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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.