Smartphones – Will we ever get more form factors?

It might surprise you, but I’m a bit simple at heart.

OK. Who’s laughing?

I have a Samsung Galaxy SII and a laptop, that’s about it. Call it a netbook, call it an ultrabook, whatever, you can get affordable notebooks online pretty easily now and hook up to the internet. But … why? Why am I using a laptop when there’s tablets and smartphones out there with a myriad of on-screen keyboards? Why am I still shackled to an old-school computer for most of the time?

On-screen keyboards are great. I love Swype especially, but after a while I can find myself looking elsewhere. This, in some cases, is why I tend to use my trusty (but fairly old) T-Mobile MyTouch handset below. It’s got a sliding QWERTY and I can enter text using a standard physical keyboard. Here it is in all it’s battered glory…

Smartphones   Will we ever get more form factors?

I’ve used an iPad, I’ve used Android tablets. I’ve even used the Samsung Galaxy Note to cover the Olympics and, when I needed to be ultra-mobile, it worked very well. On-screen keyboards are brilliant, but I’m now turning into someone who absolutely has to have a physical keyboard for writing stories like this continually.

I’m probably speaking to a fairly small selection of people here, but I’d love to know how many of you feel the same. It’s something we’ve raised at Mobile World Congress too – just where are the phones with physical keyboards? Why does every phone follow a similar design? Most handsets have a big screen and a couple of buttons, but you’re restricted to an on-screen keyboard. What happened to all the clamshells and the sliders?

I for one would like to see a greater variety in designs, but unfortunately that just doesn’t seem to be happening. It’s partly because Android and other OS’s are geared towards one sizable screen and, at the moment, no manufacturer is trying to properly extend the OS.

Hmm.. perhaps I should explain that. Here’s my Motorola MPx200. It’s a proper retro phone now, nearly 9 years old. When it’s closed there’s an additional screen on the back giving you details of texts, missed calls and the time. Ohhh look! A numeric keypad! Remember those things? Simple number entry… :)

Smartphones   Will we ever get more form factors?

The HTC ChaCha was a good effort. It had a pretty small 2.6″ screen but crammed a QWERTY keyboard on. I’d love to see more clamshells and sliders selling, but with Android inside. When you’re looking for a Windows Phone, an iPhone or an Android handset, every store, every online retailer can only offer slabs.

I’m getting the feeling now that all manufacturers are hitting the same problem. Phones all have similar specs now, so each company is finding new ways of making their handsets different. It’s usually software enhancements or new services, but I’d love to see some new and innovative designs instead.

What about you ?

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  • Microtac ftw…. but seriously this touches on what I said to you on twitter a while back…. there’s only so much you can do with a rectangle ….

    • Anonymous

      which is a shame since apple owns the rights to the rectangle.

  • neuty

    I had the MPx200 myself, what a great phone. Played Solitaire to death. Even got the MPx220 about somewhere.

    Oh the good old days.


  • Jimbo

    Rocking an Xperia Pro here. Picked it because it was the only qwerty phone I could find with 4 arrow keys. It’s a shame the tab key doesn’t switch between fields on web page forms.

    Am probably just showing a generation / geek gap – how many people these days tab around web forms or use the keyboard for navigating documents?

    • love the tab key…speak to alot of young people and they wouldn’t have a clue what it does!

  • victor

    Started using this site when I got my first SPV 100 – loved that phone :)
    Currently use a S3. Have a rarely used nexus. Looking forward to the Microsoft surface as too tied to a laptop to use a tablet properly

    • Rooster

      Im with you on that one victor – I too became a regular patron of Coolsmartphone back in the day when I got my SPV :) Id love a good quad-core, oled, slim android handset with a good camera and a querty. Good post.

  • James

    Completely agree with you! I Used to love my HTC Tytn 2 and I wish HTC or Nokia would release a new Windows Phone 8 handset with a sliding keyboard – i would grab one in an instant.

  • ItemSize

    2 words will explain why on-screen keyboards have an advantage over physical keyboards. No, those 2 words aren’t “slimmer phone” (although that is obviously worth remembering). The two words are “context sensitive”. I’ve never seen a physical keyboard that changes the currency symbol depending on your country, or an @ key that automatically populates with, or, but only when you’re in an email address entry field.

    I do admit that there’s something nice about tactile keyboards, but context-sensitive keyboards are better. Just wait till we’ve got tactile on-screen keyboards. It’ll be the best of both worlds, and they’re not that far away ;)

    • The BlackBerry keyboard does both of those things automatically. You set the currency key in settings, and you just hit the space bar when typing in an email address to get the @ sign. Simpler than a virtual KB actually.

      Plus you’re not diving into a menu 20 times an email to get the numbers and punctuation.

    • Steven Hoober

      My kid has a featurephone with an ePaper backed physical keyboard. Changes keycaps contextually as a virtual keyboard would. Clever. Totally doable in other devices.

      A couple of surveys and some recurring usage data indicate people want and disproportionately use hardware keyboards when provided.

  • Im having the same problem leigh – Ive tried 4 phones in the last month (xperia U, iphone, lumia 710) but have had to return to my beloved Chacha – I need physical keys. The problem with the chacha is that poor battery and internal memory.
    The only handsets i would now use are the motorola defy pro – only released in Brazil and canada- and the old motorola droid pro which I cant find to buy anywhere.
    Poor effort