Do You Need A Physical Keyboard On Your Phone?

Do You Need A Physical Keyboard On Your Phone?

Blogger Tim Bray writes that he won’t consider any phone without a hardware keyboard. Apple commentator John Gruber replies that, for most people, the iPhone’s software keyboard works just fine. We’re wondering where our type-savvy readers fall on that choice.

Photo by Al Pavangkanan.

Bray and Gruber essentially agree that typing on a smartphone is something the average mobile phone user isn’t doing yet, but will someday soon. Bray suggests that hardware keyboards, like those on BlackBerries, Nokia smartphones and the Palm Pre are an important feature that make typing easier. Gruber suggests that given either hardware or software keyboards, most people will be typing well enough on them with about a week’s worth of practice to find them useful.

How do you see smartphone keyboards evolving? Do you believe the familiarity and feedback of a hardware keyboard makes entering letters and words easier, or can a software keyboard with smart correct/replace/suggest features function just as well? We want to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Mobile Phone Keyboards [Daring Fireball]


    • before my iphad, i used WM based phones for 7+ years. the soft-keyboards were so useless and clunky i hated the experience, and only ever used phones with keyboards.

      the softpad on the iphad is fast enough to not feel clunky, the touch is fantastic (being capactive or whatever it’s called. the pressure based WM screens would too often skip keypresses). and it’s better integrated to the software (something easier to do on the relatively new iphad OS).

      now i prefer the softpad, and type considerably faster than i ever did with my jasjam, k-jam, or kaiser.

  • I have a HTC Dream (the one in the picture) and I love it. It has a software keyboard as well, which I sometimes use for small bits of text, and I’ve got to say that it is so much more awkward to use than the hardware keyboard. I don’t think I would ever consider a phone without physical buttons.

  • I felt like I needed buttons until I tried a soft keyboard. Now I definitely prefer the soft keyboard. My reasons:
    1. Buttons take up more room, which means a larger device and less chance I’ll want to keep it in my pocket. Pocketable size is important to me, otherwise I’d just carry a laptop.
    2. There are arguments that soft keys are hard to hit, and that haptic feedback is important. I don’t agree with either, and can type emails fast enough and accurately enough with soft keys.
    3. A soft keyboard layout can be customised. Case in point for iPhone: 5-row QWERTY layout, dvorak keymap, emoji, different buttons depending on what you’re typing (URL, email, etc.).

    My prediction: physical keys and buttons slowly die out on most small devices, including the “business oriented” ones.

  • I only really miss having a hardware keyboard when I try to text while doing something else — being able to type the message blind, one-handed, then just check for mistakes is a big timesaver.

    However, the main reason I love the on-screen keyboard? No dirt can get under the buttons and ruin an otherwise perfectly serviceable phone.

  • Let’s get physical with a keyboard.

    If they can fit it all in then im happy to sacrifice a bit of space. Got my Nokia E71 simply for size and keyboard.

    The palm pre is looking real good right now

  • Oh No! Th “” ky stoppd working on my hardwar kyboard and thr’s nothing I can do about it!

    The iPhone software keyboard is fantastic. You people are all insane.

  • Keyboard all the way, i also have a HTC dream which has both a phyical and a software keyboard, i very rarly use the software keyboard and think it would drive me crazy if that was the only option i had.

  • I barely ever use the iphone keyboard but when i do i shock myself at how fast i can type. Even faster that typing on a computer! I was at the shops the other day and was messing about with a blackberry bold keyboard and was surprised to find that it was almost impossible to use without hitting three keys at a time! Blackberry uses may bleat that you just have to get used to the keyboard and that using an iphone keyboard made it harder; but there was no learning curve with the iphone and i had never used a touchscreen phone in my life before i got and iphone. I simply don’t understand the love affair with tactile keyboards; unless there landscape slide outs then the buttons are simply too small.

  • I personally just decided to go with N86 8MP, based on it not having a Qwerty Keyboard and Not having a Touch Screen ? Why?

    Because I can touch type, I either will use a bluetooth keyboard or I’ll be able to continue to type while holding my phone 1 handed and not looking.

    Being forced to “look” at a keyboard is something That I wish to avoid when typing and being forced to use a tiny qwerty keyboard (Phyiscal or via touch screen) is painfull for me.

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