Monday, April 09, 2012

Bemoaning the disappearance of tactile controls in handphones

How can we get manufacturers to start making handphones with proper buttons again?

With the onslaught of touchscreen-only devices, buttons have been disappearing. Directional pads (D-pads), QWERTY keypads, dedicated function keys (e.g. camera shutter), even the most basic Home/Back/Menu and Call/End keys have gone away, to be replaced by touchscreen versions which are a pale shadow of their peers.

Quite frustrated for the past year or more. I have not been able to find suitable electronic products for use. For example, I was looking for a QWERTY handphone, and also a small Windows UMPC.

However, due to the so-called Apple effect, these products are not available. Ever since Apple products achieved mainstream popularity, competitors have got into the bad habit of copying Apple.

I still miss my Nokia E71, it's form factor, and available apps
  • candybar QWERTY - less moving parts, type with single hand
  • D-pad - move precisely through menus, accurate text selection, single hand
  • Opera Mini version 4 browser - allows for fast page up/page down using D-pad (needs a mobile phone that supports java apps)
Features required in my next phone
  • good to-do app (sync, reminder), e.g. Astrid?
  • fast browser (Opera Mini)
  • QWERTY keypad
  • D-pad or arrow keys
  • universal search 
  • office document editor
  • good predictive text input (e.g. SwiftKey)
Current contenders are the HTC ChaCha and Nokia E6. However, both are "problematic" phones with issues.

HTC ChaCha
  1. insufficient built-in memory for apps
  2. bugs (e.g. SMS jumps to top of thread)
  3. poor battery life
  4. poor camera
  5. no Adobe Flash
Nokia E6
  1. not a lot of apps for Symbian Anna (or Belle); e.g. no established to-do app
  2. touchscreen
  3. no autofocus for camera 
Besides the 2 above, the ranked outsider is the Sony Ericsson Xperia Pro, which has better specs, but has the following issues
  1. flat keyboard, not very tactile
  2. sliding QWERTY means 2-handed use; also potential issues with durability (my current X10 Min Pro needed a replacement ribbon connector)
  3. insufficient built-in memory for apps (although not as bad as the ChaCha)
So how? I have up to mid-May (handphone recontract date) to decide...

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