Musings of a PC

Thoughts about Windows, TV and technology in general

WP7: The on-screen keyboard

Having used the on-screen keyboard that was implemented with Windows Mobile, I have to say that Microsoft have done a great job with the keyboard in Windows Phone 7.

The keyboard adapts slightly to where it is being used. Normally, for example, there is an emoticon button on the bottom row between the comma and the spacebar. However, if you are writing an email and the cursor is in the To: field, that button gets replaced with .com to simplify the entry of addresses. If you hold down on that button, it expands to offer .co.uk, .com, .org and .edu.

The keyboard has different layouts, with the primary one being the standard QWERTY alphabet keys (assuming you’ve got an English keyboard layout!). Pressing “&123” takes you to numbers and punctuation. Some of these keys, like the .com button, will give you other choices if you press and hold. Alternatively, there is a left-pointing arrow that changes the set of punctuation characters offered.

Moving from an HTC device with a physical keyboard to an LG device with just the on-screen keyboard was, I felt, going to be a challenge. I think, though, that the keyboard is really responsive and works well. I was worried about the lack of cursor keys but I have recently learnt how Microsoft got around that problem: if you press and hold in the text, a large caret appears just above the top of your finger. As you move your finger around, so does the caret move and, when you take your finger away, wherever you left the caret is where the cursor moves to. If you have a lot of text and vertical scrolling is required, the ease of use here depends entirely on how the underlying application has implemented the text interface. Email, for example, handles it well as the text body is part of the larger pane. WordPress, on the other hand, doesn’t do it quite so well because the post body is a rectangle within the larger pane. They may need to alter the UI there …

Some applications enable the word suggestion bar, which works really well. As you type, words are suggested and, if the software thinks that you’ve actually misspelt a word, the first word in the list is in bold to indicate that this is what the phone thinks you meant to type. You can also drag the list sideways to see other words without needing to type more letters. Unfortunately, not all applications enable this feature – I don’t know why and I wish that they all did it.

The keyboard makes a short sound when you type but, nicely, it makes a different sound when you press non-letter/number keys, e.g. punctuation.

Another nice touch in the design is that upper-case is automatically selected when a new sentence starts. The keyboard also tries to be helpful when you’ve selected the “punctuation/numbers” mode. It stays in that mode until you press “abcd” to swap back, or if you press space, or even if you press certain punctuation characters, such as the single quote. It takes a little while to learn that behaviour and realise that you don’t have to manually switch modes, otherwise you end up straight back in number mode Smile.

I have managed to get to the point where I can type fairly quickly with my fingers. Using my thumbs is much harder because the part of my thumb that touches the screen is often positioned differently from the part of my fingers that would touch first. I end up making too many mistakes as a result.

All in all, though, a big thumbs up to Microsoft for the keyboard implementation. Thumbs up

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2 responses to “WP7: The on-screen keyboard

  1. Andrzej January 12, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    The WP7 keyboard is fine, but it has a serious problem with international characters. Yes, even in US there is a lot of people who use foreign languages (like myself). In my old WM6 phone, there was a special key to bring character map table. It was slow, but it let me enter that special character needed in email or search query. Nothing like that in WP7. The keyboard is limited to Latin characters only.
    But even Latin keyboard could be much better. WP7 instructions say: “Tap and hold any letter that can include an accent, and all of the possible accents for that letter appear.” THIS SIMPLY IS NOT TRUE!!!
    Accented characters on WP7 keyboard only contain letters from Latin-1 character set (most Western European languages). They totally miss all the characters from Latin-2 set (Central and Eastern Europe); even if a Latin based keyboard could easily include them.
    Europe united to form a European Union 10 years ago. I wonder when Microsoft will notice it and stop dividing countries into West and East blocks???

  2. Lee Johnson January 29, 2012 at 3:35 am

    WP7, at least on the htc radar 4g ( that I sent back for something else, but really loved the phone overall) has a terrible virtual keyboard . They should have allowed for larger hands, let along small-medium . The spacing is non existant and shows poor designing imho. I hope they update this for larger hands, and they should be using as example, iphones offering.

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