Buyer's Guide: Qwerty Smartphones
The Pros and Cons
Group Test Qwerty keyboards come in all shapes and sizes. Well, come to think of it they're generally much the same shape, but the number of keys and their layout can vary dramatically from handset to handset. HTC's Touch Pro 2, for example, is a pocket-straining brick with five lines of keys, while the relatively diminutive Nokia N79 Mini gets by with just three.
Handsets with a full-size keyboard are almost always going to be larger than standard phones, but manufacturers are getting increasingly canny about making them slimmer and lighter. Larger keyboards will generally be easier and faster to use, of course, especially in the long term – more keys mean you'll have to spend less time pressing alternative keys or scouring the symbols menus – but they do tend to take up more space.
Ease of use is also a major factor, especially if you're doing a lot of texting. A close-spaced keyboard may be fine for occasional use but it can quickly become a nuisance, especially if your missives lean towards the, shall we say, Tolstoy-esque.
Slide-out keyboards necessarily require a thicker phone, but the advantage is that you'll still generally get a full-size touchscreen that's great for web surfing and watching video as well as plenty of room to see your writing take shape.
That contrasts with your average candybar handset, which typically offers cramped screen confines and a smaller keyboard. On the plus side, however, you have a phone that you can generally use one-handed. And the keyboard is always there in front of you, always ready to use. You don't have to slide it out first, and you don't have to wait for the screen to catch up and re-orient itself from upright to landscape.
Looking beyond the hardware, you'll need to consider the operating system that's right for you, and if you intend to use your Qwerty smartphone for work, to make sure that it will be compatible with your work's in-house email system, for example. The OS choice these days is largely between Symbian and Android, though Blackberry and Palm have their own bespoke systems.
Windows Mobile hasn't quite died the death yet, but it's losing ground to the others rapidly. Windows Phone 7 Series, it's successor, is not incompatible with the current version but has a radically different, very touchscreen-centric user interface. But phones using it won't be out until the end of the year - if any of them sport keyboards at all.
Watch out for extra costs. For example, if you use push email - which comes as standard with Blackberry, for instance - to keep your inbox absolutely up to the second, you may find that prices may be more than you bargained for. Use of Blackberry's Internet Server, which is required for the company's push email service, sometimes carries an additional charge, though that is now often being bundled into standard tariffs. In short, always best to check before you buy.
All the handsets in this round-up are mid-range to high-end smart phones, with the ability to add additional apps, many of them free, from online stores. Almost all of them also have HSDPA 3G network connections and Wi-Fi for fast web browsing and downloads. Most have GPS for location-based services too.
In fact, all are very well served on the functionality front, so we've concentrated here on the keyboard user experience. ®
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