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The Keyboard Challenge


What good is a portable device if you have no effective means of inputting data?  Manufacturers have come up with creative ideas for interacting with our devices.  I’ve divided them up into three basic categories.  The first, pictured below left, is the candybar keyboard as illustrated by the Blackberry Curve.  Our next challenger is the two-handed keyboard shown on the Sprint PPC6700.  Finally, the iPhone uses a software keyboard. 

The challenge:  Which category provides the most effective means of interacting with your device?

BlackBerry_Curve Sprint_ppc6700 iphone

Read on to find out…

Challenger 1: The Blackberry Curve.  When considering this input method you must include the trackball (the round item between the keyboard and the screen).  The keys are logically placed and their orientation, combined with the trackball, makes one-handed operation simple and intuitive.  Two-handed operation is also easy, as the keys are always within reach.  Many friends of mine, non-techies to be sure, have found the Curve easy to adapt to and a pleasure to use.  The trackball moves fluidly and quickly, unlike the molasses imbued D-pad on a windows mobile device.  It’s no wonder that Blackberry has enjoyed mass appeal. 

Other devices in this category are the Blackjack, the Treo line, and the Moto Q.

Challenger 2: The Sprint PPC6700.  This style of keyboard is far larger than the Curve, allowing for bigger keys.  This is both a blessing and a curse, however.  The size of the keyboard virtually forces two-handed use, as one hand cannot reach from one end of the keyboard to the other easily.  On the other hand, two-handed use makes the keyboard very functional. 

When the keyboard is stowed away, the display is in portrait mode.  Sliding the keyboard back out reorients the display to landscape.  This takes about 3.5 seconds, according to a review by Gizmodo.  Further, the keyboard adds significant thickness to the phone.  The delay in accessing the keyboard, combined with the thick unit, puts this category behind the Curve.

Other models in this category include the HTC TyTn, The new Android, and the HTC S730.  Maybe I should’ve called this the HTC category.

Challenger 3: The iPhone.  Like the Curve, it features a portrait orientation.  Unlike the Curve, it’s not so easy to use.  Even though the highlighted key expands to let the user know what they pressed, it’s too easy to miss the correct key.  Though it gets easier with use, it’s not as effective or intuitive as a hardware keyboard.  Conversely, it also allows both one and two-handed use.

Other items in this category include ZoomBoard soft panel input for Windows Mobile devices (which is excellent as soft keyboards go).

The winner…

Congratulations to the Blackberry Curve category!  This keyboard is so easy to use, non-techies become experts in minutes.  It allows both one and two-handed operation, is very functional, and doesn’t add much heft to the device.  The competition was also very good.  The iPhone introduced a new concept in keyboards that allows for a larger screen rather than sacrificing screen for hardware.  It’s well executed and fairly easy to use and has been imitated ad infinitum.  The PPC6700 is another good effort.  It’s spacious keyboard makes input a pleasure.

The competition was tough and all three competitors shined in their own way.  But the Curve edged out the other two with greater functionality, ease of use, and very small space requirements.


October 16, 2008 - Posted by | Opinions, Reviews, Utilities

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