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The biggest issue with small phones isn't the screen size, it's the typing experience

Small Keyboards Hero Pixle 4 S
Small Keyboards Hero Pixle 4 S (Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

I love small phones and I cannot lie! You Android lovers can't deny, that when a phone walks in with an itty bitty case, and small bezels in your face you get— okay, I'm not going to do the whole song, but safe to say, I love small phones. I love phones that will fit in the front pockets of my jeans so that I don't have to rock the Tomb Raider casual look. Small phones usually get shafted on battery or features — usually both — but they have many advantages, especially for users with smaller hands and smaller pockets.

However, there is one area where small phones have a distinct, inescapable disadvantage to bigger, taller phones: typing. Typing on a small phone is awkward and uncomfortable unless you're very, very nimble, and in most cases your keyboard will take up half the screen or more, limiting the amount of a conversation/email you can see while replying.

GBoard on an original Pixel

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

Once upon a time, small phones were what all of us used because they were the only smartphones on the market before phablets like the Galaxy Note came along and blew up the average screen size. In those days, keyboards weren't nearly as smart as they are now — glide and swipe typing was new and prone to mistakes — and even with slim fingers, fat thumbs meant that you were bound to get plenty of typos if you were typing at a normal speed.

Today, we have more keyboards to choose from than ever before, but there's still a tightly-knit cluster at the top of the pack. Regardless of which one you use, chances are your keyboard is taking up the bottom third of your screen on a phone like a Galaxy S20+ or OnePlus 8 Pro. However, on a smaller screen, that keyboard will eat up 50-60% of the screen.

Now naturally, there are some things you can do to mitigate this. You can set the height of your keyboard to a smaller setting — but you'll get more typos this way — or you could try a ultra-thin keyboard app, but the most reliable one hasn't been updated since 2017. Some more experimental keyboards forsake the old-fashioned QWERTY layout seeking something more compact without sacrificing accuracy, like Typewise, but they have a definite learning curve for new users.

Galaxy S10e keyboard

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

Now that small phones are starting to get some limelight again with the iPhone SE and the upcoming Pixel 4a, it'd be nice to see some manufacturers try to optimize the typing experience on smaller screens since after all, that's the primary way we communicate on our phones these days. It's impressive that Google and Microsoft, makers of two of the most popular keyboard apps on the market, still haven't optimized the small screen experience but have things down pat for the ever-shrinking Android tablet market.

You can do better, guys. We deserve better, even if we don't get enormous slab phones that don't fit in reasonably sized pockets.

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.

14 Comments
  • https://www.androidcentral.com/e?link=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.anrdoezrs.net%2F... Shame this isn't still supported as it is perfect for small phones.
  • I have a Pixel 3 (daily driver) personal device and a iPhone XR for work. I don't type any better on the XR vs the Pixel 3. I think the Google keyboard is better on the Pixel vs the XR. I do find myself doing the spacebar shortcut to move the cursor around on the Pixel though. I love that feature on the XR.
  • I can not say enough about how superior a typing experience the BlackBerry Keyboard provides. The flicking through word predictions is such a breeze.
    I really really hope BlackBerry continues to provide support for it even though they are not making Consumer phones at the moment. Otherwise, maybe work with a 3rd party and sell said company the intellectual property rights and bring it mainstream to Android. Currently have to use a 3rd party installer to get the Keyboard, even while other aspects of the BlackBerry Hub are readily available on Google Play. I have it installed on all my Android devices. I'm currently using a Note 9, so it is not just for BlackBerry devices. https://cobalt232.github.io/blackberrymanager/ Check it out... you won't be sorry for at least checking it out.
    & Happy Flicking !!!!
  • Yup. The BlackBerry keyboard app has to be the best keyboard app in the market.
  • The BlackBerry virtual keyboard is cool and all, but it's got nothing on the physical one... Besides, the BB10 keyboard looked a lot cooler with the silver frets between the rows.
  • I do think they should make small keyboard layouts for smaller phones, but no matter how you optimize it, typing will always be better on a bigger phone. Swiping is more precise, or if your old school thumbing it, two thumb typing is much faster and less awkward. If you absolutely need a small phone for certain reasons that's ok, but I always suggest people give themselves times to get used to bigger phones because using them is a better experience in my opinion. I'm fine with the fact that not all may agree, my wife doesn't and I'm always in the market for something a little smaller. She's on a s10e, which is a decent device, she's very happy with it. I felt a little cramped when setting it up. I do admit I'm a man with big pockets and hands that are alittle bigger than average. So my opinion may be a little biased 😏
  • Even on a large phone, the keyboard can obscure navigational buttons on the screen, sometimes with no way to scroll down to them. This happened to me recently with a 2FA interface (can't remember the app), where the "OK" button was obscured by the keyboard -- and then when I minimized the keyboard, the app backed out of the screen. So incredibly frustrating. This is where a BlackBerry physical keyboard earns its keep. Although the screen is smaller, none of it is actually obscured, so you can always interact with any elements on-screen, yet still have the keyboard available.
  • Right but most people go insane when you even mention "physical keyboard" to them. The only way they'll ever accept one is if it's a slider device so that they'll have their precious "screen real-estate"
  • I've been sticking with Thumb Keyboard on Android [https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.beansoft.keyboardplus] which has been with me since 2011 after I upgraded away from an OG Moto Droid with its slide keyboard. I like the split layout dividing into a left / right side that is slightly offset, making two thumb typing very fast even on old Samsung Galaxy Nexus, and has come with me over several phones until the S10Plus now.
  • Physical keyboards were vastly better, it's true, and I still miss them, but a larger screen would help any way you look at it now. I carry mine in my hip pocket so there's lots of room but the thinness of new phones is a problem in several ways. They're hard to pick up and handle, the batteries tend to have low capacity, and they're naturally much more fragile. I miss larger, thicker phones with decent keyboards.
  • A physical keyboard is even more important on a smaller phone because glass is still innacurate to type on (no matter how hard they try to convince you otherwise). A slider would still give the user their full display.
  • This must be your first article. Wow, smaller screens have smaller keyboard, bigger screens have bigger keyboards. The bigger the keyboard the less screen space, the smaller the keyboard the larger the screen space. Is there something new? At least mention the older phones in the past, a few had slide out keyboards.. But you would probably complain that, surprise, they were thicker.
  • A compact slider would really be the best of both worlds. You'd still get the full screen while typing, and typing accurately.
  • Hi friends, in my opinion, if we have phones with small LCD screens in the future, but in the end we have clarity and quality, it is much more practical.