SpoonFed: Save the Sliders! Why I Hare Touch Keybordes

I recently stopped into Dunkin’ Donuts to grab some breakfast and saw that there was a long line. Like everyone else, I whipped out my phone to kill time. My wife, who could see me through the window from our car, sent me a half-joking text message: “Stop obsessing over your phone! Put it away.” Not wanting to address my tech addiction head on, I attempted to text back, “Just waiting on the bagel.” The first time I tried to reply, the message came out “Just waiting on an Angel.” (That might not have gone over well.) I backed up and tried again: “Just waiting on the bagels.” I didn’t even touch the S key. These are supposed to be smartphones, right?

If you look at cell phones from an evolutionary perspective, devices with physical keyboards, such as the traditional BlackBerry, are the ones portrayed as standing semi-erect on the March of Progress, while sleeker all-touch handsets are the most advanced. And now phones with mammoth 4.3-inch—and even 4.5-inch—screens are all the rage. Best Buy recently shared with us that as far as consumers are concerned, the bigger the better. Having a big display does make typing on a touchscreen easier because the keys are larger. But that doesn’t mean unintended errors don’t occur. They do—and all too frequently.

While reviewing the all-touch LG Revolution a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that the auto-correction software on that phone’s keyboard had a mind of its own. For instance, when I pecked “yup,” the device wanted to enter “hip.” You can select the word you meant to type from a list, but why should you have to? These kinds of typos can be funny. In fact, the website Damn You Auto Correct is dedicated to sharing some of the most entertaining mishaps. However, a text or e-mail with the wrong words could also get you in hot water with a client or colleague.

People have developed a certain level of tolerance for touch keyboard errors, but it just looks unprofessional. And if you have to take the time to correct errors that you didn’t make, it defeats the purpose of carrying a device for communicating on the go.

Android phone owners in particular have plenty of alternatives to the bundled keyboard, including Swype, which lets you trace a line between letters to create words. This technology works well, but not for proper names and passwords. Plus, it’s best to alternate between swiping and tapping when entering shorter words, which requires thought for what should be a thoughtless task.

Ironically, the 3.5-inch iPhone continues to offer the most accurate and fast touch keyboard of any smartphone I’ve used. Maybe it’s the way Apple spaces out the letters or that the company just does a better job of tuning its capacitive screens and software, but every time I go back to the iPhone 4 from an Android device I breathe a little easier. Which is not to say the iPhone is perfect. As with all smartphones, you still have to switch modes to type numbers and then switch back again to enter letters, a task that’s more easily accomplished on physical keyboards. In fact, there are a lot of reasons physical QWERTYs shouldn’t be viewed as archaic.

Take the Samsung Epic 4G that debuted for Sprint last summer (pictured). We gave that device a 4.5-star rating instead of 4 stars because of the well-spaced and tactile physical QWERTY, complete with a dedicated number row. In landscape mode on touch-only Android phones, the keyboard covers up all of the content when you’re typing, but not on handsets like this. Still, I won’t sacrifice screen size for cushy keys. Some may like that phones such as the Droid Pro have keyboards directly beneath the display, but it results in a tiny 3.1-inch LCD that makes Angry Birds look like Angry Fleas.

So what do we have this summer? HTC EVO 3D. Samsung Galaxy SII. LG Thrill. Motorola Bionic. All the most high-profile superphones are all touch input, all the time. Good old-fashioned physical QWERTY smartphones such as the upcoming Droid 3 and the Pre 3 are still being made, but I’m afraid devices like those will soon be extinct. I love 4G speeds, dual-core processing power, and qHD displays. But I love zero typos even more.

AUTHOR BIO
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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  1. gollyzila Says:

    You forgot to mention that the HP Pre3, a portrait slider, will be released this Summer.

  2. Mark Spoonauer Says:

    Actually, I did mention the Pre 3 at the end…Looking forward to it…

  3. Jason Anderson Says:

    I agree with just about everything you said, except for the part about the iPhone.

    I absolutely hate typing on the iPhone and it is was initially what kept me chained to my Blackberry as I held up my typing experience with the iPhone as representation of all touchscreen typing. It wasn’t until I purchase the HTC Inspire 4G and installed the gingerbread keyboard did I begin to enjoy typing on a touchscreen device. I found using this keyboard combo easier to use than the iPhone.

    Granted I still do have more typos than I would if I was using my trusted Blackberry, but I tolerant it to have something more visually appealing than my Blackberry.

  4. Rich Says:

    So sad and so true! :( The situation is even worse in the UK….. no Sidekick, no Epic etc! Somehow smartphones with qwerty keyboards aren’t considered cool I guess, and the ones we do get are generally mid-range crap! I feel like we are treated like second-class citizens! Like you, I’m not a massive fan of the BB form factor on smartphones also…. we need more phones like the Epic – and no skimping on the specs for sliders please!

  5. nerdydesi Says:

    This article really speaks to me! I am also very disturbed by the lack of slider phones coming out. I believe the general public wants their phones to be as thin as possible, and thus shun the physical keyboards. I would take that over a touch-screen keyboard any day of the week. The Epic 4G is one of my most favorite phones.

    I like the upcoming 4G, dual-core HTC Doubleshot but too bad its only for T-Mobile. :(

  6. nerdydesi Says:

    Its depressing that the Galaxy SII on Sprint will most likely lack the keyboard unlike the Galaxy SII (Epic on Sprint). And by looking at many forums, most people are happy with that change just to have the phone slimmer and lighter!

    : (

    I’d rather take a bulkier and thicker phone for a slide out keyboard, give us options and choices please!

  7. jb82 Says:

    I’m glad someone thinks hardware keyboards shouldn’t be scrapped. I can’t stand pure touchscreen phones.

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