Stylus vs. Fingers

For last few weeks, I have been doing some research online about PDA/Phone (hey, I have a geek image to uphold!). Really I was just doing my due diligence as my mind is more or less set on the SonyEricsson rumored new P900. But the Handspring’s Treo 600 is pretty impressive too. It did get me thinking on the two main school of thoughts on data input methods.

Mini-Keyboard/Thumb board

As the picture (taken from Handspring site) shows above, the Treo 600 (and previous Treo models except one) has a integrated mini-QWERTY keyboard. The user types in all the text using the finger(s). I would imagine that most people will use their thumbs.

Stylus (Handwriting recognition)

This leaked picture of the SonyEricsson new P810 shows the stylus form of data input. This will reply on some form of handwriting recognition and compliments with virtual keyboard.

T9 Text Input
On most cell phones (if not all) on the market now has the T9 predictive text entry system built-in. This system predicts the most likely word the user is trying to enter as each character is entered. This also eliminates the need for multiple taps on the same key to get different letters (e.g. no need to tap the ‘2’ key twice to get letter ‘b’). It is this system that makes SMS text messaging usable.

My Personal Favorite
First, a bit of history. Ever since my first cell phone that has SMS and T9, which was a Nokia by the way, my preferred way of entering text into cell phone is always T9. Then I got my first PDA, the PalmV, and learnt to use Graffiti. Even after all those years of using a Palm powered PDA, my T9 text entering speed is still faster than using a stylus.

My current PDA, a Sony NX60, has both mini-keyboard, Graffiti, and virtual keyboards. I’ve tried a couple of times to enter text using the mini-keyboard but I think my touch typing skill holds me back as I have to hunt for each key. Thus, I use my PDA in what they called ‘tablet’ mode 100% of the time. This is where the screen is swung around so that only the whole screen is facing the user and the only mode of text entry is using the stylus.

PDA+Phone=SmartPhone
So now back to smartphone such as the P900 and Treo 600. Since they are supposed to function as both PDA and phone, some kind of compromise must be made in terms of text entry. Handspring chooses to use mini-keyboard plus the five ways navigator/joystick. Whereas SonyEricsson goes for the ‘tablet’ mode with stylus.

I think for phone operation, keys (note: not keyboard) are superior. They don’t move around and therefore the user can employ muscle memory for quick tapping. This the Treo 600 has retained and probably improved upon. I don’t know since I have not lay my hand on a Treo 600 (not many people has either).

For PDA usage, my preference is using stylus so the Treo 600 will present a steep learning curve for me. That is not really the deal breaker however. Unless I am mistaken or overlook something, the Treo 600 does not have T9 system included. I guess Handspring decides that since there is a QWERTY keyboard there is no need for T9. This really is major issue with me. Without T9, how would I do text messaging one handed while walking on the street, for example? Of course I can use my single thumb and hunt around for each key, but that is like going back to the caves after discovering skyscraper building. However, some of my friends can’t figure out the T9 system and think that mini-keyboard is the next best thing since sliced bread.

The P810 I feel hits a good balance. For phone operation, the mini-keypad/flip has the keys for number entry.

The exposed screen automatically adjusts to expose the rest of the functionality required for making a call. The keypad also has T9 so quick text messaging one handed is still possible. For PDA use, just open the flip and pulls out the stylus and uses the P900 just like a regular PDA. To me, this is the perfect setup with quick text entry method for phone/SMS operations and natural (to me) handwriting for when I need long text entry.

And that is the reason I am saving up for the P900 instead of the Treo 600.

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One comment

  1. nick

    The Treo 600 does come with a stylus… though I admit limited knowledge to the software available. However, since Handspring was purchased by Palm (and used Palm OS before that anyway) I would imagine that stylus input will be an available software option.

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