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The best Android phones navigable with arrow keys

Updated on February 29, 2012

Be it because you live in a country with a cold winter, where taking your gloves out to use your smartphone outdoors can be a painful experience, or simply due to personal preference, a lot of people expect more of their smartphones then a flat touchscreen without any other way to control the device. In the past this was no issue, since most Symbian and Windows CE devices came with touchscreens made for usage with a stylus and most of them were also controlable using directional keys. But in the latest generation of smartphones there has been a radical change towards touch-only devices. The first device to push this in the most radical way was the iPhone, which comes with only 1 navigation button: a home button.

Fortunately for Android fans, in the Android world things are not monopolized by a single manufacturer and there already hundreds and hundreds of Android smartphone models to choose from. But now the question remains: From this jungle of devices, how to find a good one with as much as possible of support for hardware navigational keys? The following sections will review the best Android devices which attend the group of users which enjoys having an alternative to the touch screen.

Samsung Galaxy 5 and Pro

Samsung Galaxy 5
Samsung Galaxy 5 | Source
Samsung Galaxy Pro
Samsung Galaxy Pro | Source

Samsung Galaxy 5 and Galaxy Pro

Let's start with Galaxy 5, also know as Samsung i5500. This is a good phone for dpad fans on a strict budget which want a small telephone. It can be bought by as low as US$140+shipping in Ebay, or something like 100 euros. Truth be said, the device was launched in June 2010, which makes it a bit dated, but it has an update to Android 2.2, which is nowadays the bare minimum to run a lot of software. One should also note that to ensure a low price on a new device one needs to wait for some time after its launch. Samsung does not mutilate the Android default UI, so it one can navigate everything in the phone using the directional keys, except for one part: There is no way to unblock the phone with the keys. One needs to drag in the touch screen, which is a bit annoying, but then there is little to be done here. Clearly the Android developers do not live in a place which can reach -20°C in winter or else they would consider that making it usable with gloves is a must have. Of course one can buy special gloves or adapt one's own for modern touch screens, but I feel this is just the wrong approach. The problem is in the operating system and should be solved there. We should not adapt ourselves to technology, technology should adapt itself better for us. Despite being a budget phone, it comes with GPS, Wifi, Bluetooth and all other basic goodies indispensable in a smartphone.

And beyond Galaxy 5 there is also it's newer and more powerful cousin: Samsung Galaxy Pro, also known as B7510. This device features a qwerty keyboard which will likely make a lot of people very happy and they haven't forgotten the navigation keys! Yep, it has the traditional 4 arrow keys from desktop keyboards. It is also rather cheap, being available in eBay for as low as US$170+shipping, which will certainly convince most people to pay the extra $40 for it's improved specs over the Galaxy 5. To compare: Galaxy 5 has 600 MHZ against 800 MHz of Pro, and Pro has a full qwerty keyboard, cames already with Android 2.2 and is upgradable for 2.3 which should get the more picky applications and is a much newer model, being released in April 2011, 10 months ago. The main reason for choosing Galaxy 5 instead of Pro would be getting a smaller phone. The Galaxy Pro is slightly bigger in width then an iPhone with a protecting case.

And while we are at it discussing Samsung phones, don't be mistaken by Galaxy S and Galaxy Mini. Many Samsung phones come with a very big central button which may initially look like a dpad, or a button which can be pressed on its borders to act as directions, but it is not! It is just a big home button with no navigation capabilities.

Xperia Pro

Source

Sony Xperia Play, Pro and Mini Pro

While Samsung offers the traditinal bar format, Sony offers 3 very different slide phones for dpad fans. The first is Xperia Play, I couldn't avoid to mention, because it comes with a slide joystick which obviously contains a dpad, or maybe in this case I should say joypad, besides the other joystick buttons. I'd recommend this phone for people really dedicated to gaming. The second phone is Xperia Pro, a more conventional slider with a large screen and a full qwerty keyboard. This phone comes with a 1 GHz processor and was released in October 2011 with Android 2.3 with a planned upgrade to 4.0. Of course that like any other big keyboard slider it costs more too, and it can be found for around US$315+shipping in eBay.

The third phone is Xperia Mini Pro, part of the series of very small phones from Sony. Don't confuse it with Xperia X10 Mini Pro which is a similar, but older phone which comes also with a slider keyboard, but without directional keys. The tiny size and cheap price can be a blessing, but this phone has a serious defect: Sony decidede to mutilate the Android UI for its series of very small phones, and personally I hated their UI. It feels claustrophobic and many items don't show focus, which limits a lot the navigability. In general this can be a big problem and the Xperia Pro comes out as the best of the Sony key-friendly Android phones.

Motorola Milestone 2

Source

Motorola Droid / Milestone 2, 3 and 4

And of course, when it comes to slide keyboard phones it is impossible not to mention the Motorola phone known as Motorola Droid in it's CDMA version and Motorola Milestone in it's GSM version. It is a pretty good slide keyboard phone, although a bit expensive and because it has 3 versions available with arrow keys there are plenty of options to choose, which will basically be the same phone, but older versions are slower and use an older Android, but for that are also much cheaper. The latest version hasn't yet been marketed as Milestone, so far being called simply Droid 4 and was shown recently in the World Mobile Congress.

HTC phones

Unfortunately I cannot recommend HTC phones for hardware key fans. And I say unfortunatelly because HTC phones are great value for the money. The fact is that the HTC Sense interface which HTC uses in substitution of the standard Android UI removed the hability to use the navigation keys to navigate through icons in the desktop, which severely limits the usability of the phone with hardware keys. Other then that HTC Sense is pretty ok, but this is a major problem for me while using my HTC Wildfire. Also note that the original Wildfire came with a trackball, which was pretty good, but then in newer phones HTC migrated to the horrible optical trackball is does not work well with gloves and when summed with HTC Sense is nearly completely useless. On recent phones they even removed the optical trackball completely, so HTC is out of my choice list.

Comparison of the mentioned devices

 
Samsung I5500 Galaxy 5
Samsung Galaxy Pro B7510
Sony Ericsson Xperia pro
Sony Ericsson Xperia mini pro
Motorola Milestone 2
Release
August 2010
April 2011
October 2011
August 2011
October 2010
Android Version
2.1 upgrade to 2.2
2.2
2.3 planned upgrade to 4.0
2.3 planned upgrade to 4.0
2.2 upgrade to 2.3
Dimensions
108 x 56 x 12.3 mm
108.6 x 66.7 x 10.7 mm
120 x 57 x 13.5 mm
92 x 53 x 18 mm
116.3 x 60.5 x 13.7 mm
Display
240x320, 2.8'', 143 dpi
320x240, 2.8'', 143 dpi
480x854, 3.7'', 265 dpi
320x480, 3'', 192 dpi
480x854, 3.7'', 265 dpi
Camera
2 MP
3.15 MP
8 MP
5 MP
5 MP
CPU
600 MHz
800 MHz ARMv6
1 GHz Scorpion + GPU Adreno 205
1 GHz Scorpion + GPU Adreno 205
1 GHz Cortex-A8 GPU PowerVR SGX530
WiFi, Bluetooth, Video, 3G, GPS
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Form and Keyboard
Bar, only Virtual Keyboard
Bar, Qwerty
Slide out qwerty
Slide out qwerty
Slide out qwerty
Price (aproximate)
$130 or €100
$160 or €120
$315 or €240
$140 or €100
$250 or €190

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    • profile image

      nikita 5 years ago

      Thanks for this excellent article!

    • onlygrace profile image

      onlygrace 4 years ago

      you sure do a lot of research on this. I guess nowadays, conventional arrow keys has been outdated, especially with android smartphone. People would prefer slide the touch screen to conventional navigation keys

    • profile image
      Author

      fcarvalho 4 years ago from Wroclaw, Poland

      I was hoping that in 2012 we would see many new phones with arrow keys and qwerty keyboard, but it really seams that iPhone-like format has really totally dominated.

      Which is unfortunate, because when playing games which have only on-screen controls to control where to go, after playing for more then 30 minutes my finger starts to hurt. It would be much nicer to have physical arrow keys.

    • profile image
      Author

      fcarvalho 4 years ago from Wroclaw, Poland

      Not to mention that when it is -5 degrees it is terrible to use touch-only phone ... you can either take your gloves off and freeze to death or simply don't use them. You can't even answer a call because you need to do a slide to do this =( I know that there are some work-arounds like special gloves, but my point is that the phone should come with a minimal option of non-touch input possibility to make it minimally useful without the touch ... but clearly they don't think like that.

    • profile image

      Mike Hilbert 2 years ago

      Phones should have a drawer with LARGE arrow keys and A + B

      buttons, cause touch-screen games appear really like crippled and

      are almost unplayable ...

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