Monday, May 30, 2011

Smartphones and tablets and laptops oh my

Dear Diary,
How do I love my portable devices?  

Let me count the ways…

I first bought a smart-phone about five years ago, upgrading from a simple Nokia brick phone to a Sony-Ericsson P910 running the Symbian O/S.  I wanted some of the features of a PDA but I didn’t want to carry two devices all the time so the idea of a smart phone really appealed to me.  Sure enough I used the phone’s calendar, ‘to do’ list, word processor and even spreadsheet more than I used it as a phone.

Though the keys on the QWERTY keypad are really small, they are spaced and raised such that they are very usable.  I rarely mis-typed anything because of the keyboard.

Three years later I upgraded to a Sony-Ericsson P1, their fifth generation P-series smart-phone, again running Symbian.

The keys on the P1 actually trigger three ways: push down, rock left and rock right.  Sounds a bit odd but it’s really easy to get used to and once I did, I liked it even better than the P910.  But the limited screen real estate on both phones was really starting to bug me for certain things.  I wanted a second device, something bigger with about half the screen size of a small laptop, thinner, lighter and with a touch screen.. but more of that in part two.

A few months ago a friend made me a very tempting offer: how would I like an Android smartphone for fifty bucks?  He had a co-worker who had tried the phone for a couple of months, decided he wasn’t that keen and gone back to iPhones.  Now he wanted to get rid of it but nobody at work wanted it.  Did I?  Heck yeah!

So here I am with an HTC myTouch running Android 2.2.1, my Symbian smartphones finally laid to rest and I don’t regret a thing… well maybe one thing: 
 The myTouch has significantly more screen real estate than my P1 because it doesn’t have a physical keyboard but ironically, the myTouch actually has less usable screen than my P1 when the soft keyboard is active!  Doesn't look so bad here in Notepad but when adding contacts it's really annoying only being able to see two fields at a time

Unfortunately, the current crop of soft keyboards also leaves something to be desired in my humble opinion:
  • A keyboard without arrow keys – left, right, up, down – is simply a non-starter for me: these touch screens are not accurate enough to put the cursor exactly where you want it in a body of text most of the time. With a stylus I can get better results but it’s still not as good as I would like and my capacitive stylus is pen-sized so I don’t carry it with me all the time. (Mostly I keep it with my tablet)
  • With most of the on-screen keyboards I find myself holding the device in my left hand and playing hunt’n’peck with the first finger of my right hand, and on my phone the buttons are so small that I frequently hit the wrong key, sometimes making a real mess of the text.
  • There is one idea that is promising in my opinion: the thumb keyboard.  The premise being to hold the device in both hands and type with both thumbs.  The problem I have with the current incarnation of this idea is that on my phone the keys are too small and crammed together in portrait mode (see photo above) and on my 10” tablet screen the keys in the middle are way out of reach of my thumbs in landscape mode.

Aside from that little gripe however I’m loving the Android smartphone!  It actually has just enough screen real estate to work effectively with spreadsheets and the touch-screen scroll is smoother and more user-friendly than the stylus-tap scroll bars of my Symbian phones.  The built in WiFi is invaluable: no more cable hookups required to transfer data and if I’m willing to accept not always having access to the Internet (which I am), I don’t have to pay my phone carrier for that privilege every month.

The thing I love most though is the Google app store!  There I can find applications to help me do all sorts of things with my devices and because anyone can develop an application and put it out in the marketplace, there is a lot of innovation going on.  The flip side of that, as one of the speakers at ‘The Future Of Mobile Computing’ pointed out is that the app store is a bit like the Wild West but I think this is a reasonable trade-off, given the benefits to the Android user community and developers alike.  Hopefully the rating system, social media - blogging, Twitter, message boards etc. - and new ways of sorting and filtering the app store will continue to make it a viable source of application diversity...


  1. Wow, this was two years ago. So how many tablets and smartphones do you own now? What’s your latest possession? Can’t blame you for wanting to own many of them; they’re quite convenient and entertaining to carry around. Cordia Remsen @ RB’s Computer Service

  2. These days I carry a Google Nexus 4 and spend the rest of my screen time in front of a Macbook. Not for lack of opportunity - I still have a couple of Windows PCs and an Android tablet and I work with mobile devices all day. I just don't want or need another device.. at least until Head Mounted Displays grow up a little. 8)