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I miss Android phones with physical keyboards (and you should too)

My beloved Soarin
My beloved Soarin (Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

When I was setting out to buy my first Android, there was one feature I valued over all others, and it wasn't the screen size or the processor or the brand. My first Android phone absolutely, positively HAD to have a physical keyboard that was comfortable to type on. On-screen keyboards were okay in a pinch, but nothing beat the feeling of actual keys under my fingers that I could recognize on feel and were always in the exact same place. I have never typed faster on a phone than I did on my first Android phone, no matter how much SwiftKey improves over the years.

Before my dive into Android, my previous two smartphones had been the Samsung BlackJack and the Samsung Jack, two Windows phones with QWERTY keyboards that allowed me to write down whatever story was rattling around my brain and keeping me from concentrating. And I intended to keep that streak going, and so after scouring the selection of phones available on AT&T — and a review from a little site called Android Central — I settled on the Samsung Captivate Glide.

I named it Soarin, and it will always hold a special place in my heart. Because I will never, ever, forget that slide-out keyboard.

Old Android Keyboards were godly

Source: Chris Wedel / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Chris Wedel / Android Central)

Physical keyboards were a big factor in many of our favorite early Androids — after all, on-screen keyboards weren't exactly the most intuitive things back then — so for anyone who did copious amounts of writing, a physical keyboard was a necessity. As the first phone where I could type directly into Google Drive, I was almost always writing when I was on my beloved Soarin. From answering emails and texts to writing epic crackfics and homework assignments, the physical keyboard was my trusty guide.

While swipe typing and autocorrect have improved — well, kind of — it doesn't help that my fingers have to relearn the exact padding and spacing for my keyboard on each and every phone that passes my desk. It's the biggest learning curve I face each time I set up a phone: how long will it take me to stop hitting A instead of caps or enter instead of the comma.

Androids with keyboards

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

While there are still Android phones with physical keyboards today, they're all basically parodies of their former glory. BlackBerry made some decent phones, but system updates were horrifically slow, and shoving a tiny keyboard at the bottom of the phone vertically just gave you a smaller screen and a smaller keyboard. The BlackBerry/TCL partnership may be dead, but outside of the CrackBerry community, I don't think it will be missed because it never really gave us the magic of the slider era.

Sliders may never be in vogue again thanks to our senseless obsession with slim profiles, but you can't deny that sliders had an undeniable appeal. The click as the keyboard slid out into place, finding out exactly how much pressure you need for the keys before you get back to typing 50 words a minute, and the satisfaction of closing it before walking off with a job well done. You can talk about the nostalgia of ending a call by slamming a flip phone shut, but the slider click was a hundred times more satisfying to me.

You can't deny the click of the slider.

I had slight callouses on my thumbs and palms by the time I eventually upgraded from the Captivate Glide to the original Texas-assembled Moto X. And while I loved that phone to absolute pieces, I missed clicking out Soarin's keyboard for years after I traded it in. It was a simpler time, though, and we cannot deny how much better Android is today, and it's an era in our mobile history where manufacturers weren't afraid to get a little weird with their phones. While the system couldn't do as much and rooting was necessary if you wanted to keep a phone for more than two years, the Gingerbread era may have been the best Android era because the phones were pocket-friendly, wallet-friendly, and thumb-friendly with those lovely chiclet keyboards.

The T-Mobile G1 keyboard

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Which slider keyboard do you miss the most? Or were you more of a CrackBerry convert? Do you think there will ever be a place for physical keyboards on a phone again, or has that era ended with BlackBerry? Let me know in the comments below.

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

31 Comments
  • Ewww...no thanks lol
  • I agree to the eww. It's been proven the touch screen keyboard is faster and more efficient than physical mobile keyboard... Writer misses it? Buy a fidget of some sort
  • There is more to it than just claimed efficiency. The tactile feedback of a physical keyboard is its own joy. You don't have to like it, it's fine. If I was given the choice between two identical feature sets, with the physical keyboard being the only difference, I would choose the keyboard. I don't even do a whole heck of a lot of typing on my phone. I just prefer the feedback of the keys.
  • There are people out there who can type faster on a physical keyboard and vice versa. It's not all about speed, but also accuracy.
  • I definitely don't swiping is much faster and virtual keyboard save space make phones slimmers and have bigger screens
  • Virtual keyboards aren't nearly as accurate and satisfying to type on than physical ones. Sliders are awesome cause you get both. How fares about having a slim phone anymore? Thicker means more room battery and features anyway
  • I miss it in certain situations. They're few and far between and generally when I'm trying to use my phone as a more traditional PC. I bought a Bluetooth keyboard for that and it's worked out great.
  • Having to get used to the keyboard spacing every time you switch phones definitely seems like a reviewer problem. I've never had or wanted a phone with a physical keyboard, but the option for people that do would be a good thing. I did like slider phones though, having the camera hidden away was nice.
  • With Google voice who needs a keyboard at all virtual or physical??
  • When people say things like this i just sit back, laugh and like to believe they're just being ignorant on purpose. Reading out a message to a contact on the train, bus or some place full of other people is not exactly a great idea is it? Oh yeah.. i forgot. Just use the keyboard to type so personal messages stays personal.
  • Do you really want people around you to hear what you are voicing to your phone? And in a loud environment, it's pointless anyway.
  • Loved the keyboard on my BB passport. With my fat fingers the virtual keyboard just slows me down. Man I'd love an android BB passport type phone. Not the tall Keyone thing, but broader.
  • So like the UniHertz Titan?
  • Sorry Grandpa, your physical keyboards are extinct. Maxing out a SwiftKey keyboard on a large phone with predictive text is exponentially easier to type on than a tiny physical keyboard. Perhaps you didn't notice that BlackBerry stopped making phones because nobody wanted a small screen and physical keyboard.
  • Perhaps you didn't notice but times have changed and most phones are hulking items with huge screens... So if they did bring back physical keyboards they wouldn't be soo bad in landscape... And in portrait mode those on screen keyboards are about the same size as a few of those old blackberry phones... And blackberry crashed not because of their screen or keyboards.. You should know that.
  • Typical close minded comment that people who prefer real keyboards are "grandpa's". No point of arguing with this kind of slabber. Keep tapping on your glass screen
  • My last phone with a physical keyboard was an LG Neon feature phone. The keyboard was awesome, the phone was trash. I've tested my allegiance to SwiftKey with GBoard (and on my iPad,the stock keyboard) but after so many years, it knows me so well I keep coming back.
  • I always miss the physical keyboard because of the accuracy, the short cuts and the joy of the feeling.
  • Exactly but all these defenders of typing on glass only mention typing speed. But it's not JUST about speed, there's also accuracy and tactility, which are things that a virtual keyboard just loses at against a physical one
  • Nope. I don't. At all. Just like I don't miss a rotary phone either.
  • Physical QWERTY keyboards aren't nearly as "ancient" as a rotary phone, come on now. Hardcore slabbers tend to hate on them, but it doesn't change the fact that physical buttons are more accurate than a flat piece of glass
  • I had LG sliders and Blackberrys, don't really miss them though. I'm ok with swipe, but maybe that's due to screen accuracy and touch response. My beef about on screen keyboards isn't the keyboard itself, it's that apps take up so much screen space in landscape mode, leaving you nothing but a thin slot to see what you are typing. Right now, Android Central is taking up about 15mm on the top and bottom, leaving me to view two lines of text at a time.
  • BlackBerry even tried PRIV slider as it’s Hail Mary and that failed. The PKB was synonymous with BlackBerry that even when it offered Android software and VKB hardware, it sold even worse than PKB like nobody cared or believed. Despite the fact that writer laments the old days, I feel the nostalgia is feigned since I don’t see any mention of four different PKB models put out by BB/TCL licensing partnership.
  • Not anything I miss one bit.
  • I remember as a kid going into stores and playing with the sliding keyboards on the display phones and being disappointed if one didn't slide out.
  • What's up with these keyboard articles? Last week or so AC had a piece about screen size and keyboard size amd a lot of blahs about the obvious.. Larger phone with larger screen means larger on screen keyboard... You skipped over mentioning phones with physical keyboards as if they never existed. Now this article?
  • Smartphones are all the same looking boring pieces of glass now...so it makes sense that some open minded people out there miss the alternate form factors we used to have. Slabbers who hate on keyboards can just keep buying their slabs, not like there's a shortage of those...
  • I don't miss the smaller screens but I definitely miss physical keyboards. Being able to type without having to look at the screen and many less typos were both huge benefits. Touch keyboards are a necessary evil but I still hate typing on them.
  • From a fellow mourner of the hardware keyboard, thanks for writing this. On-screen keyboards have never given me the accuracy of the good, old physical keyboard. They claim to be "faster" with things like swipe, but when I have to go back and correct the incorrect words constantly, I don't see it being any faster. I'll take that bulky hardware slider back any day.
  • So something like the F(x) Tec Pro 1 might be what you're looking for
  • The mytouch 4G slide had one of the best cameras when it first came out, I rooted and rom'd that phone to death. It was awesome. Having that slide out keyboard gave me the typing precision I wanted, and no, virtual keyboards are not the same.