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Input Devices Cellphones GUI

6 Smartphone Keyboards Compared 161

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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  • Re:Debate (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Raffaello ( 230287 ) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @03:40PM (#31429834)

    Yes, the people who prefer not to have a physical keyboard are called iPhone users.

    Don't look now, but there are millions of us.

  • Re:Debate (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eln ( 21727 ) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @03:42PM (#31429864)
    I prefer not to have a keyboard on my smartphone because typing on a tiny keyboard, whether physical or not, is an enormous pain in the ass and I try to avoid it whenever possible. Since a tiny physical keyboard is only marginally less painful to use than the on-screen one, I'd prefer not to waste space with one.
  • 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.

  • by guruevi ( 827432 ) <evi AT evcircuits DOT com> 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.

  • 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.


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  • 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.
  • Re:Debate (Score:3, Insightful)

    by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @03:47PM (#31429956)
    There is tradeoff between screen size, keyboard size, phone size, durability, etc. For users of a keyboardless phone like the iPhone, they get more screen and fewer moving parts. However typing on them will be not as fast as with a hardware keyboard. Each consumer should buy based on their individual needs. For those that email and text a lot, a phone with a physical keyboard might be better. For me, I don't email and text a lot so there will minimal downside to not having a physical keyboard.
  • Re:Debate (Score:3, Insightful)

    by obarthelemy ( 160321 ) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @03:47PM (#31429962)

    I'd rather have a choice: not carry a keyboard when I don't need one for maximum portability, and take along a small, or medium, or large, bluetooth keyboard, when I think I will.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @03:48PM (#31429964)

    They didn't even include any Palm products in their review.. and Palm, being both the original smartphone, and the best (at least in my opinion), deserved to be included.
    The crapberry bold that "won" has an imitation of the keyboard on a Palm Treo 680 and similar.. the Pre has a similar keyboard as well.. probably further refined than the one RIM ripped-off for the crapberry bold.

    I wonder just where RIM's money comes into the equation of paying the person who wrote the review to pan everyone else's product.. while being sure to mention one OTHER crapberry in order not to look biased.

  • Re:Bias? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DIplomatic ( 1759914 ) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @03:49PM (#31429982) Journal

    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.

  • 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.

  • three words: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by YouWantFriesWithThat ( 1123591 ) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @03:58PM (#31430104)
    screen real estate.

    i have a moto droid and while the onscreen keyboard is awesome and the predictive text works great, it takes up about 75% of the screen. if i am on a site (like /.) where i am going to be reading and typing with regularity it is nice to have the option to slide out a physical keyboard and get the screen back.
  • Re:Debate (Score:5, Insightful)

    by clang_jangle ( 975789 ) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @04:02PM (#31430148) Journal

    If someone hammers out enough email that having a physical keyboard is a make-or-break proposition, just buy a netbook and tether.

    Speaking as one of the many millions for whom a physical keyboard is definitely a must, email is not the only reason to need a keyboard. Some of us use our phones for serious work like remote sysadmin tasks and document editing (to name just two). Both types of phones exist because different people have different needs and preferences.

  • 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.

  • Re:three words: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eln ( 21727 ) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @04:11PM (#31430242)
    Luckily Slashdot is pretty much entirely broken on the iPhone (still!), so this issue hasn't come up.
  • Re:Debate (Score:3, Insightful)

    by natehoy ( 1608657 ) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @04:21PM (#31430382) Journal

    iPhone users

    buy a netbook and tether.

    Sing it with me, "One of these things is not like the others..."

    Yes, I'm sure the Eris can tether, but not all of us want to lug around a netbook for the occasional support email.

    I respect your choice of phones for your usage pattern, and I'm sure it works great. For you.

    PS: "another" point of failure to cope with, for me, would be to lug a netbook AND a phone AND depend on a cable or Bluetooth to connect the two. Battery goes dead on one or the other, I'm screwed. One integrated phone with a usable keyboard means all my needs are met with one point of failure - my phone.

  • 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?

  • by Stenchwarrior ( 1335051 ) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @04:30PM (#31430502)
    I think this is a completely legitimate question, but I agree with the'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.
  • Re:Bias? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ( 245670 ) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @04:51PM (#31430756)

    Hot diggity!

  • by archangel9 ( 1499897 ) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @05:04PM (#31430904)
    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.
  • by nikomo ( 1338131 ) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @05:34PM (#31431288)
    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
  • Re:three words: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mdwh2 ( 535323 ) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @07:20PM (#31432506) Journal

    The days when only so-called "smartphones" could run web browsers are long gone - for years, any normal phone can, so if we're talking about viewing Slashdot, that's the relevant market. And the Iphone is less than 5% of the phone market.

    Yes, you get 25% if you artificially restrict the category to the Iphone and a few other models, but then you might as well say that the Iphone has 100% of the Iphone market. (Can you give me a definition of smartphone that includes the original Iphone, but doesn't include most "feature" phones?)

  • Re:Bias? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by t0p ( 1154575 ) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 @08:34PM (#31433078) Homepage

    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 dumb-phone's number pad arrangement better than other phones' methods? No, it means that any layout can be mastered pretty damn quickly. So any attempt to characterize one input system as better than another is futile.

"I prefer the blunted cudgels of the followers of the Serpent God." -- Sean Doran the Younger