Which smartphone keyboard is the best?

Nokia E75

Paul Ockenden puts a series of dedicated and on-screen smartphone keyboards to the test

A debate that crops up time and again is whether it’s better to have a dedicated keyboard on your smartphone (either below the screen or one that slides out), or whether an on-screen keyboard with text correction is adequate.

It’s a debate that hotted up recently as some phones with screen-based keyboards started to provide tactile feedback, either using an ultra-quick spin of their vibration alert or, like the BlackBerry Storm2, using clever piezo-electric technology to simulate the feel of a button press.

The manufacturers claim that this makes on-screen typing as reliable as using a proper keyboard. But in the real world, what is it actually like using these new-fangled screen-based keyboards, and how do they compare to phones with more conventional Qwerty buttons?

Since the various handset manufacturers and mobile networks loan me test devices, I’m in the fortunate position to perform head-to-head tests, and that’s exactly what I did.

On each phone I typed the same slab of text – the first couple of verses of Lou Reed’s “Pale Blue Eyes” (a favourite that showed up in a random playlist as I started the test) – a telephone number, a web URL and a username/password. In each case I timed the operation and noted its accuracy: you can see my results in the table below.

Mobile keyboards table

I used each phone in its default mode, as it would present to a brand-new user out of the box. I counted one error for each wrong word in the main text and for each wrong character in the phone number, web address, username and password. In every test I tried not to look at the screen and typed as quickly as I could, allowing the phone to correct any errors. I’m not the world’s fastest typist, so I’m sure some of you could easily beat the absolute times, but as a comparison between devices it’s reasonably valid.

How should we interpret the results of this barely-scientific test? First, physical keyboards would appear still to be significantly faster and more accurate than on-screen keyboards, and second, fancy new screen technologies offering haptic feedback don’t necessarily improve typing speed and accuracy, although they feel nicer in use.