With more than a couple hundred Android phones having been released, there is no shortage of one thing: choice. You can find smartphones in just about any price range shy of $800 (sans contract, of course), with great cameras, extra small or extra large displays, gigantic batteries and you can even find phones with built-in projectors. Smartphones can be composed of all sorts of different materials and we've expressed the importance of button and port placement more than once now.

But this time around, I want to focus on an aspect of smartphones that Android manufacturers seem to be torn over. Navigation buttons.

Since the introduction of Ice Cream Sandwich, to continue following Android design guidelines and thus continuing to support Google services such as Play Store and Gmail, manufacturers had to revamp their navigational button layout from the legacy four-button layout to the new three-button layout, dropping menu and search for Recent Apps. The menu button has since been moved to the Action Bar at the top of the display and is now referred to as action overflow.

In Honeycomb, the Android team also added support for software navigation buttons in tablets, which trickled down to phones in the Ice Cream Sandwich update. However, the Samsung-made Galaxy Nexus was the first smartphone with on-screen buttons and very few manufacturers have followed suit.

At CES in January, no phones (that I recall) reflected the changes made in Ice Cream Sandwich. The Samsung Galaxy Note, for instance, featured the standard four-button layout we'd grown used to. The Huawei Ascend P1 S featured a three-button layout, but was simply missing the search button – it didn't trade search and menu for the Recent Apps.

Since May, though, we have finally started to see some manufacturers respond to the design changes.

HTC reacted by creating a three-button capacitive layout as seen in the One X above (bottom). While they didn't totally scrap the menu button like Google would prefer, Samsung went with a combination of two capacitive (Menu and Back) and a physical home button. And recently we've gotten a look at Motorola's adaptation, which I'm almost certain had some influence from Google itself. The Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE, DROID RAZR M, DROID RAZR HD, DROID RAZR MAXX HD and Atrix HD all feature on-screen buttons in the pure stock Android layout: Back, Home and Recent Apps. And last week, we saw LG's take on the new navigational button layout on the Intuition headed to Verizon: Back, Home, Recent Apps and Action Overflow.

The question is: which configuration do you prefer? Do you like a menu button? The more stock-like Back, Home and Recent Apps config?

I have used them all personally and extensively. In practice, capacitive buttons are much more common and feel more responsive. Over the course of three years, I have gotten over my love for physical buttons (thanks to a long history with BlackBerrys) and come to love capacitive buttons.

In theory, though, I like on-screen buttons better. While they do make the effective display space a bit smaller (a 4.7-inch display with on-screen buttons is effectively a 4.5-inch display in normal use), they can allow the phone to be smaller by reducing the bezel at the bottom edge of the face of the phone. Non-display space that would normally be dedicated to capacitive keys is not needed. And the on-screen buttons hide away when it matters most, like when watching videos. Not to mention, if you're into hacking your phone, with very minimal effort, you can alter the on-screen buttons to essentially whatever configuration you want.

That said, I have used the Galaxy Nexus off and on for the better part of five months and I have an issue with its soft buttons. Comparing the on-screen buttons of the Galaxy Nexus with the capacitive buttons on the HTC One X, the responsiveness of the navigation buttons seems to be a bit worse than those on the One X. I find myself having to hit the display more than once to jump Home.

The one thing I cannot stand, though, is physical buttons. They're fine if they are used for power buttons or volume rockers. But on Android phones, I have never been fond of physical buttons. I'm beginning to believe this is why I don't like the Galaxy S III all that much, or why I'm only partially excited for the Note II.

I would love nothing more than to see more phones with soft navigation buttons, or no buttons at all. (Gestures are awesome, though not always intuitive.) In the meantime, capacitive buttons aren't a bad alternative, though. Where do you stand, ladies and gents? Capacitive, physical or soft buttons? What about a combination (like the Galaxy S III)?

Don't forget to VOTE! Each week, PhoneDog Fans vote for their #1 smartphone in the Official Smartphone Rankings. Vote now and contribute to the industry's most relevant weekly ranking charts

Products mentioned in this Article

eBay prices for the Samsung Galaxy Nexus global

Related posts

Comments & discussions  

80 Reactions to this post

"How do you like your buttons?"

Please limit your reaction to 140 characters or use comments for a longer reply :)
Thanks for your participation! :)

Anonymous On screen buttons, customizable
Bahwinder Singh Saini
Bahwinder Singh Saini capacitive
Samuel Claudio
Samuel Claudio capacitive and physical... never on screen buttons because it takes up screen space.
Allison Reynolds
Allison Reynolds Either way i make typing errors, so capacitive since at least my phone will b thinner and lighter.
James Daniels
James Daniels On screen because I like the fact that the buttons reconfigure with the screen when going from portrait to landscape mode
Patric Pederson
Patric Pederson physical button...it is hardware so it can't crash
William Officer
William Officer On screen buttons. I don't like physical buttons, not even keyboards anymore.
Justin Cartier
Justin Cartier Capacitive, but I'm getting use to on screen with my Nexus. Not to big of a jump from my Razr though.
Curtis Owens
Curtis Owens depends on what they could be used for.
Muhammad Bilal Arif
Muhammad Bilal Arif Physical
Philip Grobot Walfridsson
Philip Grobot Walfridsson on screen! I hate capacitive buttons, I always clicks them by mistake..
Javier Pineda
Javier Pineda Capacitive
Dilan Parmar
Dilan Parmar Lumia 710 buttons are best
Sebastian Gomes
Sebastian Gomes Capacitive
Chris Sharpe
Chris Sharpe on screen. why do we still need buttons built in to the phone?
Tony Bauza
Tony Bauza Physical buttons, i always accidentally press the back or search button on my phone. (Samsung Focus)
Zabian Hankerson
Zabian Hankerson On screen buttons that disappear when u don't need them
Gabriel Sotomayor
Gabriel Sotomayor On screen, and on screen button's work even if an app freezes....
Arxi Kay
Arxi Kay Just make the buttons work who gives a damn
Jason Vargas
Jason Vargas I hate accidentally hitting the capacitvie buttons. So on screen would be nice
Diego Schneider
Diego Schneider capacitive
Luis Arturo Batista Aquino
Luis Arturo Batista Aquino Physical
Matt Miller
Matt Miller Capacitive here.
Benjamin Gehlke
Benjamin Gehlke I like all 3
Jared Augerot
Jared Augerot on screen
Jose Be Julme
Jose Be Julme Capacitive.
Angel Hernandez
Angel Hernandez Capacitive,have an htc one x,dont really like physical. But for the s3 im gettin',ill make an ecception lol.
Gerard Hyacinthe
Gerard Hyacinthe I like my dedicated camera button on my mytouch 4G. But I've wanted to upgrade ever since my back button smushed in.
Max Larrieux
Max Larrieux Physical, but not crappy. Just want physical so i don't press it accidentally
Mark Schleupner
Mark Schleupner Capacitive and red (Rezound)
Cesario Brito Jr.
Cesario Brito Jr. On screen buttons as long as it has a huge screen.
David Tambascio
David Tambascio Physical or Capacitive.. on-screen is a waste of screen space and the phones that do have on-screen there is plenty of space in the housing for capacitive buttons
Jacob Froese
Jacob Froese Capacitive
Matt Ellefson
Matt Ellefson Capacitive or physical
Justin A Malakhow
Justin A Malakhow Oh, and I STILL use an original Motorola Droid - which has a slide out keyboard that was pretty shoddy to begin with - and it STILL works 3 years later!
Justin A Malakhow
Justin A Malakhow BOTH. I prefer to have options - like if I'm @ a command prompt in terminal, I prefer to have a physical keyboard so i can see the entire screen.
Darrien Glasser
Darrien Glasser On screen is the best. I will not stand for non-functioning physical buttons like we're on the Triumph.
Jeremy Davenport
Jeremy Davenport Capactive button more screen space
Tan Chong Ling
Tan Chong Ling Capasitive buttons. Because physical buttons will somehow get loose and pressing it by that time is really frustrating. But apple's iphone button can be accepted because there is a spring beneath the button to prevent the button from becoming loose. My iphone's button is still fine. But samsung's home button is no exception.
Tony Abiama
Tony Abiama Capacitive and on screen.
Saood Altaf
Saood Altaf Capacitive. Physical break easily. On screen take up screen space.
Andrew Hawkes
Andrew Hawkes Physical/Capacitive. Software buttons suck because they waste screen space.
Ori Sanilevich
Ori Sanilevich Capacitive. On screen buttons take up space and if an app freezes you have to reset the phone instead of simply pressing the capacitive home button
Nick Oberly
Nick Oberly I really liked the Galaxy Nexus on screen buttons but my galaxy s3 physical home button is pretty convenient and doesn't use any screen space.
Malik Valbrun
Malik Valbrun On screen
Zhaku Hysaj
Zhaku Hysaj Soft buttons are simply the best!
Marc Williams
Marc Williams On screen!!
Zac Luna
Zac Luna Capacitive
Kal El
Kal El Capacitive is simply the best.
Goran Samardžija
Goran Samardžija capacitive buttons
Paul L McCord Jr.
Paul L McCord Jr. On screen because physical buttons can wear out.
Jason Charles
Jason Charles I like the mix up configuration on the galaxy s3
Kiisha Arnold
Kiisha Arnold I would prefer my nexus to have physical buttons for "home" and "back" because I hate when I'm doing something and accidentally tap those buttons and lose what I'm doing =€
James Vincent
James Vincent Physical buttons or below the screen capacitive... the idea of part of the screen being used for a row of buttons seems silly to me
April Bowman
April Bowman I wish there was still a dedicated physical phone button!
Alberto Garcia Flores
Alberto Garcia Flores My Galaxy S3 has everything right
Curtis M. Cook
Curtis M. Cook Definitely on screen buttons.
Scott Kurtz
Scott Kurtz Not pushed!
Joshua Tj Jones
Joshua Tj Jones Samsung galaxy s3 has got it perfect
Antonio Vazquez
Antonio Vazquez on screen, my Galaxy Nexus does it perfect, can change the order and color with a custom rom too. just perfect
Vladimir Conrado
Vladimir Conrado I like capacitive
Steve Smyth
Steve Smyth On screen.
John Mercado
John Mercado Capacitive is cool, physical is a nuisance cause hardware like those can break easily. Less hardware movements, less broken phone parts. Capacitive issues can be fixed with software fix.
Chening Chu
Chening Chu great fan of ON SCREEN!!!
Aaron Bergman
Aaron Bergman On screen... not even a competition...
Roy De Vera Walican
Roy De Vera Walican Capacitive touch the best!
Daniel Quintero
Daniel Quintero 5In with on screen
Jesse Ling
Jesse Ling the capacity buttons are good but i dont like having half them taken away like the s3 did
Minh Truong
Minh Truong Physical/ capacitive buttons. I had an LG phone (sold only in Asia) and it was hard to navigate around.
Dave Morgan
Dave Morgan The s3 has capacitive and physical. I love my s3. On-screen buttons are douchely.
Joey Drew Bucek
Joey Drew Bucek I like capicitive but I love on screen
Jared Hylton
Jared Hylton I prefer physical buttons, but I agree with Ben -- the Real Estate screen-wise that gets used up is just too valuable.
Anthony Bailey
Anthony Bailey I like on-screen and capacitive buttons. Old folk and non-techies are the only nonconformists who still cry and yearn for ... uh ... physical bottons and keyboards.
Vicente Reyes
Vicente Reyes Yes as long as its screen is longer to fit them, not eating the screen real estate.
Ben Pierce
Ben Pierce Prefer physical but I can't give up the real estate of a 4.8" full screen
Stephen Wagner
Stephen Wagner always on screen
Vicente Reyes
Vicente Reyes On-screen.
Tyrell V Mason
Tyrell V Mason On-screen like the Galaxy nexus. Helps maximize available screen area.
Reggie Goodwin
Reggie Goodwin on screen aslong the screen dont free up
Mark Belkowski
Mark Belkowski the galaxy s 3 got it perfect.

Most popular Videos
Most popular Videos
Most popular Videos

Most popular Reactions
Most popular Reactions
Most popular Reactions

This weeks "People's Choice Rankings" best smartphones
People's Choice Rankings

See all hot devices