One day, I went into the local Verizon store to look at smartphones. But I wasn’t looking at the phones themselves, so much as their keyboards. That’s right; my mission was to try out every keyboard they had there, and see which one was the best.
I like the Blackberry Curve’s generously-sized keyboard, even though I had to hit a shift key in order to enter a period. And the Moto Q had the largest keyboard of any phone there, making it easy to type on (albeit hard to fit in your pocket). But my favorite keyboard was also the smallest; the tiny, corncob rows of rubber chiclets that make up the Palm Centro’s keyboard.
Here’s why I liked it so much, in the exacting detail that only a typing enthusiast (or fanatic) could write. And as a bonus, it seems this whole article applies to the Palm Treo Pro, the older Treo models, and the upcoming Pre as well! I haven’t tried any of them out, but they look exactly the same except that the rows are larger and more rounded. So early adopters, take note!
Full Qwerty layout
You’d think this would be a given. But it wasn’t on the Blackberry Pearl and Blackberry Storm (held in portrait mode), both very popular smartphones. They have keyboards that cram multiple letters onto each key. I tried to figure it out on the Blackberry Storm smartphone they had there, but couldn’t make heads or tails of it.
One of the salespeople there told me that one of their units was messed up, so that may have been part of the problem. But he also said that it could take the smartphone a few weeks to adjust to your typing style, because it used some kind of predictive software.
Weeks? I don’t have time for that! And I’m not even using my phone to send text messages. I doubt many of you want to wait that long, either, so I repeat: Despite its small size, the Palm Centro smartphone has a full qwerty keyboard. Not only that, but the part that it uses for numbers is a different color from the rest of the keyboard and is laid out like a normal phone keypad, so you’ll be able to make phone calls easily. How cool is that?
Some people may see this as a disadvantage, especially people with large hands. But because of its keyboard’s tininess — about an inch high and two inches wide — the Palm Centro is the most compact smartphone Palm’s made so far, and is comparable in size to less fully-featured smartphones by other manufacturers.
Like I said, it’s not for everyone. Before buying any smartphone you should do what I did, and try it out in person to make sure that you like it and can type well enough on it. But you may find that the Palm Centro’s keyboard is surprisingly easy to type on, because of its …
The Blackberry Curve had extremely large buttons, in order to accomodate people’s fingertips. But I still found the keys somewhat hard to press; it felt like my fingers wanted to slide off of them. Of non-Palm Centro smartphones, only the Moto Q was really ideal for typing, and it ran Windows Mobile … not the best solution for most people.
The reason that the Palm Centro smartphone can get away with having such tiny keys is because their rubber chiclet design makes them easy to press … not with your fingertips, but with your fingernails. My thumbnails find easy purchase on each key, and they press into the unit with a rubbery squeak and a satisfying click. I have noticed some of the keys start to get scratched this way, but I’ve also found that it’s not as difficult as it seems to type without my nails … it just doesn’t feel as natural.
Another thing I like about the Palm Centro smartphone’s keyboard is that it’s backlit. And the light level is tied to the screen brightness, so you can selectively dim it in bright light or make it easier to see at nighttime. It’s very convenient!
Aside from the scratches my nails make, the one thing I don’t like about the Palm Centro smartphone’s keyboard is the way that the battery cover sometimes creaks while I’m using it. That battery cover is the bane of all Centro owners, and you will learn to dislike it if you buy a Palm Centro.
Having said that, I like the Palm Centro smartphone as a whole, and the keyboard is a big part of the reason why. I wasn’t even too disappointed that I could not get a Bluetooth keyboard to work with my Centro. Using the built-in keyboard, I can type faster than I could enter Graffiti characters with the stylus on my old Palm Organizer … faster that I can write by hand, in fact.
How fast? Well, I typed up this article using my Palm Centro’s keyboard. How’s that for you?
Anyway. Whichever smartphone you decide to get, have fun with it!