Nokia N97 space bar placement may be best of all QWERTYs

I posted some of my first impressions of my new white Nokia N97 yesterday and said that the keyboard was taking a bit of getting used to. QWERTY thumb keyboards on mobile devices have pretty much all modeled a standard QWERTY keyboard on your PC (except for the SureType keyboards). However, your PC keyboard is really optimized for text entry with two full hands and all of your fingers working together. This is not how we use our mobile phone keyboards. On phones, the use of both thumbs is the most common way to quickly enter text, although some people may have other variations they have implemented (tapping with an index finger, etc.). It has been said that I have “magic thumbs” because I can pretty much adapt to any mobile QWERTY keyboard and since I use so many phones I am able to come up to speed on them fairly quickly. After a couple days of using the Nokia N97, it seems to me that Nokia engineers actually thought a bit about the N97 keyboard and came up with something that HELPS with text entry in one area, the space bar placement.

n97_first17

Like others, when I first saw the N97 keyboard with the space bar over on the right side, instead of the traditional QWERTY center placement, I was thinking Nokia just threw it in there as an after thought to squeeze it into a small space. However, if you spend some time with the N97 keyboard you will find that this placement on the right side is probably just about the BEST location you can imagine for a space bar. Now, I do say this being a right handed person who tends to also use my right thumb as my dominant thumb so this placement may be problematic for left handed people, but I cannot say from personal experience. With other QWERTY thumb keyboards I am always reaching over with my right thumb to hit the space bar and the space bar is used quite extensively when writing. I rarely use my left thumb to hit the space bar on any mobile phone so now having this closer to my right thumb may actually ease thumb fatigue a bit.

So, while the right placement of the space bar may be optimized for the thumb keyboard, I think there are a several more keyboard improvements that Nokia should have made and some of these can still be done with a firmware update. Here is my desired list for improvements:

  • Place the period, comma, and @ symbol on keys where no shift or function key press is required (hardware fix)
  • Let a press and hold enter the alternate symbol (software fix)
  • Let a double press enter a capital letter (software fix)
  • Let users assign shortcuts to launch apps (hardware or software is something like press Symbol and tap key could be implemented)
  • Add a shift key to the right side too and maybe a function key to the left side (hardware fix)
Now, I fully understand that keyboards are personal choices and some may love a particular design while others hate it. These are thoughts for my usage patterns and finger sizes. I do thank Nokia for the right side space bar though and hope this design layout actually was something intentional and not just an after thought when someone realized a space bar was needed :)

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8 Comments to Nokia N97 space bar placement may be best of all QWERTYs

jason
June 14, 2009

good call, i too think having the space bar on the right is a great idea. Shame other reviews did spend a bit more time with it.

lazy child
June 14, 2009

I always have the impression of using more the left hand when typing on pc. I haven’t found references, but a list of left-only words vs. right-only ( http://www.rickwalton.com/wordplay/wordplay.htm ) and left-only dominate nearly 10 to 1.

For this reason i think that the positioning on right for the spacebar is not an issue for left-handed people, it is arguably the “best” position for qwerty on mobile.

RobertH
June 14, 2009

Thank you for that as i see no issues with just moving your thumb to the right instead of centre (people just complain too much about nothing) i dont own the n97 as yet, but did get to play with it for a bit… so there is no shift key on both sides? that may be my only concern so far….

RobertH
June 14, 2009

ps forgot to say im left handed so on friday ill be able to say how it works for a “leftie”

catkeepr
June 14, 2009

Does seem odd that the comma at sign and period require fn key to operate since other keyboards on Nokia phones are laid out the way you suggest (E71x for example). Don’t know why they would change the layout on N97.

The soft keyboard on the Omnia i910 also has the space bar on the right side. I thought that was quite odd at first but it actually works out quite well for me. I think this should become standard layout on cell keyboards.

Dr.Blind
June 14, 2009

The worst is N97 lacks a version for those European countries whose languages feature frequent umlauts (ä, ö, å etc).This spoils the device for e.g. us Finns.

Rafael
June 14, 2009

Agreed. Not only was I first a skeptic about the space bar layout, but I was also afraid it would ruin my QWERTY experience on my newly arrived N97… Anyway after having the phone for 2 and 1/2 days now; my take on the space bar is definitely positive. The learning curve seemed very short due to it’s easy access to my right thumb. I find typing both short and long messages a breeze now. Of course the rest of the layout is not perfect, but it works for me and that’s what matters at the end of the day.

Antonio
June 29, 2009

The keyboard is nice, i use it and I can type very fast, even the on screen input is nice, it lets me type with one hand only. I wish this phone had more Ram and a better processor. I almost return the phone when i saw that the flash interferes too much with night shots..

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