Poll: What kind of keyboard do you need on a mobile device?


I'm back home in Hawaii after spending a week in California for my part in the MIDMoves project that has only just begun for some of the team. Along with my personal Willcom D4, a BenQ S6 MID and OQO Model 2+ on loan from Intel accompanied me on my tour of several theme parks and other locations, where the devices were used, shared, and promoted.

The Atom-based gadgets have more differences than similarities, so there wasn't any significant overlap in terms of usage. When, where, and how I used each MID/UMPC depended on the situation, which in many ways was dictated by the device's form factor and data entry options. For example, I was more likely to use the BenQ's on-screen keyboard to update my Twitter status than to type a full post while standing in line. Since I can also tweet just fine on my more portable iPhone 3G or Xperia X1 and my primary work involves a lot of typing, the BenQ S6 isn't something I would consider for anything but very casual use and maybe media consumption.

For my mobile needs/wants, then, a hardware keyboard is an absolute must. Your mobile device keyboard preferences, on the other hand, are the subject of the poll you'll find below.

I cast my vote for the first option, "hardware for thumb typing." Being able to touch type on a mobile device is a nice bonus, but it doesn't make or break a purchasing decision for me.

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Jenn K. Lee

Jenn K. Lee is the founder of Pocketables. She loves gadgets the way most women love shoes and purses. The pieces in her tech wardrobe that go with everything are currently the Samsung Galaxy Note II, Sony Tablet P, and Nexus 7, but there are still a couple of vintage UMPCs/MIDs in the back of her closet.

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28 thoughts on “Poll: What kind of keyboard do you need on a mobile device?

  • My answer will always be hardware for thumb typing unless you are talking about a capacitive touchscreen device, which has the potential to make a great on-screen keyboard. However, I think most of us know that the only good OSK so far is the one on the iPod Touch/iPhone line. I used to be strictly hardware keyboard guy until I realized that capacitive technology makes it possible to have a good OSK. If I had to choose the worst thing ever for typing on a mobile device, it would be resistive-touch based OSK.

  • I gotta have, at least, thumb keys. It’s the very reason I still use a Blackberry over an iPhone. Even really good on screen keyboards can’t match real keys.

  • Avatar of enterman

    it depends on what im doing. I prefer my Raons keyboard for in class and typing in general. Thumb typing is good for lighter tasks but cant compare to a real keyboard.

  • Im on the Compal right now for a reason….thumb keyboard!

  • Having owned an X1 for about two weeks, I’m a bit unsure about the quality of its keyboard. It’s a bit too flat for me, and I often over-exert my thumbs trying to press them. This could be just my unit and not the actual design, but the bottom row of keys (like “OK”) have a bit more travel than the alphabets, and that’s so much easier to type on. I wish the other keys all had the same degree of travel and click.

    While researching for the purchase, I think I saw the overwhelming concensus on the web is that size makes a difference. But the X1’s larger keys and spacing don’t do much in improving my speed or eliminating mistakes. What really helps is good predictive entry.

    So based on my experience thus far, I’d say I prefer a virtual keyboard, because there’s only so much I can do with a thumb keyboard, so it’s better that it doesn’t add physical bulk to the device. For anything serious, I’d rather use an external, full-sized keyboard (if the device supports that, I’m not sure WM6.1 actually works with any shipping bluetooth keyboard).

    BTW, Thanks Jenn for the tip article(s) on the X1!

  • To me as long as I can type and that the touch screen can recongize the thumb typing, to me I can use either one. I have the Aigo, and the Blackberry Storm. I can type better on a keyboard but if I need to edit something or type a small reply either one will do and using the Storm or Aigo would be much better. Like Jenn posted while standing in line using the BenQ.

  • Tough poll options: I WANT a hardware keyboard — the larger the better. I can GET BY with the virtual kb on my iPT, just don’t ask me to compose any long form poems on it.

    The mere presence of actual keys does not quality typing ensure: my beloved Clie’ had a tiny leetle blackberry-style keyboard and I couldn’t type on those for beans. Also, the squishy and slick keys of my boy’s XO preclude real typing speed. I can hit about 85% of my very fast max on the eee and was probably about 70% (would’ve been faster if not for the lousy spacebar) on the Belkin I’d slot the Clie’ into.

    Bottom line: I REALLY REALLY REALLY wish Belkin (or someone else) would come out with a pop-out keyboard for the iPhone/iPT (damn the lack of bluetooth on the iPTs!) — we’d have the perfect no-sucky ultraportable lappie replacement for under $500 that Jobs said they couldn’t make.

    — Bush, not related
    (man, this google-typepad tie in mangles m’user name…)

  • I want Rosetta, or preferrably ParaGraph, but amazingly neither option is available. What gives?

  • It’s puzzling to be offered choices of “thumb typing” and “touch typing” with nothing between these extremes, but I see it frequently. All I can do is guess at what’s intended, but I suspect that “touch typing” is being used incorrectly to refer to any typing that is done with fingers other than the thumbs. FWIW, the more widely understood meaning of the term is found in the first sentence of the Wikipedia article on the subject: “Touch typing is typing without using the sense of sight to find the keys.”

    With that in mind, I do NOT expect to be able to do true touch typing on a device that fits in my pocket. But I do expect and demand that it be usable with more than just my thumbs. I want to be able to do some serious writing, and that means being able to use at least two fingers on each hand, with the thumbs reserved for the space bar. It also means having keys with tactile response and shift keys on both sides of the keyboard.

    Maybe I should put it another way: thumb typing ain’t typing, it’s texting. Or maybe that should be “txtng”. I want a keyboard that lets me type.

  • well, I am loving the OQO and I think the main reason is the great. I am typing this in the doctor’s office on my iPhone which I also think says something. I would like the best of both worlds. An OQO with a touch screen like the iPhone but with access to a physical keyboard would be best for me.

    I know I wouldn’t buy a minature HP TC1100 with only an active digitizer and no physical keyboard.

  • Avatar of ArchiMark

    Good question, Karel!….

    I want to be able to be able to easily handwrite notes if I want…

  • Avatar of John-Video

    I find most hardware keyboards way to small. I actually get much better typing speeds with XT9 predictive text on a touch screen than I can get on small hardware keyboard. No current option would get me to want to write a long e-mail or blog from a mobile device.

    If I was going mobile with just a smartphone, I’d probably bring a folding bluetooth keyboard.

  • Avatar of satrya

    On my HTC Athena (Advantage 7501), I vote for touch screen thumb typing over the hardware keyboard. The hardware keyboard was better than the standard software IMEs provided. But since using TouchPal, I found that the hardware keyboard is no longer the fastest & most convenient route. The relatively large screen size (5″) certainly helps tip the favor towards TouchPal.

  • Avatar of UMPCman

    No hardware keyboard for me. I want my pocketable devices to have as big a screen and be as light and slim as possible. A detachable keyboard (a-la Advantage) would be good if it worked well. I would carry it when needed.

    For little text entry, onscreen is more than good enough.

    Real typing requires a real keyboard, and that can always be achieved with a 3rd party product, carried when needed. They are typically quite compact because they fold up, and can be carried easily on those occasions that merit them.

    I use my MID in meetings, bed, lineups, boring lectures, and don’t need the keyboard significantly in those settings.

  • Avatar of Dave P

    What I’d like may not be here yet. For me, the active digitizer on my OQO 02 allows handwritten input which would be ideal if the processor was faster. Unfortunately, the OQO 02+, while giving me the faster processor, took away the active digitizer. While I am a good touch typist and am becoming an increasingly competent thumb typist, ink input is far more versatile for anything up o a page or two.

    However, given the current crop of devices, I would have to agree that a well made thumb keyboard is a minimum requirement.

  • It’s too difficult for me to type on the iPhone. A physical keyboard is ideal. I can use Palm’s Graffiti handwriting recognition, but it’s way slower and more prone to errors than a physical keyboard.

  • I want a touch type keyboard. Thumb input to me is just not practical for using a full PC OS computer. While some are ok with that, I strongly feel that the lack of any UMPC’s providing that input in a small enough to carry size is why the entire UMPC market has been so weak. Sure if you ask UMPC lovers or tech people at a tech convention you will get more ok with thumbs but that to me is not representative of most users.

  • Avatar of Ronald Abadi

    Hardware for thumb & touch typing for me.

  • Thumbs are fine for a phone but no way can they be adequate for a full PC!

  • Avatar of Chris K

    … That gives me a brilliant idea. An OQO-sized device, with a TC1100-style detachable keyboard! It could be a slider or a tilt-slider, and the battery size might be an issue, but the end result would be a more pocketable system when you don’t need the keyboard, and a more usable system when you don’t mind the bulk.

    At the very least, I thought that the TC1000/1100 was a fairly clever design.

  • Avatar of Loxie

    I really like the size of the current blackberries but I hate the keyboards, they are so small and cramped together that I end up pushing several buttons at the same time.
    I liked the appeal of the touch screens before I tried one out. I don’t like smudging up my phone screen, I found myself constantly wiping and cleaning the screen causing scratches. I also hate that you push buttons while using the phone, one minute you are talking and then the next you hung up and are in a email screen.

  • Avatar of James

    I think you should be more specific about the type of mobile device as you talk about several.

    For a phone thumb keys are ok but still a pain for me; I do prefer them to touch some of the touch screens though.

    For a MID, UMPC, or any more true computer a touch type hardware is the only way to go.

  • I agree 100% with Jenn’s comment:

    “Being able to touch type on a mobile device is a nice bonus, but it doesn’t make or break a purchasing decision for me.”

    I also voted accordingly.

    It seems thumb typing at this point is just under 40% (counting the two options on there) and touch (only) just under 60%. However a quick glance at the comments on here it would that out of the ones making comments are more inclined towards thumbing?

  • I think a thumb key arrangement is only ok on a phone. For me I want a touch type computer. I doubt many would want a virtual keyboard, not me.

  • My vote is for a touch type hardware. I do not find thumb keys very easy to use, it is way too slow, and just not practical. I think the computers with touch type hardware clearly prove to be more popular.

    Just look at UMPC’s even after several years they do not sell that many. Netbooks seem to be considered a form of UMPC and in just a few months they have sold way more than all of the UMPC’s since they were created.

    I think if you had this poll in a more PC or laptop site the results would be even higher for touch type hardware. This is a UMPC site so naturally there will be more vocal people ok with thumb input as there are no UMPC with a keyboard other than Netbooks.

  • I’ve wanted to find an alternative to my laptop for years. The lack of a touch type keyboard is why I have not purchased a UMPC so far. How can you possibly type anything more than a sentence without both hands? I think that thumb and pen input is one of the major problems with ultra protable PC’s.

  • I think thumb keys are more for a phone or game boy. For a MID or UMPC I want a normal keyboard so that I can type with good speed.


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