The Keyboard: Form Factor vs. Speed

I was a Blackberry user for years before the iPhone. While I appreciated the look and feel of Windows Mobile devices nothing could ever replace the functionality of my Blackberry at the time. One trend I noticed however was with every new generation of Blackberry, the form factor got smaller and the keyboard became just slightly less usable. As Blackberries got narrower, the key spacing dropped and my peak typing speed dropped a bit. It never fell too much, but it was an annoyingly consistent trend. I was always fine upgrading because the newer phones usually had enough going for them that I was willing to make the sacrifice.

Using the Nexus One’s keyboard, I was reminded of the same feeling. While it’s a purely virtual keyboard, the key spacing isn’t quite as wide as the iPhone’s because the device is just slightly narrower. As a result, I can’t type as fast on the Nexus as I can on the iPhone. With a good amount of practice it’s possible to be quick on the keyboard. Using the keyboard in landscape mode was a lot more comfortable to me, unfortunately there’s hardly any remaining screen real estate when you do so. 

The narrower keyboard is a side effect of the narrower device, which does make holding it up to your head to make a phone call more natural feeling than most smartphones, the iPhone included. It’s very difficult trying to strike a balance between smartphone perfection and comfort. Dell’s upcoming Mini 5 has an incredibly useful 5" screen, but it comes at the expense of not being very pocketable.

 

The Nexus One's keyboard is also missing multitouch support, which is something that the iPhone's keyboard originally lacked as well. This is mainly an issue if you're just transitioning from a physical keyboard and are used to having one key pressed as you're selecting the next key on the keyboard. I struggled with the lack of multitouch on the iPhone keyboard initially but by the time Apple added it in, I'd gotten used to not having it. 

Google Nexus One
Apple iPhone 3GS

Like most smartphones, the Nexus One will attempt to autocorrect your spelling mistakes as you make them. By default there’s a bar of words that appears under your text input box as you type. The spelling correction appears to be based on length of word and letters used, but not the location of those keys on the keyboard. For example, typing yjomh instead of thong won’t autocorrect, although on the iPhone it will. Overall the autocorrection and thus typing on the iPhone is better than on the Nexus One. With the iPhone you can really just type and mostly forget about mistakes (assuming you take the one finger, one thumb, two thumbs approach and really grow accustomed to the device over about a week). The Nexus One comes close, but it still ends up feeling like it’s using a dated form of text entry/correction compared to the iPhone.

This is a major issue because with any device this narrow, the pad of just one of your thumbs will cover up a huge section of the keyboard. You can either slowly peck at it or rely on the phone to be as smart as possible in figuring out what you’re typing. Apple simply does this better.

There are other slight differences between Google and Apple’s virtual keyboards. Both magnify the key you’re pressing, but Apple connects the magnified key to the actual key you’re pressing - it’s a slight UI addition that does make it look nicer. Google does a better job of indicating that there are alternate versions of a letter by putting an ellipses after any key this applies to.

Made for Google, by Google Notifications: Better than Apple, Worse than Palm
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  • KaarlisK - Saturday, April 03, 2010 - link

    ´´The graph below shows the rough costs of simply keeping up with fab technology every two years:´´
    Can´t seem to find it.
    Reply
  • deputc26 - Saturday, April 03, 2010 - link

    Thanks Anand, Great Review! Reply
  • windywoo - Sunday, April 04, 2010 - link

    Taken out of context like that, the quote sounds like it is describing a graph of smartphone prices, laptops, e-readers :) Fab tech. Reply
  • Nihility - Saturday, April 03, 2010 - link

    I just know that after experiencing any responsiveness issues, that within a few months I'll get really frustrated with the device.
    I still have an iPhone 2G and I hate it. Takes forever to launch apps, browsing the web is a miserable experience and the battery life sucks. I'm definitely in the market for a better phone but I think I'll just wait for something smoother.

    One of my main gripes is that my navigation app for the iPhone takes ages to load and if I get a call mid-work I'll have to restart it. Hate that.

    Like Anand said, on paper the N1 is perferct but I'll let them smooth out the rough parts before I get one.
    Reply
  • Exelius - Saturday, April 03, 2010 - link

    I had the same complaint of my iPhone 3G. I bought a 3GS the day it came out and it is a huge improvement over both the 2G and 3G in responsiveness. My girlfriend has a regular 3G and much prefers using my 3GS over her own phone when browsing the web or using the Maps application.

    If responsiveness is a problem on the iPhone platform, get a 3GS before ditching the iPhone completely. The hardware on the 3GS is roughly equivalent to the Nexus One.
    Reply
  • Nihility - Saturday, April 03, 2010 - link

    No way. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...
    No more iPhones for me.

    My main concern was all my apps, but most of them are available for the Android so there's nothing holding me back. I'll be glad to get rid of iTunes.
    Reply
  • solipsism - Saturday, April 03, 2010 - link

    You're comparing a phone from 2007 with an ARMv6 @400MHz w/ 128MB RAM and discounting the model that came two years later with ARMv7 @ 600MHz w/ 256MB RAM. Makes perfect sense¡ Reply
  • KaarlisK - Saturday, April 03, 2010 - link

    I love both the attention to detail and depth you have :)

    And I have to say that Android, not WinMo7, is the replacement for Windows Mobile 6.5 in my eyes. WinMo7 just isn´t WinMo :D
    Reply
  • LuxZg - Sunday, April 04, 2010 - link

    I agree, great review, I think I've never read anything that long about a phone :)
    And I agree with Android being a true Windows Mobile successor.. I don't have money for stuff like this, but if I did - I'd want all the freedom of my PC on my mobile as well. In that regard, Android seems to be the only option at the moment.

    There is one thing that will clearly make lives of some people miserable.. Data rates in some countries are horrible, and smartphones all rely on mobile data connection heavily, but Nexus One is a data-hog champion by the looks of it. Hopefully, by the time I'll be able to afford phones like this one, this will be solved :)
    Reply
  • macs - Saturday, April 03, 2010 - link

    Thank you Anand, the review is great and as an owner of the Nexus One I agree with your thoughts.

    Android world is so wide that it's really hard to have a complete review and I think what is really missing here is something about the community around Android, XDA forum, CyanogenMOD , USB Tethering, WIFI Tethering,...
    Reply

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