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 .
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.