The Buttons

We're all thinking about our next phone, because that what Android fans tend to do. We know we want lots of cores, tons of RAM, lots of storage, and all the other bells and whistles that go along with. Tonight, let's talk buttons.

There's three ways to go here. Old school physical buttons, capacitive buttons, and with ICS, on-screen buttons. Each have their strengths and their weaknesses. And we can't forget the issues apps that haven't been updated have with real buttons, with that black bar and three dots hanging out there. Of course, there are fans of each kind, and we wouldn't want it any other way. We embrace the idea that there's different strokes for different folks, and glad that Android offers that choice.

So what kind of buttons do you prefer? I wish I could find a phone with a mix of physical buttons (a dedicated button to answer the phone works well for me) and capacitive buttons. Since that isn't going to happen, I'd have to pick a good set of capacitive buttons. What about you guys? Let us know in the poll!


Reader comments

Late-night poll: About those buttons


Onscreen cause you can customize them more and gives you a better overall experience. Like the GNex you get the extra viewing of apps.

You might lose display space when the buttons are on screen, but it is still better than permanently losing screen space to capacitive buttons. Have full screen viewing for videos and other applications is extremely useful.

Screens will be bigger to compensate for the onscreen buttons. I could argue that you lose screen real estate because of physical buttons.

The on-screen buttons in my opinion are the best. I can always see them clearly and without hesitation as to which I am pressing. Plus, with custom ROMs, I can change them any way I like.

Yeah, I much prefer physical buttons... I can operate them without looking, they give an indication of top/botton of phone if I'm fumbling in the dark, and, if they are decently designed, they provide positive feedback that I hit what I was aiming for.

Capacitive are second choice since I don't like giving up screen resolution to display the buttons.

But button style is lower on my priority list when choosing a phone... stability, speed, battery life, screen size/quality are far more important to me.

I would LIKE physical buttons, just because.

But on screen buttons are probably more practical, since they can be changed at any time to keep up with software changes.

Just pick something anything and make it universal across the google platform. even if some don't like the buttons or when they are they will appreciate familiarity of buttons being the same on all phones.

I can't stand physical buttons. It's lazy of me, but going from an original Droid to a Droid X was painful. When I moved to a Thunderbolt, captives felt so much faster and easier. Now with the GNex, I love the on screen buttons even more than that. It feels quicker. I'm glad Google nailed them as an input.

For me, the onscreen buttons work just as well as any capacitive buttons that I have used, plus they hide themselves so you can watch a movie with the whole screen. You can also customize them to suit your needs.


I may have a Nexus but if my previous Bionic had onscreen and the Nexus had capacitive I would still prefer onscreen.

its funny how you call someone a fan boy because they state their preference and support it with valid reasons. Its fine if you have differing views but it is ignorant to think that your view is the only valid one.

The next phone I get will have to use on screen buttons so guessing HTC won't be getting my business. Love the flexibility of them and once developers really take advantage of what can be done with them I'm sure more users will become fond of them.

Capacitive buttons because the screen is bigger! BUT without the annoying three dots blackhole! Really, it is drive me crazy.

One of the really attractive features of the Galaxy Nexus are the onscreen buttons and having played with a GNex for the first time yesterday at a Verizon store in town, I now understand why everyone loves them and I've been converted, too. Capacitive are okay but after playing with onscreen buttons, capacitive feels so 2010... XD

the real benefit of onscreen buttons was to reduce the bezel as much as possible but that seems like it's not possible right now.
if they can make the bezel tiny with the onscreen buttons, it makes the phone smaller and better in the hand.
and also, if users can customize the on screen buttons, that would be more awesome than the capacitive buttons for sure. Samsung should make that happen.

This. I'm torn between on-screen buttons and capacitive. I love my GNex and the on-screen buttons but I can't help looking at the bezel and thinking, "if they put the buttons down on the bezel the screen would always be bigger." There's plenty of room. But ICS is the preparation for future phones that will have bezels so small that there will be no room for capacitive buttons. I'm looking forward to that.

I voted for onscreen. FWIW, I don't subscribe to the inane idea that the menu button must be abolished and menu items placed on an action bar--having a menu button appear within easy thumb reach on the onscreen nav bar when necessary, or not show up when not necessary, is fine by me.

I went with onscreen buttons,I think thats the trend to.
Capacitive buttons would be my second pick.
I hate physical buttons thats so 2009 style

It doesn't really matter that much to me. Physical buttons certainly never detracted from a stylish phone like the Xperia ARC. And how many times did people wish for a physical camera button?

On screen is the only way for me. The Galaxy Nexus just makes since all other devices that are not in this light are not up to par plain and simple.

For me, on-screen wins. The biggest issue I've had with my SGS capacitive buttons has been when they are not being backlit. In the dark, you can't see them. There is nothing to separate them, so it becomes a guessing game in the dark.

With my gTablet (running ICS), I never have issues seeing the on-screen buttons. It is so much easier than using my SGS. It would be nice to find a phone with on-screen buttons (without changing carriers).

Went with capacitive buttons
Im okay with On-Screen buttons (if they were done tight) , but I didn't like em on HoneyComb or MeeGo either (yep tried em bot)
Physical buttons are meh as long as they are NOT fake chrome or similar to Nokia's designs

[quote] I wish I could find a phone with a mix of physical buttons (a dedicated button to answer the phone works well for me) and capacitive buttons. Since that isn't going to happen, I'd have to pick a good set of capacitive buttons.[/quote]

It's been done. Granted, on a low end slider. How quickly everyone forgets the Samsung Intercept. I loved having the capacitance buttons for the home/menu/back/search, and not having to have a dock space dedicated to the phone, since the physical button handled launching that. Granted it took up a grand amount of space.

I voted capacitive probably just because that's what my E4G has and its what I've been using for 2 years. I like the idea of onscreen but it seems like they would be less responsive. There are many times that a button click in an app doesn't register and I have to hit it again. Maybe it depends on the app. Honestly I haven't played with a GNex yet so I could be way off.

Either way definitely don't want physical buttons. Unless we're talking about that physical camera button on the E4GLTE :-)

This is something I've gotten used to with my EVO 3D. I'm glad to see the new EVO has it as well. A dual pressure button is really useful.

My ideal: on-screen buttons, with physical buttons for power, volume, and camera. I wish there were more physical camera buttons out there -- it's always a pain to futz with the power and the screen just to get a quick picture. Why don't more cellphones include physical camera buttons?

Has to be capacitive buttons and four of them (Home, Menu, Back, AND Search)!!! I really don't care for on-screen buttons, period!

Capacitive buttons don't take away from screen real estate to display content. I love the GNote to get as much usable display as possible.

HTC should have simply included a menu button because it will be 18 months before most apps ditch the traditional menu. Still, at least you get full screen when there isn't a need for the menu rather than always losing that space.

I like the idea of physical buttons, but in practice it seems to slow you down when your fingers get used the the soft touch of a capacitive screen.

I appreciate the advantages of on screen buttons, but my primary interest is to see as much information as possible.

I don't know but I always like at least the capacitive buttons there so when the display somehow screws up, I always have the home button to go back to...and I used the Nexus S for quite some time now...I'm old-school I guess...

I may be biased because I already have a GNex, but I love the on-screen buttons. They work well, they disappear and give more screen real estate for videos, and I think they make the phone look gangster. I like the fact that the front of my phone looks like a smooth, continuous black surface when off.

I say capacitive, but that's only because I haven't used on screen buttons like the Gnex. But I think on screen buttons might not be that bad either.

On-screen, Capacitive, doesn't matter to me as long as THEY ARE ALL IN THE SAME ORDER.

Button order should have been a mandatory standard in order to be certified by Google. There's no standard across carriers or makers and it bugs the crap outta me to use my own phone and then try to use my wife's and have the damned back button pull up the menu screen.

I hate on-screen buttons so damn much. I would like for them to die pls.

I dont like that they are not persistent. And I dont like that they eat up my display real estate. The wheel does not need to be re-invented. Thanks.

I can see why some people might like physical buttons, but I honestly don't understand why anyone would prefer capacitive buttons. In terms of user experience, there is NO difference between capacitive buttons and on-screen buttons -- except that the on-screen buttons can go away when you need extra display space, or can rotate to proper orientation when the phone rotates. What's the down side?

Yes, there is a difference in user experience. The soft-buttons are not persistent. They eat up my display real estate. I dont need capacitive buttons to "go away" because they are never in the way to begin with...they are not part of my display.

Customization vs screen realestate and I choose on screen buttons with customization. I may not always change my buttons but it's nice knowing I can.

Once you go on screen you never want to go back :-) .. just like i thought i needed a physical keyboard on my phone.. now... no way!

For me: On Screen (specifically with a big enough bezel below it that I don't constantly accidentally press them like I do most capacitive buttons) > Physical > Capacitive. With the capacitive vs. physical, I always preferred physical but it wasn't a big enough problem to keep me from buying a phone that I preferred every other aspect of. With my GNex, I'm sold on on-screen, though I might go back to preferring physical if the screen went as close the the edge as most capacitive buttons do...

Like anyone who does actual paying work on his phone frequently, I want not only physical buttons, but a physical keyboard.

Yes, yes, I know, Swype (or insert your favorite brand of simulated keyboard) makes it all better. A fake keyboard also takes up half the screen in portrait mode, and almost the whole screen in landscape. Sucks if you're using Connectbot to debug a script on a client's web server using emacs (or even vi, since you need an escape key) or even do something as simple as repair a database table. If you're doing it over VNC or RDP, forget it. (If you don't know what Connectbot, emacs, vi, VNC, RDP or an escape key are, just skip the rest of this and go back to Instagram or Angry Birds or whatever it is you use your $600 worth of electronics for.)

Try to imagine carrying even a Macbook Air around, say, an amusement park or a crowded bar, both places I've had to take a client call and then fix something. Even if I did, I'd still have to run some tethering program on my phone because wifi is often hard to come by. I probably still wouldn't even have a smartphone if not for my ability to do work on it directly. The last feature phone I had acted as a USB wireless modem and I did try carrying my laptop around everywhere, so I went the smartphone route purely for something that could substitute for a laptop in a pinch.

But I know I'm not the target market, and the poll bears this out. My Epic was a flagship phone when it was released, but I'm doomed to a string of half-baked midrange phones from now on as the manufacturers and carriers throw some scraps to us old and/or technical people now and then. Maybe they can come up with a screen you don't even have to touch, just sort of blow at it to type.

My tablet is less irritating to use without a keyboard because the extra screen real estate lets me use Hacker's Keyboard in portrait mode and still have a bigger terminal window than I have on my phone. (And I still have a bluetooth keyboard built into its case for when I need to do more than a quick fix.) But for a 4-5" display, I have to, have to, have to have physical keys, preferably all 5 rows of them.

If I could vote "Physical keys" a hundred times, I would. A full keyboard and large unobstructed screen are literally the only reasons I have a smartphone at all. Being able to carry MAME and a quarter of my mp3 collection with me everywhere is just gravy.

I voted for on screen buttons. I have a Gnex and love them. What we need is an app that really makes use of the variability that on screen buttons can provide.

Within an app the buttons can be anything the app needs. The buttons can completely disappear providing use of the entire screen.

Developers can also provide a means to return to the standard on screen buttons if you need to do something like get to home or multitask list. On screen provides the greatest flexibility and I hope future apps will start using them instead of staying stuck in the past.

Not planning to buy any new phone unless it has on screen buttons.

I like touching things. Gimme buttons, physical buttons. ;-)

BTW - the way, I am NOT a "guys". I'm a LADY!!

Function before form. Physical buttons with consistent plasement for all OS functions, on screen controls for app-specific functions. Functions that are common for many apps (back, menu, search, etc.), as well as those of the OS (home, task switching) should have their dedicated fixed tactile buttons, with potential overload of functions.

Capacitive. Because:

a) Physical ones tend to accumulate dirt and/or break
b) On-screen steal screen space. And what happens if the device crashes and the buttons aren't there to be pressed?

So, a mix of capacitive and physical would be ideal. Such as my Samsung Ace's.

One thing I dislike about capacitive ones is the sometimes strong light.


on screen. I'll never go back. wish i had physical camera button tho. ppl that claim onscreen buttons take away real estate but they fail to realize that the screens ate made bigger to compensate, giving them the same sized screen when buttons are shown and a larger display when they are hidden. it's a win-win

Yes, my screen is bigger than my previous smartphone's. With half of it taken up with an onscreen keyboard -- more than half, if it's in landscape mode, as is necessary for comfortable typing -- it's considerably smaller. Onscreen keyboards are a step backward unless your primary use for your smartphone is Angry Birds.

on screen. I'll never go back. wish i had physical camera button tho. ppl that claim onscreen buttons take away real estate but they fail to realize that the screens ate made bigger to compensate, giving them the same sized screen when buttons are shown and a larger display when they are hidden. it's a win-win

I use to think that. Many onscreen with LCD but not amoled. I've noticed that because the buttons are there throughout the whole use and only moves for videos that they tend to ruin the screen underneath. Check yours. The pixels under mine have tones that are dead and the colour compared to the rest of the screen is WAY off. RAZR I. Onscreen buttons +amoled. Terrible.

Physical buttons. On screen and capacitive buttons are way, way too easy to press if I'm playing a game, plus it feels more natural. My mom has the LG Optimus Slider and I have the Evo 4G and I like the fact that she has physical buttons.