Lost in the flats
To reveal the Droid's keyboard (4), you slide the touchscreen up. The slide feels a little too stiff, with a firm click when the screen moves fully up or down. Still, stiff and robust is much better than light and flimsy. It's satisfying and solid, just what you'd expect from Motorola.
At first glance the keyboard is great. Personally, I prefer a physical keyboard. The iPhone's touchscreen keyboard means I keep my written engagements to one or two sentences, because it's just too much work to type more -- the iPhone was clearly designed to be a consumer-oriented browsing device. The Droid is meant to be more of a full-featured device, so it gets a full keyboard.
Unfortunately, the Droid's keyboard is flat, with no physical texture. This keeps the product thin, but you can't touch-type with a flat keyboard, which largely defeats the purpose of having one at all. From a development perspective, this kind of trade-off is very challenging. These kind of decision gets made very early in the product-development process, and once set it becomes very hard to change without slipping beyond the product's target release date.
Otherwise, the keyboard's navigation pad (5) is interesting, and with practice it's nice to navigate without moving your hand to the touchscreen. But Android doesn't have a cursor in its onscreen menu mode, so Motorola had to hack BlackBerry-like functionality in with the navigation pad. While this is a solid hardware decision, Android lacks the user-interface cues which make the touchpad (or the Nexus One's scroll-ball) intuitive. Motorola is working hard to improve usability, but there are constraints when the hardware manufacturer does not make the software stack. Since Android is open-source, Motorola could have, theoretically, added a mouse cursor to Android. But that major change would almost certainly have delayed the product's release.
Text: Gregor Berkowitz/MOTO Development
February 2, 2010 11:15 AM PST
Photo by: James Martin/CNET
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