Is the portrait QWERTY form factor here to stay for Android?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| June 28, 2011

When it comes to Android, the customization doesn’t just end with the software. One of the benefits of Google’s mobile operating system is the fact that it can be adapted to work on a variety of different handsets. This, if nothing else, means that people have a choice as to which kind of handset they want, when they want it. Of course, it all comes down to what type of device is available on your carrier of choice, but at least the idea is still there. However, with the route that Android is going, is the QWERTY portrait keyboard-toting handset the best hardware to promote the software?

We all have our favorite handsets. We all have our favorite designs, and something that we’re looking for when we are in the store looking to buy our next phone. We all have different aspects to a device that grab our attention, and when we see what we want we usually go for it. If you’re someone who loves Android, but you’re also a fan of physical keyboards that don’t require a slider, you haven’t had all the choices in the world. Sure, there are a couple of different devices out there that offer up a full physical QWERTY keyboard in a portrait design, minus any sliding pieces, but they haven’t been the best devices to date. And if you’re coming from a BlackBerry device, then you’re probably going crazy not being able to have the same hardware aesthetics, packed with Android under the hood.

A new leaked image suggests that Motorola is hard at work on alleviating the problem. The company has already launched a QWERTY portrait Android-powered handset a few months back, originally for the Verizon network where it was called the Motorola Droid Pro. More recently though, the same device launched on Sprint’s network, retitled the Motorola XPRT. This isn’t the only portrait QWERTY Android handset that Sprint has available on its network, though. Samsung has the Replenish handset, offering up a bit of recycling goodness with their handset. Motorola is allegedly working on a new handset, which looks a lot like the XPRT off-hand, but packs the latest version of Android inside and potentially WiMax-connectivity.

Unfortunately, the conversation of “updates” has to come up when we look at a new handset like this new leaked device. While we can’t say for sure what Google has in store after Ice Cream Sandwich (the next version of Android for smartphones), we do know the majority of details regarding what’s coming up next. Most importantly, we know that Google is taking Android into the button-free realm. Navigating Android in the future will be all about the touchscreen. And that has me questioning whether or not a portrait QWERTY Android phone will make any sense in the future.

Sure, as long as it features a touchscreen then there probably won’t be a huge issue. But, then again, if my main navigation through an operating system is through intuitive touch controls, I’m not going to want to do that on a small touchscreen. Doing simple things like activating an application, or switching from one homescreen to another on a 2.8-inch (or slightly bigger) touchscreen isn’t an issue. But if we’re talking about the majority of time spent using that touchscreen, then the bigger the better; at least, that’s what it seems to me.

That’s not to say that in the future manufacturers will figure out a way to make the portrait QWERTY Android handset promote a “huge” display, but also pack in that physical keyboard underneath it. But I’m not sure if “bigger is better” goes for a device like that. The screen can only get so big before the keyboard/phone becomes unwieldy, and that’s not a direction the manufacturers want to go. But, perhaps 3.4- or 3.5-inches is the sweet spot for this type of form factor.

Where do you think the portrait QWERTY device stands in the future? Will Ice Cream Sandwich make it pointless? Or will you still try to get your hands on one because you’re a fan of the form factor? Let me know in the comments below what you think.