It’s the age old question plaguing the smartphone industry, isn’t it? And when it comes down to it, isn’t it based on a user’s preference? “Do I get a device with a virtual keyboard or a physical one?” While I’ll admit that this could be a difficult question to ponder, I’d still love to point out a few things that might help you decide what your next input method of choice could be. First question I suppose we could ask is, “how bent are you on having a device with a physical keyboard?” I ask this because for some it’s a major deal breaker. There is a social demographic out there who shares RIM’s Blackberry arena and hold that a physical keyboard is a must have and is the determining factor as to whether or not a specific device is purchased. I too used to be a part of that arena, but have since then reconsidered. Why?
Well, for the obvious starter, eliminating a physical keyboard reduces the form factor and size of the device significantly. I get a much slimmer and sleeker handset when the fatty shavings of a physical keyboard are removed from the equation. I was a huge proponent of the original Android device, the T-Mobile G1. Physical keyboards where a must have for me and the G1’s 5 row qwerty (pictured below) was difficult to ignore, despite the monster chin on the device. However, I slowly became jealous of other Android devices which subsequently hit the market. I was coveting the seamless effort it took to slide a slim keyboard-less device right into ones pocket, not to mention it was actually comfortable too. The G1 was nice for its time but it litterally felt like I had a small brick in my pocket. Needless to say, the thought began to grow on me and eventually lead me to only purchase smartphones with virtual keyboards. The next device to grace my pocket was Samsung’s original Galaxy device, which made its way to T-Mobile as the Samsung Behold II. And though this device had more bugs than an apartment in central Jersey, the phone was slim as heck and slid into the pocket with ease.
Devices that followed the lining of my pockets were the HTC HD2 (which I ported Android over to the second it was available), Google’s Nexus One, HTC’s Sensation 4G but ultimately remaining with my current T-Mobile G2X. All slim, keyboard-less devices that allow me to slip it into a sheath or pouch and still keep it in my pocket comfortably. In the industry’s defense however, more and more devices are arriving with excellent physical qwerty keyboards and still holding to a slim form factor. The T-Mobile G2 and newly released MyTouch 4G Slide are among a few to fit this bill. I think this is great and without a doubt, a move in the right direction. Can you imagine, whether you want a physical or a virtual keyboard, still having the availability of a slim sleek piece of hardware?
Speaking from personal experience, I believe virtual keyboards continue get a bad rap. They are often labeled as unreliable and inaccurate however, I’m going to chock that one up to a user error. I personally find that typing on a virtual keyboard is much, much quicker than typing on a physical one. Why you ask? Though I can’t explain it with an exact science, I think most will agree it requires more force to push a physical button than the simple lite tap of a virtual one, thus allowing for a quicker typing experience. Not to mention, when using a virtual keyboard with Android, you get a suggestion bar. Meaning? Meaning while you’re stuck typing out the word “tomorrow”, the one using a virtual keyboard need only type “tom..” and the rest of the word is automatically generated. And with a quick tap of the space bar, your word is inserted. A feature like that comes in handy when typing out letters and documents, something a physical keyboard doesn’t offer at the moment.
In addition, the benefits of a virtual keyboard completely out weigh those of a physical one, in my opinion. Think about it. With a wide array of keyboards available on the Android Market, you can change keyboards as much as you change your underwear, daily, hopefully for most of you.
Furthermore, can you skin a physical keyboard like you can with Betterkeyboard? Can you alter the height and width of the keys on a physical keyboard? Can you Swype on physical hardware? I think not, however, you can with a virtual one thanks to the openness of Android. And what do you do when the physical back light goes out on your keyboard? Overall it’s obvious that, at the time of this writing, I’m bit bias towards virtual keyboards. But don’t get me wrong, I’ve come across my share of buggy as heck virtual ones too. Still, I don’t believe it out weighs the benefit of having one over a physical layout. Don’t agree with me? Let me know in the comments. What’s your forte?