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Thursday Poll: Hardware, Physical or On-screen Navigation Buttons?

Last night, on episode 4 of The Droid Life Show, we talked briefly about our feelings towards the variety of designs that hardware manufacturers choose when it comes to navigation buttons on Android phones. HTC tends to go all hardware (soft) navigation buttons, while Samsung has been mixing in physical home buttons with hardware (soft) back and menu buttons. Motorola seems to have adopted on-screen (software) buttons along with Google and their Nexus lineup.

Whenever a new phone is posted, leaked, or announced, someone always comments with their feelings towards the manufacturer’s choice in this department. So let’s do what we do, and make our thoughts official in a poll. Tell us which setup you prefer and why.

Hardware, Physical or On-screen Navigation Buttons?

View Results

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  • Nw_adventure

    The combination of the phyisical home and capacitive buttons on the S3 work great !

  • Asuriyan

    My XOOM is a year and a half old and has had zero issues, except for the power button having to be replaced… twice. My work phone is an iPhone 5- it’s less than 2 months old and already the homescreen button is failing. And my fiancee’s Droid 4 had to be replaced because the power button was loose.

    I thought about getting a Galaxy Note 2 for personal use, but if the fact that it had a physical home button didn’t kill it immediately, the tacky Verizon branding branding slapped over it would have. Pass on anything with a crappy clickbutton that’s required for daily use.

  • http://profiles.google.com/adamtruelove Adam Truelove

    It’s not 2010 anymore. On screen is the only right answer.

  • BrianLipp

    if OEMs cant agree on one type of button type (and hey, there are advantages/disadvantages to all the options) can they at least all do the same button arrangement. Moto, HTC and LG are all doing it right Back > Home > Multi (or menu in some cases). Why, O Why, does Samsung switch the menu and back buttons?? WHAT ARE YOU DOING SAMMY?!

  • http://twitter.com/bmielke929 Brandon Mielke

    What is that lockscreen for the Galaxy SIII it looks pretty cool?

  • Chuck

    How do you get that widget on the S3 displayed above?

    • JoshGroff

      Oh, he had it posted on the share your homescreen day post… I’ll see if I can hunt it down.

  • http://twitter.com/ThePhillipBee Phillip Bee

    Samsung WILL NOT conform to the on screen buttons because they want to have their physical home button .. if they went w/ on screen + physical thats going to be yet another lawsuit from Apple.

    • http://twitter.com/RavnosCC RavnosCC

      *cough* gnex *cough*

      • http://twitter.com/ThePhillipBee Phillip Bee

        1 phone out of how many they have pushed out since the gnex ??

  • droid

    Galaxy S3 Home Button = Worst Samsung choice ever

  • Detonation

    “SystemUI has unexpectedly stopped” … and now you’re stuck without navigation keys until it restarts (if it does) when you have on screen keys

    • Dave

      If that happened then I would restart immediately regardless if I had use of the navigation keys or not.

    • George

      And if it stopped responding to inputs, that would be ALL inputs, phys or otherwise, that’s why they call it locked up ….

    • JMonkeYJ

      while that is theoretically a problem, i have had my GNex since the day it was released and situation has never occurred. not saying there aren’t issues with the GNex, but that’s not one of them.

  • Bill

    I like the Samsung layout since it allows you to wake the screen without having to reach for the power button, which on a large phone like the Note, is very convenient. I can also tell by feel which end is the bottom when I’m reaching for it and unlock it without looking at it.

  • TheCheapGamer

    Still can’t see why people want the buttons the screen.
    I want 100% of my screen, 100% of the time.

    • http://twitter.com/nscelica Nicholas Sparks

      No physical buttons, larger screen can be had, and software buttons can be hidden with many ROMs.

      • jb

        That is assuming that the manufacturer will make the screen larger. Compare the phones at the top and you’ll see that they use the free space to put additional logos rather than increasing screen size or decreasing bezel.

  • carlisimo

    I voted on screen, assuming they hide themselves at the appropriate times. You also get an area on your phone that you can use to grip it without accidentally pushing anything.

    To be honest though, I like physical buttons like Apple’s. They make accidental presses much less likely, especially when handing a device to another person. They don’t reduce precious screen space either. Unfortunately, all the physical buttons I’ve experienced beside’s Apple’s feel cheap and also easy to hit accidentally (because they stick out instead of being depressed), so I don’t like them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nathanielnewmanmusic Nathaniel Newman

    Even though I have the Razr Maxx HD. I still prefer the keys like previous Razr phones had. Like the Bionic.

  • HTC1

    People that defend hardware buttons are the ones that don’t have soft keys (but secretly want) on their phones. Softkeys are by far the best. Can’t live without them.

    • LionStone

      Nah man, I go back and forth between my Inc4 and N7, they have the same buttons, Back-Home-Recent…both work perfectly for me, no big deal.

  • http://twitter.com/TurboNegro7791 Tyler Hills

    If you say anything other than “on-screen”, the terrorists win. And by terrorists I mean Apple

  • AnotherAndroidKid

    Why on earth use “like the RAZR HD” when Galaxy Nexus is so much better an example?

    • JoshGroff

      How about first? I wouldn’t say better.

      • http://twitter.com/RavnosCC RavnosCC

        I’d say it’s a better example, not a better phone.

        • JoshGroff

          Both have the same on screen nav keys, so neither can truly be a better example. Also, it seems with S3 being listed for hardware keys, it appears that they’re using new phones for the examples. (in which case they should use the Droid DNA for hardware buttons)

          Also, better is subjective.

    • LiterofCola

      Naaah not better, but it was first

  • StockGS3er

    I like atleast one physical button. They were nice on my Droid X, but on the Thunderbolt I had they were aweful. I like having one physical button on my GS3. I don’t have to press the sleep/wake/power button to look at the screen if necessary. I could press home on my Droid X and do the same with my GS3.

    • http://twitter.com/SailorPsy Sailor Psychic

      I, too, liked being able to wake the phone with the Home button on the Droid X. (I hate having to first grip both sides of my Galaxy Nexus to press the power button, them move to a grip to actually use the phone.)

      However, once the phone is awake, I prefer on-screen keys. :P

  • Detonation

    Definite no to physical buttons. Harder to press, another moving part to break.
    However, between on screen and capacitive buttons, I see no real advantage to on screen ones other than being able to customize them via a ROM. Otherwise, they are taking up screen real estate that would be available if they were on the bezel, and they have yet to really reduce the bezel size on phones with on screen buttons so it’s wasted space.

    • JoshGroff

      Although, with on screen nav, we have the potential to use gesture controls to “hide” them. Bake that into stock and we’re golden.

  • http://www.hammertechnologies.net/ Chase Johnson

    i love my touch buttons like my Droid2. Onscreen buttons are way to dependent on the software functioning properly. God forbid you have an error and need to press the Home button but the OS locked up so it doesnt sense you pressing the button.

    • http://www.dsaif.tk/ Saif

      There’s a workaround if u get stuck

      • JoshGroff

        Besides a battery pull or a hard reset?

        • http://www.dsaif.tk/ Saif

          On Nexus 7 it’s Power button for 10 secs. I don’t know how it works on other devices. But I never got stuck anywhere yet.

  • KB Smoka

    What kind of world do we live in where were now bitching about button locations on our phones?

    • Detonation

      first world problems

    • http://twitter.com/eatmode4life Ray Mendoza

      Yeah, dude. You can do this with anything. Of course there are greater issues with life in general that make this item look like navel lint. No need to be so serious.

      • KB Smoka

        The only one being serious is you pal. We’re on a Droid-Life blog site….Being serious about on screen buttons for a phone is the last thing I’m trying to do. @Detonation:disqus got it….take a hint.

  • Aaron Fredricks

    on- screen.
    because its the damn way Google intended.

  • Keepfiring

    Biggest downside to me with on-screen nav buttons is that the home button always ends up directly below some other on-screen button that is often pushed, like space key or menu in many apps. Lots of accidental home button pushes.

  • Droid Burgundy

    Google has made it clear that onscreen is the future! The only negative to on screen is that not all apps utilize the navbar well when viewing video fullscreen etc, but if on screen became the standard for all android devices, devs would have no choice but to code accordingly for it.

    • JoshGroff

      This^ I’m still not a big fan of on screen keys, but if apps would take full advantage of that space and just have a gesture to bring the keys back up, that would be cool.

  • Thomas Schiferl

    I want the buttons from my droid x back, just replace search with the recent apps

    • Detonation

      Please no. So much easier to hit a touch button that doesn’t require any force. I guess if you’re prone to accident presses, otherwise its just a pain.

  • http://twitter.com/Bateluer Robert Boluyt

    On screen, definitely on screen.

  • CuriousGeorge

    Are not HW the same as PHYS buttons?

    • EC8CH

      clicky vs capacitive

  • http://twitter.com/misterE33 Mr E

    i’d say physical or on-screen. i like having different buttons to turn on the screen, etc (usually the “home” button is easier than power for some reason). However, the reason I don’t like the capacitive hardware buttons is that they can get in the way while in landscape so you have to be really careful how you hold the phone.

  • EvanTheGamer

    On-screen. We want to go FORWARD with technology, not BACK.

    • Detonation

      What makes on-screen buttons forward technology?

      • EC8CH

        pre-ICS vs post-ICS

      • EvanTheGamer

        Because in the future, everything will be TOUCH-based, not Hardware Button-based. Something like that.

        • Detonation

          Capacitive hardware buttons are the same technology as the touch screen, they just don’t have a screen behind them.

          • JoshGroff

            This^ until we end up getting rid of bezels entirely, we might as well use that space instead of screen real estate.

          • EvanTheGamer

            Guess I just watch too many damn futuristic movies.

          • zUFC

            If thats the case than our phone are the same as flip phones. You still hit buttons to dial. So why are touchscreens “forward” thinking.

            its “forward” because it’s new. I won’t buy a phone without softkeys. I don’t care what other great specs it has. I wan’t all the newest stuff. Especially since all the hardware button phones make them gross. Look at that new HTC phones buttons. then look at the beautiful G-nex (or Maxx) ones. Not even a close contest. P.S. the poll seems to agree

          • JoshGroff

            On a site where the majority of us own a G-Nex? I wonder what most will say.

          • Detonation

            New doesn’t necessarily mean forward, it could also just mean different. If on screen keys were so revolutionary they every other device and OS would be adopting them.

            And the poll agrees because this is a Nexus biased community. Ask that poll to the entire smartphone user basis and I’m sure it wouldn’t be so egress

          • LionStone

            Wow…you’d pass up new technology, with all the new stuff (DNA) and settle (new moto) or keep an older phone (GN) with older specs, OR change carrier to have a N4 JUST so you can have on screen buttons…makes perfect sense… /s

          • zUFC

            Yup!!!!! I already did. First off the specs are all close enough on the phones that you can chose certain features. I would never change carrier(I don’t know where that came from). I’m Vz period! I went from S3 to Maxx just because of the buttons. Guess what? I can’t tell the difference. Maxx is just as good at everything. if not better. So yes Lion, I will not get another new phone until it is one I want and has Soft keys. I see nothing wrong with this. I like soft keys. So i will wait for a phone i like that has them.
            Again, the poll seems to agree with me. So everybody else must be wrong and your right……..I get it

          • LionStone

            Ok so you did just as I said and no doubt, the MaxxHD is a great phone, but it doesn’t have “all the latest stuff”, as you said you wanted. And the changing carriers comment comes from the fact that the N4 isn’t on VZ (which I assumed correctly that you were with) and if you want the soft keys and not a GN or Moto, you’d have to change carrier. Also there isn’t any “right” or “wrong”, not sure where that came from? If you want to limit yourself that is your choice and its ok man really. And as far as the poll is concerned, Detonation, JoshGroff and Litorofcola already said it like it is.

          • Steve Benson

            Oh really? So capacitive hardware buttons can rotate and re-position themselves when the device is rotated? Oh…didn’t think so.

          • LiterofCola

            Exactly

      • http://www.dsaif.tk/ Saif

        If Google wants to change few buttons, they can’t do it with hardware buttons.. Back/Keyboard Minimize button for example

        • Detonation

          Sure they can. Look at the Incredible 2. The buttons rotate with the orientation. If they can rotate an image then they can also change it. And the software will always control the function of the button.

    • zUFC

      this ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • DanWazz

    Should say ” like galaxy nexus”

  • EC8CH

    “On-screen (like the RAZR HD)”

    I’d prefer “On-screeen (like that GALAXY NEXUS

    • EvanTheGamer

      Agreed, agreed, agreed!

    • r0lct

      Or “On Screen (as Google intended)

    • Jonathan Bunch

      This should have been the standard all along

    • LiterofCola

      Nah I like as Razr HD just fine :)

      • JoshGroff

        Oh boy, you are going to get so many down votes for that. That being said, I’m gonna start you off with an up vote.

        • LiterofCola

          Hahaha, it’s to be expected around here when you go against the almighty GN. Just poking fun.

          • JoshGroff

            I know, I do it myself from time to time. Some people seem to think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread though.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10602828 Mike Hilal

        They are the same….except the Razr ones cannot be customized.

        • Diablo81588

          Sure they can. Just install a custom ROM, just like with the nexus.

    • MooleyBooleyTroll

      Razr HD > Google Nexus

      • Paul

        Maybe if you put network service into the equation. Otherwise…

        • Diablo81588

          And build quality, and call quality, and battery life.

      • michael arazan

        Got Jellybean?

        • MooleyBooleyTroll

          Do I? Yep I do lol

      • cizzlen

        I see the fan boys down voting every one that speaks out against their precious Gnex. As an owner myself, Motorola > Samsung in build quality and battery life. Especially lately.

    • mike

      This.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bmyton Ben Myton

    I’d say this would have made a great “Rank These” type survey…

    On-Screen >>> Physical (like DroidX) > Hardware

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10215724 Raj Bhatt

    After the GNex, I will never want hardware buttons again.

  • http://twitter.com/brigwheels patrick

    i like the on-screen buttons, but i miss physical camera buttons

  • wolfedude88

    While I would prefer on screen buttons. I feel as though currently they are being wasted like on the droid razr with that huge bezel on button that just says Verizon. U lose the screen space and the phone is still big because of the wasted space. If there wasn’t that much space open underneath the screen then it would be perfect.

  • http://twitter.com/litobirdy litobirdy

    I’ve only ever had the gnex as my first smartphone. But I’ve played with other phones like the GS3 etc. On screen keys is great as long as you can customize the hell out of it. meaning stock would be boring then. Sometimes I do prefer physical hardware keys because of that extra screen space etc.

  • http://twitter.com/Jason13L Jason Lassourreille

    I went with hardware buttons because my GNex is getting burn-in from the menu on the bottom. The few apps that can do full screen now has a washed out portion where the menu usually is. Add that to the fact that games and applications can’t take over the entire screen and you have a was as far as functionality.

    • emrikol

      Nothing has saved my toddler more stress than AOKP having the ability to turn the navigation menu off and on from the power menu.

      “What’s that? Want to play a Thomas the Tank Engine game? Here you go! … Why are you in my email?!”

      *fiddles with phone*

      No more home button!

      • http://twitter.com/Jason13L Jason Lassourreille

        I use AOKP also and use this feature constantly! It is not 100% ideal, nor does it work 100% of the time the right way, but it allows my daughter to use my phone without me worrying.

    • C-Law

      I got my gnex on launch day, I live on my phone, and I have no burn in. I can’t believe that has happened to you! They should replace ur phone

      • http://twitter.com/Jason13L Jason Lassourreille

        With the age of the phone and the other slight damage, I doubt they would do much. Plus unless I can show a solid color screen (black is best) it is hard to tell unless you “see it”. Then you can’t “unsee it”.

  • http://twitter.com/woody24 Dustin Wood

    I like them with the hardware like my Droid 1 and Droid 3. It gives easy access to the menu or home. I hate that some apps dont work with the menu button any more. You have to dig through the apps own menu system to find the settings. Drives me nuts.

    • Brent Cooper

      I personally like the on screen buttons but completely agree with you about wishing there was a permanent menu button

      • http://twitter.com/woody24 Dustin Wood

        With my experience with my past two Moto’s, I just wouldn’t trust an on screen button system. Afraid it wouldn’t show, would be slow and laggy, or just plain not work. The Note 2 will be my next phone, and I was completely unaware that on screen buttons were even a thing until I read something that questioned why Samsung went back to the hardware buttons after the Nexus was onscreen.

        The Menu button is one of the greatest features of the Android system over the iOS. I love that I can change settings easily. On my iPod or iPad, sometimes it takes some digging around to find what I’m looking for.

  • Film

    I’ve had the galaxy nexus and now gs3. Honestly I prefer the gs3, I just like having that extra screen real-estate. Not enough app developers aren’t building their apps around the onscreen navigation and Samsung has proven you don’t need a giant bezel to have physical/hardware buttons.

    • PhillipCun

      Vice versa if Samsung built the GS3 with on-screen keys in mind they would eliminate the bezel and accommodate the screen and make it even larger while giving you the same screen real-estate.

      • mannequins

        Problem is. No one is doing that, where controversy every phone with on screen navigation has a giant chin that could be used for capacitive buttons and extended the screen real-estate. So as it stands now. Capacitive/hard buttons are a better experience.

        • PhillipCun

          Your assessment of hard buttons being a “better experience” is subjective. The pros of on-screen keys are that they are the stock experience Google wants all OEMs to move forward so they can create a consistent experience on all Android devices. When there were 4 buttons OEMs kept rearranging them. Using one phone then using another Android it will cause confusion because of muscle memory of where the buttons should be.

          Now Google created on-screen navigation so they can control it and make it adapt with certain apps. Sometimes there’s a 3 dot botton in the on-screen nav bar, hard buttons do not have that.

          Furthermore Samsung but the back button the right instead of the left. That doesn’t seem logical to me when every back button I have seen is always on the left. Look at your browser, look at most apps, the back button is ALWAYS on the left. This is counter intuitive.

          Look at the picture as a whole, it would be better for android if all oems can follow certain standards so the UI experience across devices will be the same.

          My above comments are subjective, but I also state the pros of on-screen keys and what google is trying to establish is a good thing.

    • C-Law

      My gf has the gs3. I like the big screen but hate the physical button. And with the androidify cruzerlite case it becomes even harder to push in my hand bc of the lip. After my gnex and n7 ill be on screen keys for life

  • Greg

    I wasn’t sure about the on-screen keys when I first used them on the RAZR HD but now that I am used to them, I don’t miss the four hardware buttons anymore and don’t think I would ever go back.

  • Guest345

    NONE!!!! LMT Launcher!

  • http://www.jaxidian.org/update teh Jax

    I’m torn, actually. I really think it depends on if the on-screen buttons allow me to have a larger screen or not. If they allow me to have a larger screen (since buttons aren’t taking up bezel space), then I’m all for that!

    However, on the Galaxy S III, you can’t really say those buttons caused the screen to be smaller. In fact, I thought it was a great setup! I actually LOVED the physical home button to turn my device on with. That said, I was longing to reconfigure the menu/back buttons – a task that can obviously only be done with onscreen buttons.

    So in the end, I guess I’m not real sure there really is a “best” way of doing it. There are all sorts of pros and cons, even to me. If I had to pick a single setup for the rest of eternity, I’d go onscreen since they can be configured. But I really did like that physical home button. :-)

  • niuguy

    If app developers did a better job at making the on screen buttons disappear in-app I’d be more in favor of on screen buttons.

  • Big_EZ

    Hardware suck, physical or on screen. I hate it when I acidentally hit back or home while in the middle of typing or a game.

    • nicotinic

      So you’d prefer no buttons at all? Pure voice navigation? Interesting concept…

      • Big_EZ

        What? I prefer physical or on screen, I hate hardware buttons

        • http://www.dsaif.tk/ Saif

          isn’t physical = hardware?

          • JoshGroff

            I think we’re talking capacitive and on screen, hardware being an actual button you press.

          • Big_EZ

            You are correct, I just used the wording from the poll (hardware=capactive)

          • Big_EZ

            Yes, I just used the wording they used in the poll.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kevin.mills.9847 Kevin Mills

    The only reason I say hardware buttons is because the manufacturers don’t stretch the screen to the bottom of the phone. Might as well put the buttons on there and free up as much screen as possible. Once screens start to leave minimal bezels on the top and bottom, then I say go with on-screen keys.

    • Ibrick

      Exactly, look at the bottom bezel on the Razr HD in the photo. Might as well use that space for buttons instead of a billboard for Verizon.
      Make the bezel on the bottom the same size as the bezel on the sides, and I’d much prefer software buttons. Especially since I always replace the ‘recents’ button with a ‘menu’ button.

      • EC8CH

        recent button rules… I use it all the time. It allows me to quickly take advantage of Android’s multitasking by jumping back and forth between apps quickly.

        • JoshGroff

          For a while I’ve had it mapped to long press home, but it is useful enough to warrant a primary button.

        • George264

          htc has recent button, so.

          • JoshGroff

            They also have recent apps in the notification bar (IMO one of the best features of Sense, and the toggles)

      • Droid Burgundy

        ok that is a bad on verizon.. not Moto for using soft keys though!

    • HTC1

      The extra screen size Harware keys gives you isn’t enought to want them. I’d much rather have soft keys and give up the un-noticable screen space they take up. I can’t even beleive people use that as an argument.

    • Joe

      I also like using the search button to launch 3rd party apps like QBright to quickly change the screen brightness. The auto-brightness never adjusts it to what I want especially when my hand is covering the light sensor.

      • JoshGroff

        I use the mod baked into most ROMs where you can slide over the status bar to increase/decrease brightness.

      • Mark

        I like launching third party apps by pressing and holding the search button. No need to be hassling with rooting, ROMing and radios for that. I’ve been over that whole thing for a while now.

    • http://www.facebook.com/objection89 Miguel Angel Portela

      Agreed. Plus there’s just something more assuring about using something separate from the screen for options like that. Also, I’m genuinely curious about this. Wouldn’t on-screen keys cause a kind of burn-in over time?

    • New_Guy

      I know I might get down voted but the downside of on-screen keys is losing a bit off screen realestate. I know on-screen is the new thing but I tend to lean towards the old school on this one

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1234213409 Andrew Contreras

        I’m right there with you. I hate on-screen keys because you lose screen real estate.

    • itznfb

      That’s why I like the “hardware” buttons on my TBolt. More screen real estate.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Richard.A.McKenzie.III Richard Albert McKenzie III

    So used to my soft keys on my Gnex, don’t want to go back to physical. I have a hard time when picking up a friends phone that has physical keys.

  • Jack Paleczny

    On screen, but ONLY if it is customizable.. but for some reason I already have screen burn in on my Gnex

  • http://twitter.com/geirbiscohn geirbiscohn

    I prefer on screen like the Nexus etc, but I would prefer we didn’t have to sacrifice screen real estate for it

    • Captain_Doug

      It doesn’t have to take up screen real estate if the area usually used for hardware keys is then used for on screen keys. Then instead of having a phone with a 4″ screen and hardware keys, you’d have a 4.3″ screen phone. This is why a 16:9 screen on a phone will turn almost into a 16:10 screen with those keys, but then when you need a 16:9 screen(movies) those buttons disappear.

      • Ibrick

        Sadly no one has figured that out yet.. Just a bunch of wasted space at the bottom of your phone..

        • Captain_Doug

          Sad it is. The only valid down side I’ve heard is that if your phone ever freezes, those buttons freeze too but even then there’s still a power button.

  • http://twitter.com/nscelica Nicholas Sparks

    Love being able to rotate my phone and tablet any direction and the buttons follow.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1118622192 Edward Germanotta

    On screen navigation buttons are the future. I mean if we are using touch ¿Why are we still using hardware and physical buttons?

    • Detonation

      Hardware (capacities) buttons are the same technology as the touch screen, they just don’t have a screen behind them…

  • http://twitter.com/havens1515 Randroid

    I like the on screen because then it can be customized via a ROM.

    • Hollister

      I like the on screen buttons but the burn in sucks on my Galaxy Nexus..

      • Mike.

        No burn in to speak of here, and I’ve had mine since they came out.

      • http://www.facebook.com/vanhouse David VanHouse

        Burn in is one of the big reasons I am switching to the nexus 4