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The S60 Fifth Edition Virtual Keyboard Shootout

December 16, 2009 in Featured, Mobile Phone Software
Pitting three virtual keyboards head-to-head. Who wins?

Pitting three virtual keyboards head-to-head. Who wins?

Last time I compared three physical keyboards. Now I’m going to attempt to tackle three different virtual keyboards – the stock Nokia one, DayHandInput, and SlideIt. While all three have their own unique advantages and quirks, sadly enough, the clear “winner” is a bit hazy. More inside.

Skip to the end to read the quick summary.

All tests were conducted with the 5530 XpressMusic phone.

The Problem With Nokia’s Virtual Keyboards

Nokia’s touch phones don’t support multi-touch. That’s one problem. A bigger problem, however, is the way that Nokia designs its virtual keyboards. I don’t mean looks, even though the 5530/5800XM keyboards seriously look like utter crap, but how the phone interprets a tap on a letter. On your PC’s physical keyboard, when you press a key, the letter or character that the key represents gets activated. The key fires when the button is pushed down, not when the key is let go. Unfortunately, Nokia hasn’t quite figured this one out yet.

In practical terms, this means that Nokia virtual keyboards will only spit out a letter once you let go of a button, never before. Say you’re typing the word pan. You hit the letter p with your right thumb, and the letter a with your left. Here’s the issue: if you hit the a too fast, or before lifting your finger from the p – the phone will completely ignore the p and just print out the a instead. Multi-touch would help the issue, but having the phone display the letter as soon as you touch it vs. touching it and letting go would be a huge, huge improvement.

And now let’s start the comparison:

DayHandInput, a virtual keyboard replacement.

DayHandInput, a virtual keyboard replacement.

The MrMilk/DayHandInput Modded Virtual Keyboard

A Chinese company created a replacement virtual keyboard for Chinese users, called DayHandInput. And then an enterprising user known as MrMilk took DayHandInput, added standard English letters/characters, and released it on some forums. What’s interesting about this modded keyboard is first – it looks super slick, and second – it supports a far, far larger number of possible characters thanks to a dragging system and multiple windows. Basically it works like this: The q key is assigned to both the q letter and the number 1. So you’d tap the q key to get the q, and tap/drag in any direction to get the 1. It works well, and even though it suffers from the same issue of only recognizing keys when the key is released, at least it’s not as embarassing to use.

It’s also customizable to a degree (since it’s a hack, there’s a lot of random Chinese stuff that appears as boxes in the options), but you can definitely change the keys and skin somewhat easily.

Good

- Looks better than the stock, and comes with different skins
- Several different keyboard types available, switch between them by either dragging or pressing a button
- Shaped more like a traditional keyboard than the stock
- Dragging system allows you to type multiple characters per key

Bad

- You have to tap one extra time before you can activate the keyboard
- In landscape mode, there’s a small gap between the text and the keyboard. When you’re writing a text message, the gap just happens to show part of the “Send Message” button, so I’ve actually typed part of a message with the keyboard, accidentally hit the Send key, and *bam* message sent. Dammit!
- Whoever customized the version I’m using mapped the secondary abc keyboard to activate when you hit the space bar and drag. So, of course, I do this by accident occasionally which is frustrating.

You can grab DayHandInput from here. More information about MrMilk’s modded version can be found here:

Hacked phone version
Dev. Cert. version, needs to be signed

IPMart forum thread

The SlideIt virtual keyboard.

The SlideIt virtual keyboard.

SlideIt Virtual Keyboard

SlideIt is an innovative little virtual keyboard, which uses finger dragging from letter to letter, connect the dots style, to spell words. To type in a word, you press the first letter, drag your finger to the second, then the third, and so on. When you’ve finished, the interface will attempt to guess what word you just scratched out, and will present you with some other choices. It sounds silly, but it works. It just doesn’t work quickly.

Good

- Innovative key entry
- Text prediction is quite good
- Good for portrait mode users

Bad

- Easy to pick up but impossible to master
- Strictly a one-handed affair
- Slower text entry than the others
- A little laggy
- You can’t go back and edit a word – to do so, you have to delete and retype the entire word again
- Has trouble with large words and double letters – try typing in “craziness”

More information about SlideIt can be found at the official SlideIT site.

The stock 5530 Virtual Keyboard.

The stock 5530 Virtual Keyboard.

The Nokia 5530 XpressMusic Stock Virtual Keyboard

I really, really hate this keyboard. Yet I can’t deny that it’s the keypad with the least amount of issues.

Good

- Probably the most sensitive/fastest of the three keyboards
- Can highlight text while in keyboard mode

Bad

- Looks nasty
- Need several taps to get to the symbols menu

Quick Summary

It’s hard to say which of the three is really the winner here, even though the stock keyboard probably offers the best performance. DayHandInput isn’t too different from the stock, but my tendency to make more disastrous mistakes with it gave a slight edge to the standard Nokia keyboard. SlideIt, while something completely innovative, is just a tad too slow to be a serious contender unless you’re a one-handed, portrait mode typist.

***

Tags

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thunderror
6/28/2010
2:06 am

Tried out Mr.Milk’s keyboard and its quite impressive. Too bad they don’t support the N97.

Jhon
2/16/2010
10:09 am

SlideIT is now on OVI with a new version

http://store.ovi.com/content/24305?clickSource=search

shameersyd
1/15/2010
11:57 pm

The nokia’s virtual keyboards overall are ok.But any virtual keyboard can never beat a full fleged qwerty hardware keyboard.Hope some new tech breakthrough will change my stance on this issue.

MeryTeri
12/16/2009
4:10 am

I just tried out SlideIT
This is for sure amazing!
It has instantly increased my typing speed by 30-40%
and the tip of my thumb doesn’t hurt.

So don’t type it, Just SlideIT…

Reply to thunderror


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