Samsung is giving physical keyboards on smartphones another chance… sort of:

Never content to sit on the sidelines, Samsung is now trying its hand at blending yesterday’s hardware keyboard with today’s modern, slab-style phones. A new accessory for the just-announced Galaxy Note 5 and S6 Edge+ brings back those tactile keys that so many people have long forgotten.

Unlike the Typo keyboard, which communicated with the iPhone over Bluetooth and extended the length of the device to unwieldy proportions, Samsung’s keyboard case snaps on top of the phone’s display, effectively blocking half of the screen. The phone recognizes the keyboard and adjusts its user interface accordingly, shrinking everything to the top half of the screen. Keypresses are sensed by the screen underneath, eliminating the need for any batteries or Bluetooth pairing hassles in the keyboard itself. You can pop the keyboard on and off pretty easily, and if you want the full glory of an unobstructed display, you can snap it to the backside of the phone for storage.

And not-unexpectedly, Blackberry:

Taking a look at the images attached below, we’re getting a good look at the Venice’s display and slide-out keyboard. Although we can’t be entirely certain of the display size, previous rumors have pointed to a 5.4-inch screen size. As for the software experience, this device seems to stick very closely to vanilla Android, with some added BlackBerry features thrown in. For instance, our anonymous tipster tells us there will be keyboard shortcuts available for creating quick tasks and a few others. As you can see from the third image below, there also looks to be some software shortcuts when swiping up from the home button. Aside from the normal Google Now shortcut, you’ll also be able to perform a quick local search and create a new message with ease.

Blackberry appears to be releasing the phone that might have been quite the splash five years ago. Today… I’d be surprised if they made a whole lot of progress. The brand loyalty is gone. As is the love affair with keyboards.

I do still miss the physical keyboards. I still don’t think the virtual keyboards are an adequate replacement for more serious use. But I have gotten at least moderately comfortable with the viboards and adequate is good enough. While Blackberry is releasing the phone I wanted a few years ago, the advantage of having a physical keyboard is no longer sufficient to completely outweigh other factors, such as memory, storage, and battery. If they are competitive on the other things, though, I will give them a look.

In part because I’m going to be in the market for something new next time around. Samsung has gone the Dark Side, and two of the big reasons I’ve been a repeat customer – replaceable batteries and storage cards – are going away. It seems like LG is the only hold out, making it more likely that LG will by next phone. But maybe not. I am addicted to the replaceable battery, but the storage cards don’t mean as much (in part because of Android’s new way of handling them). Maybe I’ll get over it. Due to Samsung’s betrayal, I will probably be holding on my Note 4 for a really long time. It’ll take a lot for a successor phone to compensate for everything the Note 4 has. If I stick with Samsung, I’ll lose the replaceable battery. If I switch to LG, I’ll lose the S-Pen.

I will be looking at both the Samsung tack-on and the Blackberry for Clancy’s replacement phone whenever that time comes. But there, too, physical keyboards are not the end-all, be-all. Her Stratosphere 2 disappeared for a while and she was using a Galaxy S3 and I think she’s become accustomed to the viboard. But she doesn’t need nearly as much screen space as I do (nor does she switch out batteries), making the Samsung option viable. And the Blackberry might be right up her alley. The S3 is becoming increasingly dated, so she will be in the market for a new phone sooner rather than later.


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About the Author

Will Truman (trumwill) is a southern transplant in the mountain east with an IT background who bides his time taking care of their daughter while his wife brings home the bacon. You will probably be relieved to know that he does not generally refer to himself in the third-person except when he's writing short bios on his web page.

9 Responses to Is The Physical Keyboard Making a Comeback?

  1. There are a lot of reasons why I don’t have a smartphone, and an important reason is lack of a physical keyboard. If I ever get in the market for a smartphone, I’d probably look for a keyboard first. Not that the other things you mention aren’t important (although frankly I have only a dim idea of what you’re referring to), but to a smartphone skeptic/luddite like me, they’re not as important.

    • trumwill says:

      What kind of phone do you have now?

      • A flip phone. I think it’s LG. (My wife has an I-phone.)

        To be clear, one big reason I so far don’t want a smartphone–much bigger reason than whether there’s a physical keyboard or not–is that I don’t want to have something so valuable and yet so easily lost/stolen/damaged.

        • trumwill says:

          Should you change your mind, you can get a decent used one for between $100-200 (No contract).

        • Thanks. There may very well be a time that I’ll look into getting one. I’m just not there yet.

          I used to hate cell phones and promised myself I wouldn’t get one, and now I’m more or less reconciled to the convenience and quasi-necessity of having one.

  2. Mike Hunt Ray Rice says:

    I find it funny that there is a keyboard called Typo

  3. Michael Drew says:

    Got my first smartphone (iPhone 5s) in July.

    Yesterday I caught myself thinking, “It’s not inconceivable that after the contract I would go back to a flip-phone with a landscape-oriented keyboard like the one I had before this for seven years.” I just got to used to texting by feel, and autocorrect is destroying me.

    The only problem is that I don’t know of products with the kind of internet capability of a smartphone that have physical keyboards, and I can’t imagine things are going to evolve much in that direction, this example not withstanding. And I’m sure I won’t be able to.

    OTOH, I’m finding I’m continuing to use my iPad Touch a lot for music & podcasts, as well as web usage. And I’m finding I was never aware of just how much Wi-fi is out there if you really want it. I can see myself going back to that arrangement eventually: upscale audio player/Wi-fi-dependent web browsing device; downscale cellphone. Should be a lot cheaper in terms of cell plan. We’ll see.

    • Michael Drew says:

      …”I’m sure I won’t be able to…” give up the reliance on mobile internet access I will have developed. (Though see the next paragraph.)

    • trumwill says:

      Well, depending on your provider, you may be able to piggy-back your phone’s connection if you still have a phone. I think you can get tablet-only service, and you can get a keyboard with a tablet, but I don’t think it’s much less expensive to do that than it is to just have the smartphone service. It’s not the phone calls that are incurring the costs these days.

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