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Swapping an iPhone for a BlackBerry made me appreciate the physical keyboard

File photo – TCL Communication CEO Nicolas Zibell presents the new BlackBerry Key before the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Feb. 25, 2017. (REUTERS/Albert Gea)

Once upon a time, the touch screen didn’t exist on smartphones. There was only an alphanumeric keypad, or a miniature version of a full keyboard devices such as a BlackBerry. If you run to the part of your life via e-mail, and need to type at lightning speed, then a BlackBerry was probably on your side.

I never saw the attraction, and went straight from an alphanumeric keyboard with a touch-screen without a thought. As we know, after a (very) rough patch, BlackBerry is back with the same strong ideals and a compelling phone package that catapulted his name to fame of ten years or more ago. Including the return of what made it famous in the first place: The physical keyboard. It is about a follow-up of the phone, the BlackBerry KeyOne, who last year got BlackBerry fans all sweaty under their collar and tie.

The next KeyTwo will more heads. But what if you’re like me and have a physical keyboard newbie? Is that physical keyboard typing nirvana gray smartphone owners make it out to be — offering speed, tactility and precision? You and I must, touchscreen typists, the temptation to try it?

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Muscle memory

I bought my first smartphone, an HTC Touch in 2007, which means that I have been typing on a touchscreen for more than a decade. The transfer of my mobile activity about the KeyOne, and the phone used in this experiment, which was exciting. It just looks so different. The phone is very solid, with real heft and weight, something more noticeable in your hand, because the keyboard is very low-slung. It is close to the bottom of the KeyOne of the body. Place it next to an iPhone-X, and the entire keyboard takes up the same space occupied by only the lowest two rows of the keyboard on the touchscreen.

This is an obstacle, the first of a number of on the journey to type well with the KeyOne, and all are related to muscle-memory. Just holding the phone in preparation to type feels different, and you will need to re set your grip immediately. It is harder than it sounds, and even after a few weeks of typing on the KeyOne, my fingers and hands are not naturally adapted to the way the KeyOne is to be cradled. Curiously, it is the pink, that is the problem. Usually acts as a support in the context of a touchscreen phone, but the KeyOne low keyboard makes this impossible.

Eventually I settled in to rest the phone on two fingers of my right hand, and gripping it almost as a game controller with the other. It is not what I would call comfortable, and I still shift the phone around trying to find a more natural position, but it works. My thumbs are the next problem. She didn’t seem to bend in the right way, and actually pressing keys apparently more trouble to do than tapping a piece of glass. It is more the angle of the middle joint that is new, if the pressing of the keys is carried out with the tip of your finger, instead of the path.

 

After a few days to adjust to the shape of the phone, the angle of my thumbs, and the settlement in holding the phone “correctly,” it was time to start typing in the 60-plus-words-per-minute I had seen that on average, people on BlackBerry forums.

The need for speed

If I wanted to for 60 words per minute, I had a lot of work to do. According to the Typing Speed Test app downloaded from Google Play, my average is 25 words per minute. Running the test on the OnePlus 6, I average about 35 words per minute. On the iPhone X, by using a different app, I could manage 48 words per minute. I had not set a keyboard on fire with my speed, but I was definitely faster on the touchscreen.

That’s it, the end? Touchscreens are? No. What surprised me was the accuracy is usually 10 to 15 percent higher when typing on the BlackBerry in comparison with the touch-screen to show how much I usually rely on the autocorrect to make my posts not as they were typed when I was drunk.

Even after a few weeks my speed is not much. However, I did get used to using the gestures on the KeyOne, which speeds up the message-creation process. Swipe on the touch-sensitive keyboard, and select the auto-suggest words is very helpful, and the more you use it, the better it gets at understanding what you can say. It is also useful to move it to the side to remove words that I used a lot. This was also surprising, that it was never used to gesture-based touch-screen keyboards such as Swype.

Tactility

Physical keyboards on phones are often trumpeted online as the last word in speed, and this may be the case for those who are in possession of a series of BlackBerry phones, but it is not for anyone used to a touchscreen. This emphasis on speed actually misses the point completely. Typing on the KeyOne is not on me faster — it made me slightly more accurate; but it felt different, in a good way.

What people don’t always mention about a physical keyboard on phones is the pleasant feeling of those little buttons under your thumb. There is something wonderfully mechanical about pressing each key in succession. Not in a nasty retro-is-so-cool way, but because it connects you physically to the device. Not better — it’s just a different level of tactility.

 

This pleasure — yes, pleasure was increased by the gestures, or the sweeping away of a misspelled word, or with the up and down to scroll through a web page, press the multifunction keyboard works as a coherent part of the phone, instead of a tacked-on nod to the past, to reduce the risk of romanticizing it too much. Typing on the KeyOne was pulling down the arm on a slot machine in comparison with the touch of a button to run. It is a physicality that just can’t be replicated.

Satisfaction

Please note, I do not say better, or improved. It’s not that. I type faster on a touchscreen. But I don’t derive satisfaction from doing so. It is a process, or a means to an end. The BlackBerry KeyOne is not as — digital — about. Has it converted me? Not at all. The temptation of a large touch-screen is still too much, and I can bash messages faster. However, with the BlackBerry tell Digital Trends has two new phones coming this year that are not based on the KeyOne or Movement, we are excited to see if any of the rumours Uni, that might be a slide-out keyboard, and the desirable big screen.

Individuality in the smartphone world is in short supply. A phone with a physical keyboard is really unusual, and what we want to do here is encourage you to the KeyOne or the next KeyTwo a try. Not because of a possible typing speed to improve, but because typing on a BlackBerry keyboard today is so delicious and unique.

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