In search of the QWERTY king

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After being struck by an informed comment by Symbian's Executive Director, Lee Williams, that the touchscreen market would top out at about 30%, i.e. that at least 70% of phones will continue to be keypad or qwerty-driven, I wanted to get to the bottom of which smartphone keyboard, in the Symbian world, at least, was the best, in terms of size, feel, functionality and efficiency. Oh, and I wasn't allowed to include any obsolete models... [Ouch.]

After much merriment at my expense over the slowness of my T9/predictive typing speeds (e.g. in fastest smartphone in the west), I'm going to stick to qwerty for the purposes of this article. Yes, I'm sure that some people can work up a real sweat inputting text using just the number keypad, sometimes even without looking, but for lesser mortals (including me) a qwerty keyboard, however small, will usually give faster text speeds and greater satisfaction. After all, typing regular words in using predictive text is largely fine, but having to slow to a crawl to put in names and punctuation really, really frustrates me.

And so to trying to assess the best and worst qwerty keyboards in the Symbian world. Hopefully the measurements and rather arbitrary means of calculating a final 'score' make sense, even if you don't agree with the results or 'order'. In descending order of keyboard usability/quality/functionality:

Phone  Distance
of 'Q'
key to
of 'P'
key (mm) 
Key travel
device (g)

Distance x Travel x Number of keys / Weight
 = 'Score'

(in other words, how much can this qwerty keyboard do relative to the size of the device hosting it?)

Nokia E90  76  1.0 49  205 18.2


Five rows, eleven punctuation characters available without 'Fn' key use. Dedicated number row. 'Ctrl' key for editing shortcuts. 
Nokia E75  87  0.7 34 135 15.3


Four rows, five punctuation characters available without 'Fn' key use. No number row. 'Ctrl' key for editing shortcuts.
Nokia E61i 57 1.0 34 150 12.9


Four rows, five punctuation characters available without 'Fn' key use. No number row. 'Ctrl' key for editing shortcuts.
LG KT-610 63  0.7  39 126 13.6


Four row layout, although ALL punctuation requires a 'Fn' key press, rather spoiling text speed
Nokia E71  46  0.7 34  129 8.5


Four rows, five punctuation characters available without 'Fn' key use. No number row. 'Ctrl' key for editing shortcuts.
Nokia N97 71   0.35  30 150  4.9


Three rows only, almost all (bar the full stop) punctuation is via a 'Fn' key press. Space bar small and offset to right. No number row (obviously)


You may remember me criticising the Nokia N97's keyboard in my initial review? I'm not trying to point the finger specifically at the N97 here by ordering it at the bottom of the 'score' table, but you can't argue with the essential dimensions and stats. And if, as many people had suggested, the d-pad had been placed next to the screen (or simply missed out - does anyone need a d-pad on a full-face touch-screen phone?), the keyboard would have been larger and with more keys....

The surprise here for me was not that the ageing Nokia E90 still tops the list by a huge margin, but that the newer E75 comes surprisingly close to it, comfortably whopping the older E71 in the process, in terms of raw qwerty-goodness. The E75 has been growing on me steadily over the last two months and it's hard to argue with a smartphone that packs an 87mm qwerty keyboard into a 135g form factor. It's not as pretty as the E71, but it's potentially a far better device.

The really rather hopeless LG KT-610 appears mid-table, but in this case its position is misleading because, although it's hot on qwerty, it falls down in just about every other area that matters. The same argument should be made in reverse, for the N97, to be fair, since it's hot on quite a few other areas, with the qwerty keyboard arguably being one of its incidental features rather than a main attraction, as on the E75.

Comments welcome, as ever!

Steve Litchfield, All About Symbian, 28 June 2009