Friday, October 16, 2009

In Praise of Hard Buttons

SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 21:  The new T-Mobile ...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

LAS VEGAS - JANUARY 08:  A new Palm Pre smartp...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Winter hasn't exactly come early to Chicago but it is unseasonably cold right now—cold enough that I've had to break out a jacket and gloves. This kind of leaves me in a bind gadgetwise. I still love my Palm Pre and am satisfied with its little sliding keyboard but the cold weather makes it less useful when I'm out in the cold. While the Pre is a slider phone a perfectly usable little keyboard, when the slider is closed the Pre is basically all screen with a single button that does only one thing. Other than turning it on and off and changing the volume, all other interaction with the Pre is through its screen. Normally this is no problem—in fact it's normally quite enjoyable. But when you are wearing gloves suddenly it becomes impossible to interact with the Pre.

Now contrast that to my older T-Mobile G1. The most recent firmware update gave this phone a new lease on life by making it fast enough to be usable again. And now the cold weather is is making it a lot more relevant for me because it has something that the Pre lacks—real hardware buttons. The G1's trackball is very responsive and allows me to interact with the phone quickly and efficiently. The home button allows me to get to the G1's "desktop" and access my shortcuts. And finally, the back button helps me get around the phone even faster.

I've always felt that the G1 was something of a evolutionary odd duck. Not as pretty as the iPhone or as elegant as the Pre but an interesting phone because it shows the potential of Android as a phone OS. With the release of the Pre and its webOS operating system, suddenly the potential of Android doesn't fascinate me aas much as it used to. But the ability to scroll through a bus tracker web site on a cold day without having to take off my gloves doesn't need to be fascinating, it just needs to be quick and efficient.
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