First off, let me just say this is purely an opinion based article as there are quite a few old school mobile users that have absolutely no issues with using mobile handsets with tactile keys and will swear by them. Personally, I’m not swayed in any direction but if it came down to it, I’d go with a touchscreen handset that met a few particular pointers I keep in mind when testing. Allow me to elaborate.
Before we get into that, and this is just for users who aren’t absolutely well versed with the kinds of touchscreens that are out there, there are two types of touchscreens – Capacitive and Resistive.
A capacitive touchscreen is a lot more finger friendly than resistive. It provides you, the users, with a little more control with your finger as these displays will require no external object like a stylus for making a connection to the operating system.
Mobile phones are getting touchy
In technical terms, since the human body is a store house of energy and electrical properties, the screen simply uses these properties to detect when and where on a display the user places his/her finger. With a capacitive touchscreen you’re required to apply little to no pressure to activate features and functions.
Here are a few of the more famous examples of handsets equipped with capacitive touchscreens –
Apple iPhone 4
Samsung Galaxy S
LG Optimus One
Now don’t misunderstand, all resistive touchscreen handsets don’t necessarily require the use of a stylus. Quite few can be very easily operated with just your fingers, however even handsets like the Nokia 5800 Xpressmusic or the N97 still come bundled with a stylus. It also largely depends on the User Interface designed for the device. For example in a Windows Mobile 6.5 device, you’ll find the stylus very necessary in quite a few instances, even if you can use your fingers with most other functions. Most manufacturers design custom UIs to help facilitate finger usage but to access certain features and settings further into the handset’s UI, the stylus can become absolutely integral.
Resistive screens are more accurate
In more technical terms a Resistive touchscreen is designed with multiple layers separated by thin spaces. You’d be required to apply a little bit of pressure with either your finger or stylus in order for the layers to come in contact with each other to complete the circuit and activate features or functions.
Some of the popular handsets equipped with Resistive touchscreens include –
LG GD 510
Micromax Andro A60
The BlackBerry Storm is the only capacitive touchscreen handset that incorporates SurePress technology that actually feels like both resistive and capacitive, as you’re required to exert a bit of pressure to click on or select options, and you can scroll through menus and pages with smooth, light gestures on the screen. This technology didn’t bode well with the entire mobile community but it’s nevertheless quite intuitive in its design in my opinion.
Another aspect of the touchscreen genre I’d like to mention in case a few of your readers would like to know is haptics. Simply put, haptics offers tactile-like feedback to your fingers.
Nowadays we also find touch-sensitive keys on many Android smartphones, these fall in-between physical buttons and a touchscreen function. While it does eliminate the somewhat “bulky” feel of an external button, it still has a pre-defined function for the touch key. So you don't really have to press a touch-sensitive key, just gently tap on it and you're done.
Newer models like the iPhone 4 are equipped with Retina Displays that are designed to offer optimised viewing with extremely high resolutions. With Nokia's E7, although the resolution isn't too high, their Clear Black DIsplay technology provides for excellent viewing even in direct sunlight. There's also the Samsung Galaxy SL with a S-LCD (Super LCD) planel and Wave II with an AMOLED display that enhance colours and contrast levels to provide a vibrant array of colours and clarity. We've even reached the stage where handsets like the LG Optimus 3D or the HTC EVO 3D are capable of 3D stereoscopic playback. Don't expect these handsets to be cheap of course as the technology really isn't, but it's getting there.
So if you are interested in purchasing a new touchscreen handset these are few of the things I would keep in mind before making my decision.
Display size – The larger the display the easier it is to view and it also becomes a lot easier to access the functions with your fingers. Although there are a few manufactueres who have managed to provide adequate space and alternative (standard alphaneumeric on screen keypads) options to process speedy and comfortable typing.
User Interface – The user interface is the core aspect you should keep in mind when selecting a touchscreen mobile or any other for that matter. It should be designed to suit fingers of any size comfortably. The virtual (on-screen) keypad should be easy to use and facilitate quick typing so QWERTY or Alphanumeric, the keys should be large and adequately responsive to enable you to tap specific keys and not end up hitting two at the same time. Haptics are incorporated (and can be switched off or reduced) to allow you to get a sense of feeling when typing or accessing data.
Battery life – Is critical as touchscreen devices need a little bit more juice to run the entire display constantly. Also keep in mind most smartphones with large touchscreens will have options like Push Services that will be running in the background on a frequent basis and also tend to drain the battery. Watching videos on large displays is another major source of battery consumption and once again the large displays tend to soak up the power. So keep that in mind.
Multiple entry options – A handy option to have. However one should keep in mind that the physical keypad, either slide out QWERTY or slide down alphanumeric should also be well laid out to make typing easier. A slide out QWERTY like the N97 Mini's or the new Nokia E7's offers a full range of functions in a comfortable setting. Do keep in mind though, that physical keypads also tend to add additional weight to the device. However, some mobile phones like Nokia's X3-02 have both touch and type entry options, but are still light weight.
QWERTY keypads act bulky but are comfortable
Primary Usage – It’s important to know what you’ll be using the device for. For example, if you’re strictly into multimedia and net browsing, large displays are very conducive for watching videos or browsingquite comfortably. If you’re going to be using it for business i.e. sending and viewing emails or documents, again a large display would be handy but a slide out QWERTY would be a further enhancement. Make sure that the browser is designed to offer suitable rendering of web pages. With 3G in the air, I'd recomend a handset that supports Adobe Flash so you'll get an almost desktop like browsing experince.
Multi-touch – This feature is also a facet to look for when making a choice. It involves the ability to use two fingers simultaneously to manipulate objects on the display. Handset's like the iPhone or almost any Android device offers pinch control to zoom in or out of images web pages and other screens sometimes.
Still the best touchscreen around
Response time – This is absolutely crucial in a touchscreen handset as the last thing you want with such interactive technology is to wait for a feature to start when you’ve selected it. Of course this depends on the processor the device is equipped with. The processor will also determine the overall flow of the device like the time it takes to change the orientation of the display from landscape to portrait using the accelerometer. In this day and age we're witness to super speed mobile processors in the 1Ghz Dual core league so you'll be spoilt for choice.
If I were to choose a touchscreen device, it would preferably be one with capacitive technology for the simple reason that it’s easier to use and you’re pretty much guaranteed that the UI would be designed to be used without a stylus. It’s not at all convenient to use both hands when traveling in local transport like Mumbai’s. One handed control is imperative. Thankfully manufacturers have ben able to incorporate capacitive touchscreens into low budget handsets as well, like the Galaxy Fit, Galaxy 5, LG Optimus One and alike that are decently priced.
From my point of view, amongst the ever increasing list of touchscreen handsets available in the market, the iPhone 4 still reigns supreme when it comes to its display’s sensitivity, responsiveness and the UI’s finger friendly functionality. I’m sure I’ll hear very little argument here. Of course the handset also comes at quite the price but there’s something for everyone in this segment of phones from the lower end Galaxy's that are priced under Rs. 12,000 (MOP) to the HTC HD 7 that’s just about Rs. 30,000.