Smartphones in 2014: Do you still get physical?

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from Kansas City, MO
Published: January 16, 2014

Finding a smartphone with a physical keyboard is almost like finding a needle in a haystack these days, given the exception of BlackBerry devices. Although the design was practically a staple back when Android first came out, not to mention when webOS devices were still around, the physical keyboard design grows fewer and fewer with each passing year. What used to be a must-have feature in a smartphone for me is now a feature that no longer crosses my mind when I look for a smartphone, so it's somewhat of an eyebrow raiser when I see that LG plans to release an Android smartphone that includes a physical QWERTY keyboard sometime soon.

Physical QWERTY keyboards and Android have, for the most part, gone their separate ways at this point. Just a couple of years ago it seemed like every other flagship Android had a slide-out physical QWERTY keyboard, and others were being released with a more BlackBerry-style candybar design. It was a good way for those who still hadn't passed over to the smartphone way of things to transition a little easier; for a lot of people it was scary going from something physical with tactile feedback to something that was entirely touchscreen. People still likely had a bad taste in their mouths from the very first cell phones that used touchscreen with pressure-sensitive plastic rather than heat-sensitive glass. In short, they weren't exactly perfect. Most of the time they were more frustrating to deal with than convenient. I still remember thinking that I would rather walk into Mordor and drop my Samsung Instinct into the fires of Mount Doom rather than use it to send another typo-ridden text message because the 'B' button wouldn't work again. Then again, one does not simply walk into Mordor. 

But that period of transition is in the past, and at this point more people seem to be using smartphones than ever. The physical QWERTY keyboards that serves as the modern day smartphone's training wheels are no longer in high demand. But that doesn't exactly mean that nobody wants to use them anymore. For some, the physical keyboard is still far more comfortable for them to use over the virtual keys of an entirely touchscreen device. I don't blame them. Although I can type much faster on a touchscreen keyboard than I could on a physical keyboard these days, there's still something comforting about having an actual physical keyboard under your fingertips. 

I'm not sure what it is, but I've pretty much narrowed it down to the fact that in general, humans like to use their senses whenever they can. Touch happens to be one of those senses, and having that little tactile click and knowing that you pushed down on a key is, for lack of a better term, satisfying. Even when I'm speed-typing away on my touchscreen, I find that sometimes I miss having the actual feel of a button being pushed down beneath my fingertips. Even the slight haptic feedback that I experience from most touchscreen devices aren't that great of a placebo to me. It's decent, but it's not the same.

While I will always choose speed and accuracy over comfort in this scenario, I can see why some people would most definitely prefer and rather have physical QWERTY keyboards, even now. It's clear that the demand for such phones are low, but it is nice to see that LG, among other manufacturers, is still making an effort to provide QWERTY fanatics with new phones to look forward to. I think that physical QWERTY keyboards should continue to hold a few spots on the shelves.

Readers, do you still use a physical QWERTY keyboard? If so, what do you prefer about them over virtual keyboards? Let us know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below!

Images via @evleaks, Crackberry