberry keyboard like a duck takes to water.

          I suspect it's just more about what's comfortable, what form of feedback you prefer, finger size, dexterity, etc. I just like to be able to feel keys under my fingers, and I have trouble finding keys based on sight because my fingers cover up too much.

          I'm just glad the market has both. We're both happy. LOL.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @03:44PM (#31429916) Journal
    Keyboarding, even within the context of a high quality desktop keyboard, is not a natural act. I requires nontrivial practice to achieve speed and accuracy with low mental overhead.

    Smartphone keyboards are ghastly little things, whose virtues lie more or less exclusively in being small enough to fit on smartphones. Each different one requires substantial practice and much of that practice isn't transferable between systems.

    Having one person try them all for a few minutes is line noise, it tells us nothing.
    • by ectoraige (123390)

      It tells us how quickly one person adapts to a sample new input systems. It's a data point, and he even described the methodology allowing others to repeat, so yeah, I think it counts as barely scientific.

  • by gmuslera (3436)
    Is measuring how one particular person performs over a limited amount of cellphone keyboards. Could be measuring here more things than just those keyboards. Take it as what it really mean.
  • by SlashdotOgre (739181) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @03:54PM (#31430056) Journal

    I'm sorry, but one person typing a short message, is not going to tell us anything significant. Furthermore we don't know his background (e.g. what types of phones/PDA's he's used in the past), or how "fat" his fingers are. At best all we know is what phone he's best at right now. The performance of the same person when they first used the phone compared to that same person after owning that type of phone for a year will differ significantly.

    If someone plans to type on their phone enough for the difference of a few seconds to matter, then they really need to compare the phones in person themselves. A significantly larger sample of people ideally who have never used a phone with a full keyboard may give some idea of which styles tend to work better on average, but that's about the most information you'll get. Whether it works best (and is comfortable) for you is something you need to try yourself.

    • It is true that the results of such "research" are useless, but how many click-throughs did such a poor attempt at research generate? \cynicism
  • iUsed (Score:4, Insightful)

    by natehoy (1608657) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @04:06PM (#31430204) Journal

    From TFA:

    I used each phone in its default mode, as it would present to a brand-new user out of the box. I counted one error for each wrong word in the main text and for each wrong character in the phone number, web address, username and password. In every test I tried not to look at the screen and typed as quickly as I could, allowing the phone to correct any errors. I’m not the world’s fastest typist, so I’m sure some of you could easily beat the absolute times, but as a comparison between devices it’s reasonably valid.

    There's a LOT of use of the word "I" in there. Could it be that he went through an exhaustive process to determine which phone met *gasp* his own personal preferences?

    Well, Paul, that's fantastic. In fact, I happen to agree with you. But you haven't settled the "debate" for anyone but yourself. I think most (but NOT ALL) people would likely agree that a hard keyboard is really tough to beat when you want to type in a lot of text. I know typing anything into my wife's iPod Touch is, for my massively meaty paws, an exercise in utter frustration. I think entering anything more than a URL in it should be given a "circle of hell" difficulty level. And I've really honestly tried to make it work. For those apps that support rotation, the wide-format keyboard is just barely adequate, but WHY DOESN'T SAFARI SUPPORT THIS!?!?!?

    (breathes) But I digress.

    I've seen people who can absolutely whiz-bang on soft keyboards. I don't understand it, but they can. I've also seen people who (believe it or not) do not need to enter any major Tolstoy works into their mobile phone browser on a routine basis. For those people, a hard keyboard is an utter waste of what could be useful screen.

    Personally, you can have my Blackberry 8310 smartphone when you pry it from my cold, dead thumbs. Or replace it with a newer Blackberry Curve (oooh! shiny! 3G please!) or something else with a hard keyboard in a similar form factor. I don't like the postage stamp of a screen, but I enter text. A lot. And I need a physical keyboard until voice recognition stops getting me visits from HR when "I like your idea" gets transcribed as "I'll lick you my dear". I also want something durable, and slideouts seem rather breakable in my big meaty paws.

    So the wide-candybar format with a postage stamp screen is a reasonable compromise. I've been carrying it for about a year and a half now, and while there's always the "wow, if I could get a bigger screen I could have seen that", there's constantly the "oh, dear, I gotta type a whole paragraph, thank FSM for this real keyboard - wonder twin thumbs, ACTIVATE!" I can type about 1/4 to 1/2 as fast as I can on a desktop keyboard, special characters are just one extra keypress unless they are truly bizarro ones, and it just gets done what I need to get done quickly.

    J. L. Slimfingers might be able to throw an iPhone in the air and type "Moby Dick" on it while in flight before it lands. For him, a large screen format is an excellent choice.

    D. Elly Catflower might keep it in a shockproof case and only bring it out with great ceremony and lay it on a safety pad of fine Corinthian leather before using it. For her, a slideout is ideal. Lots of screen, full-on keyboard, and they'll treat it right.

    Me? Big meaty paws, a tendency to bash it against stuff, and a need to enter a lot of text. I got the Blackberry 8310, put it in a big rubbery slipcover, and put that inside an 8800-style leather case. It's at a year and a half, I don't dread typing on it, and it's still going strong with about 2 days of battery life between charges. I haven't even managed to scratch the screen (though the stick-on screen protector helps). I think I chose well.

    For me.

    Not for everyone else.

  • more screen space
    • Really? Last time I looked at something like a Blackberry Curve or Bold, half of the device is the keyboard, therefore the screen has to be made half the size. Nokia have some flip out keyboards, but they make the phone incredibly thick and they can break easily.

  • My $.02... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sootman (158191) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @04:20PM (#31430348) Homepage Journal

    I've owned two Nokias with physical keyboards (6800 and 6820) and a BlackBerry (Curve 8330--not the best) and an iPhone, and I prefer the iPhone's virtual keyboard by far. Not so much for speed, though some basic testing by me shows they're all comparable, but for ease. The 6800 [htmhell.com] is large with plastic between the nicely-rounded keys and it's very easy to hit the right one. The 6820 [juliepenner.com] is a bit smaller but the keys are also nicely rounded and typing on that is pretty easy. Both also have dedicated buttons for numbers and some punctuation--hyphen, comma, period, slash, single quote, and more are all primary buttons. Their layouts also closely mimic a PC keyboard with comma, period, slash, semicolon, quote, and equals in roughly the same spots as on a regular keyboard.

    The BlackBerry's keys are smaller and closer together and firmer than either Nokia and I find I've got to press on them with a thumbnail or the bony part of a finger to get them to register and not mash more than one key at a time, and there are no number or punctuation keys AT ALL [wordpress.com] which makes typing just about anything quite a pain.

    The iPhone only shows letters or numbers/punctuation but since it's virtual the secondary and tertiary buttons are big and easy to find, not like the tiny glyphs you get from sticking two images on one physical key. But the thing I like most about virtual keys is that it only takes a very light tough to register a press, and the clickable area is very large, so typing with the biggest, roundest, softest part of your thumb is a cinch. And because of this, it is by far the easiest to use with one hand. (Though the split-keyboard Nokias are pretty much out of the running in this area, but the BB is similar in size and shape.)

    But anyway, that's just my experience and preference. All that matters is what works best for you.

    • by natehoy (1608657)

      and there are no number or punctuation keys AT ALL [wordpress.com] which makes typing just about anything quite a pain.

      Sure there are, in fact they are screen-printed on the actual keys. The number keys share function with W-E-R, S-D-F, and Z-X-C. You just have to press the ALT key. Either press-and-release ALT then press the key you want (thumb typing), or hold ALT and press the key you want (multiple-finger typing).

      Granted, having real keys for those functions would be nicer, but they work fine.

      Interestingly, I have the exact opposite experience to yours - I can whoosh along with text using the big meatiness of my thumbs on the Blackberry keyboard (I have yet to mash more than one key at a time, and I can literally use the meat of my thumb to type if I choose), but put me in front of the iPhone/iPodTouch soft keyboard and I have to use the tip of my right pinkie - it's the only thing small enough to accurately hit the key I want and backed up by enough precision, and even then I miss a significant percentage of the time.

      But anyway, that's just my experience and preference. All that matters is what works best for you.

      Exactly. Each person needs to physically experience the phone they want before they buy it if they expect to use it for serious data entry. Otherwise, you run into situations like this one - you have a clear preference for one keyboard for a specific reason, and I have a clear preference for another keyboard for the exact same reason. The "hardness" of the BB keyboard prevents me from pressing more than one key at a time, and the tactile feedback is, to me, utterly necessary. I don't want to have to look at my phone to type everything.

      • by sootman (158191)

        >> and there are no number or punctuation keys AT ALL [wordpress.com] which makes typing just about anything quite a pain.

        > Sure there are, in fact they are screen-printed on the actual keys.

        Right. I meant, they're there, but the Nokias have them as distinct keys--A-Z, 0-9 and eight punctuation keys. 50 buttons on the Nokias versus only 35 on the BB. So things like comma and period and hyphen (which I use all the time) are one press, not two. (And other handy things, like = and % are REALLY hidden

        • by zeroduck (691015)

          And other handy things, like = and % are REALLY hidden on the BB. BTW, one of the keys on the Nokia brings up a character map.

          The Curve is no different. SYM key brings up a character map, then Y or P for those symbols, respectively.

        • by natehoy (1608657)

          Agreed, the % is a particular pain at times. :)

          I've gotten used to the comma and period and the others, it's one thumb for alt and the other for the key. I don't really find it slows me down, but it all boils down to what you get used to, I suppose.

  • for typing text [thebestpag...iverse.net]
  • by nightfire-unique (253895) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @04:25PM (#31430424)

    Well, it was interesting to see the times he posted, but of course everyone here knows that learning a keyboard takes practice. Months of practice.

    By the end of it, I could type 100wpm on my Zaurus C760 - almost as fast as with a real keyboard. I could type about 60 on my treo 650. I've got an n900 now, and I've been hanging around 50. So there are substantial variances in keyboard quality and layout (at least on these devices) .. but what was more interesting were the learning curves. My speed doubled on the Treo in the first week. It over doubled on the C760 (slowly, over its 5 year lifespan). But I'm not getting any faster on the n900, sadly.

    All of this aside.. the main problem with on-screen keyboards?

    They take up half (or more) of your display!

    This is one point I'm amazed people are able to get beyond. Sure - it's a rare use case... but terminals are unusable with an on-screen keyboard. More commonly, web forms are confusing. I can't even imagine trying to work on a document or spreadsheet. The screen constantly changes as you need to enter data!

    I believe that if you can get by under those conditions, the speed difference between hardware and virtual keyboards is mostly irrelevant. How much data entry are you really doing?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Ma8thew (861741)

      They take up half (or more) of your display!

      Yes, but generally smartphones with an on-screen keyboard have a display twice as big.

  • The iPhone keyboard allows chording - that is, you can hold one key down, press another key, and the other key will be registered as a keypress as well. If you type with more than one finger (or thumb) this will improve the speed.

    This does not work on my Nexus One (android), but I'm not sure about the other platforms.

    Another alternative, which is probably faster than any of the tested keyboards is swype, where you just draw a line which represents the word. There is a public beta at http://beta.swype.co [swype.com]

    • by dfghjk (711126)

      That is not chording and it doesn't improve speed unless the typist makes those specific errors.

  • I think this is a completely legitimate question, but I agree with the author...it's barely scientific. Let's do this again with about 50 people, all who have little to no PDA experience and therefore no bias to one type or another. Then another 50 who are used to physical, and yet another 50 used to on-screen. Run the test and see what the results are. I'm sure more scientific /.ers out there have even better methods but this would at least offer more accurate results than what the author did.
  • by Hodar (105577) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @04:44PM (#31430676)

    All virtual keyboards are NOT created equal.

    One of the primary differences is the backing material of the touch screen. The cheaper phones utilize a plastic backing on the touchscreen, this plastic will bend, warp and cause 'typos' even if your finge is precisely where it's supposed to be. Glass does not flex, or warp - but is more expensive. This is why the iPhone gives such a superior performance on the virtual keyboard, as they have a glass backing.

    I think many of the problems with virtual keyboards is due to the cheaper touchscreens utilize the flexible plastic backing behind the flexible membrane - thus adding distortion to the pressure point matrix - resulting in typo's that are indeed the "phone's fault".

    It would be interesting to see this sort of study conducted with external keyboards, virtual (glass) and virtual (plastic) keyboards.

    I'm switching to the Droid for the option of not only abandoning my cheap plastic backing on my touchscreen LG Dare; but also because I'll have the option of the slide out keyboard.

  • He also didn't mention what order he tested the phones in. If he wanted to be fair (not even going to stretch it to "scientific") he would type different passages, numbers and URLs on each phone. I'm sure by the last test he had the text almost memorized, so the latter phones probably ended up with shorter times and less mistakes. Just guessing, but the Nokia E75 and the Bold2 were probably last to be tested.
  • So, the author decides to post about experiences with those six devices, leaving out MANY other devices. The old Palm Treo is very dated at this point, but still good for comparison purposes. How about the Palm Pre, or any of the other lesser known phones that have a keyboard? You may as well just go into your local hardware store and compare surge protectors and then claim it is news, without mentioning that a hardware store isn't going to give enough of a selection to make any sort of comparison m

  • I have a Nokia E51 so it has the good old basic 3-letters and a number per key (except 7 has 4 letters). Today I ordered a 18€ bluetooth keyboard for my cellphone so I can type like mad on the cellphone. Symbian-version of Putty + server at home + small, pocket-sized bluetooth keyboard + 3.5G connection = enjoyment
  • I have an Android phone, and while the on-screen keyboard is okay, it does have severe disadvantages (as explained by others above).

    The thing that I miss the most is definitely handwriting recognition -- it allows a small device to have a relatively big UI during input, it is not affected by regional layout differences, and it's fairly easy to extend and personalise by the individual user. TealScript is a prime example, really, doing full-screen transparent handwriting capture for any application.

    Too bad mo

  • Test didn't include the Nokia E90, far and away the best keyboard of any smartphone (6 rows).

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