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Roundup: 5 Smart Phones for Summer

Keyboards and Battery Life Compared

On the first page we listed the types of keyboards available, while only one does not have a physical keyboard, which we believe is better than virtual keyboards. The iPhone seems to be the exception to the rule, though having tested and owned several iPhones, we believe that a physical keyboard is still the easiest method of typing on any handset.

That said, the one device lacking a physical keyboard, the Instinct S30, is held back tremendously. Its on-screen keyboard is poor, in part because the screen is not as sensitive as we’d like it to be and because it gives no support to users. The iPhone is still the gold standard with virtual keyboards, which enlarges letters when your finger is on them and auto-corrects words. The S30 attempts to give users a virtual keyboard that functions exactly like a physical one, which makes it edgy, difficult to use, and not very user friendly.

Both the enV Touch and Impression also have virtual keyboards, both of which are superior to the S30’s, even though they are almost completely unnecessary. The enV Touch can type both in portrait and landscape mode, offering a numeric keypad in portrait and a full QWERTY virtual keyboard in landscape. Like the iPhone, letters are enlarged when a finger is held over them, though some of the keys are slightly misplaced (such as the spacebar clear button) while others are smaller than we’d like and are in the wrong place. However, overall, the keyboard works.

The Impression is almost identical, but comes with an option for the T9 predictive text add-on, which makes typing quickly easier. It won’t let users change the letter once typed by sliding their finger over to another letter, like the iPhone and enV Touch allow you to do, and the backspace is also poorly placed, but like the Touch, it works.

For the devices with physical keyboards, the two types are rubber and plastic keys. Rubber tends to be more comfortable while plastic is easier to use and more efficient for typing. The Nokia N97, Samsung Impression, and Palm Pre all have rubber keyboards, while the enV Touch uses hardened plastic keys. And in fact, the enV Touch’s keyboard was the easiest and most efficient to type on because the hard keys give users more confidence. It just doesn’t feel as good.

The Impression has the largest keys, and it is in fact very comfortable to type on. Its keys are flatter because of the phone’s slider, but are still easy to use. The backspace key can be annoying, since it seems to be placed in the wrong spot.

Palm’s Pre is almost the opposite compared to the Impression with a small keyboard that is not very comfortable and not easy on which to type. It’s also the only tested handset that types in portrait mode, which limits the available space, but previous Palm devices have done a better job. The rubber keys feel too soft to type with confidence, and they are too small to type with regularly, almost always requiring users to type with their nails. Surprisingly, it has no virtual keyboard, which we would have liked to see considering the capacitive screen and the lack of a landscape keyboard.

Nokia’s N97 uses very flat but comfortable keys. We like the way the keyboard feels, save for two huge mechanical errors: the spacebar is on the far right and the keys give little feedback when typing. This is especially difficult when trying to navigate the menus using the D-pad.

Finally, the enV Touch has a large, spacious keyboard, complete with dedicated number keys. Keys stand off the board slightly and provide excellent tactile response. The spacebar is small, though we felt LG’s experience with texting devices won out over the other phones by a long shot. The Touch has one of the best keyboards available on any cell phone today.

 Battery Life

We did not conduct lab testing on battery life for these phones and instead relied upon real-world testing. The N97, as mentioned, seemed to last forever, and was able to run for days on end without the need to recharge, even during moderate use. The Instinct S30 lasted second-longest, but because it is such a simple and light device that incorporates a less powerful antenna, this not a big surprise. Both the Impression and enV Touch have healthy batteries as well. Only the Pre had poor battery life, which barely lasted through the day. Recently, more powerful Pre batteries have become available, but they are expensive and make the phone more unwieldy.