15 votes

Smartphones that make good use of physical buttons

I miss buttons on devices. They are durable, reliable, repairable and nice to press. I can find their position without looking, and they work more consistently in different apps.

I probably don't need something with a physical QWERTY keyboard, since screen real state might be an issue. And it would have to be an actually viable smartphone, not something from a bygone era (I don't care about camera). But I want (a lot!) more buttons, preferably configurable, with support for custom keybindings, macros, etc.

What are some good options?

29 comments

  1. [5]
    NaraVara
    Link
    One of the reasons manufacturers have moved away from physical buttons is because they often are not. In industrial engineering every mechanical part is an area where a mistake can happen. Things...

    They are durable, reliable, repairable and nice to press.

    One of the reasons manufacturers have moved away from physical buttons is because they often are not. In industrial engineering every mechanical part is an area where a mistake can happen. Things can be misaligned, fit and finish can be loose, dust or sand can work it’s way in and grind against stuff, and eventually the thing will wear down.

    At the consumer level you didn’t notice most of these duds because they get caught in the quality assurance phase and never end up on the shelves. But you DO pay for them because they pass the manufacturing costs of duds on in the sale price. And sometimes, they don’t catch them and then end up in the buyer’s hands anyway.

    Touch screens eliminate all of that. They’re much easier to test and run a diagnostic on, and they introduce way less mechanical complexity and risk of mistakes/failures in the manufacturing process.

    I like a good, solid physical button too. But I’m afraid it’s just at odds with having cheap, global supply chains. Even before we moved away from switches and buttons and dials I could tell that the quality of them was getting steadily worse. Buttons felt mushier and less satisfying to press, dials started to feel loose and had too much play in them, etc.

    12 votes
    1. [3]
      plain
      Link Parent
      Since Apple announced the Touch Bar replacing function keys with a touchscreen strip I wonder whether they concluded that thus the keyboard was cheaper to manufacture.

      Since Apple announced the Touch Bar replacing function keys with a touchscreen strip I wonder whether they concluded that thus the keyboard was cheaper to manufacture.

      1 vote
      1. [2]
        NaraVara
        Link Parent
        In that case I think they were just trying to come up with a cool new feature. They were already building a little microcomputer inside it to drive the TouchID and Secure Enclave, so running a...

        In that case I think they were just trying to come up with a cool new feature. They were already building a little microcomputer inside it to drive the TouchID and Secure Enclave, so running a more dynamic version of a function bar probably seemed like a cool thing to put in there.

        And maybe it would have been cool if anyone designed applications with it in mind. But nobody does because desktop Macs can never have it, so why would they bother?

        5 votes
        1. onyxleopard
          Link Parent
          Beyond being a “cool new feature” it was also an excuse to put their T-series SoCs in their laptops which act as SMCs, add a secure enclave to enable TouchID, performs hardware accelerated...

          Beyond being a “cool new feature” it was also an excuse to put their T-series SoCs in their laptops which act as SMCs, add a secure enclave to enable TouchID, performs hardware accelerated encryption of the file system, supports “Hey Siri”, and checks for file system integrity on boot. It was basically a baby step toward Apple running the Mac platform on ARM SoCs.

          2 votes
    2. mrbig
      Link Parent
      I’d be happy to take a hit on other features to get buttons backs. But I get that people like me are the exception.

      I’d be happy to take a hit on other features to get buttons backs. But I get that people like me are the exception.

  2. [9]
    seizethegoddamngap
    Link
    Check out the Pro1 from f(x)tec:
    6 votes
    1. [3]
      tindall
      Link Parent
      As a former self-identified f(x)tec shill, be careful with that phone. It is still stuck on Android 9, has a ton of software issues, and has a hard time coaxing a lot of apps into running in...

      As a former self-identified f(x)tec shill, be careful with that phone. It is still stuck on Android 9, has a ton of software issues, and has a hard time coaxing a lot of apps into running in landscape, making the keyboard kinda useless.

      4 votes
      1. [2]
        seizethegoddamngap
        Link Parent
        Welp, that's depressing.

        Welp, that's depressing.

        2 votes
        1. tindall
          Link Parent
          I wouldn't be too depressed. It's a small company but they made a lot of money on the Pro1 and we should see a better model within the next few years. There's no denying that the keyboard is amazing.

          I wouldn't be too depressed. It's a small company but they made a lot of money on the Pro1 and we should see a better model within the next few years. There's no denying that the keyboard is amazing.

          2 votes
    2. cwagner
      Link Parent
      Wow, that looks awesome. If I were a heavy smartphone user I’d totally get that. Alas, it’s mostly for alarms and reading stuff on the toilet, so I’m fine with cheap stuff ;)

      Wow, that looks awesome. If I were a heavy smartphone user I’d totally get that. Alas, it’s mostly for alarms and reading stuff on the toilet, so I’m fine with cheap stuff ;)

      2 votes
    3. vord
      Link Parent
      Omg thank you, I miss the old moto droid and this looks like the spiritual successor.

      Omg thank you, I miss the old moto droid and this looks like the spiritual successor.

      2 votes
    4. [3]
      mrbig
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Wow! That's 3,267.01 Brazilian Reais without shipping. A monthly salary around here. I was thinking of something less extraordinary :P An older generation would do. I just use a web browser and...

      Wow! That's 3,267.01 Brazilian Reais without shipping. A monthly salary around here. I was thinking of something less extraordinary :P

      An older generation would do. I just use a web browser and WhatsApp.

      1 vote
      1. [2]
        clone1
        Link Parent
        It's hard to find something that has niche features and is also cheap.

        It's hard to find something that has niche features and is also cheap.

        2 votes
  3. [2]
    sron
    Link
    I think Tasker has support for actions based on pressing / holding volume buttons. https://www.xda-developers.com/tasker-long-press-volume-button-gesture-mute-ios-android/ Other than that, all I...

    I think Tasker has support for actions based on pressing / holding volume buttons. https://www.xda-developers.com/tasker-long-press-volume-button-gesture-mute-ios-android/

    Other than that, all I can think of is phones that have a dedicated assistant button like some recent Nokias and less recent Samsungs, or some Sony phones from a while ago with a dedicated camera button.

    3 votes
    1. mrbig
      Link Parent
      Yeah... something tells me I won't find anything better than that unless I go for something like a Blackberry. Buttons are just out of fashion, but I'm betting on a comeback. I don't think that's...

      Yeah... something tells me I won't find anything better than that unless I go for something like a Blackberry.

      Buttons are just out of fashion, but I'm betting on a comeback.

      I don't think that's a good bet, though :P

  4. [3]
    jwong
    Link
    I've got a SH-01J that I mostly love. Keypad is inferior compared to my old phone N-09A, being kinda mushy. But having a keypad is nicer than not. Only thing with these is need to be careful on...

    I've got a SH-01J that I mostly love. Keypad is inferior compared to my old phone N-09A, being kinda mushy. But having a keypad is nicer than not.

    Only thing with these is need to be careful on band offerings, as they aren't very international especially with 2G being phased out.

    3 votes
    1. [2]
      Akir
      Link Parent
      I've always been jealous of that era of Japanese cell phones. Sure, there were a lot of them released here in the US, but the telephone companies at the time were locked down and wouldn't allow...

      I've always been jealous of that era of Japanese cell phones. Sure, there were a lot of them released here in the US, but the telephone companies at the time were locked down and wouldn't allow you to run your own devices on their network. When they offered these kinds of phones, they would alter the firmware to take out a large amount of the functionality.

      It's kind of crazy that we called them feature phones because they had a lot of functionality, but in reality most of those functions were turned off by telcos who did so in order to make more money. The last one anyone in my family owned actually managed to surprise me at how many functions were disabled on it:

      • MP3 Player (Yes, seriously)
      • Voice Recorder
      • Custom ringtones*
      • USB Modem support*
      • USB Mass Storage support
      • File management tools
      • Bluetooth file transfer
      • Bluetooth PAN
      • Bluetooth modem*
      • GPS*
      • Address Book (It could still do phone numbers, but addresses were disabled)

      The features with asterisks next to them are features you could unlock by paying the telco an additional (usually monthly) fee, but even that usually had caveats. You could buy ringtones, but you couldn't record or import your own. The only part that makes any vague sense to charge for was for the GPS functionality since that actually added turn-by-turn directions and maps, and there were legitimate costs to provide those services. But on the other hand, they completely disabled the ability to even see your GPS coordinates.

      4 votes
      1. jwong
        Link Parent
        That’s gross they locked all that functionality away. Luckily, these feature phone are still available and quite cheap compared to modern smartphones.

        That’s gross they locked all that functionality away.

        Luckily, these feature phone are still available and quite cheap compared to modern smartphones.

        2 votes
  5. [2]
    MrCheezyPotato
    Link
    I too prefer physical things, especially considering how I often wear gloves of some sort, however, physical buttons tend to wear out quick, and also it's quite hard to find good phone with them...

    I too prefer physical things, especially considering how I often wear gloves of some sort, however, physical buttons tend to wear out quick, and also it's quite hard to find good phone with them anyway. So instead i use a phone with permanent touchscreen buttons, that you can see even when the phone is off. I suggest looking at those instead.

    2 votes
    1. cfabbro
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      What make/model phone do you use that has permanent touchscreen buttons like that? Personally, I am still holding out hope for those gel-filled touchscreens, that can create tactile elements on...

      What make/model phone do you use that has permanent touchscreen buttons like that?

      Personally, I am still holding out hope for those gel-filled touchscreens, that can create tactile elements on demand, eventually coming to fruition. Although it's been a looooong time since I last heard about any further progress on them. :(

      1 vote
  6. Turtle
    Link
    Look up the Blackberry Key 1/2. You should be able to find a used one fairly cheap.

    Look up the Blackberry Key 1/2. You should be able to find a used one fairly cheap.

    1 vote
  7. [7]
    crdpa
    Link
    They are not durable. The power button was the first thing that gave up on my friend's smartphone. He was using a toothpick afterit fell off.

    They are not durable. The power button was the first thing that gave up on my friend's smartphone.

    He was using a toothpick afterit fell off.

    1 vote
    1. [6]
      mrbig
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      But are touch screens more durable, though? In my experience, they break a lot and are not cheap to replace. They also constantly malfunction, become unresponsive, etc. That's a frequent...

      But are touch screens more durable, though? In my experience, they break a lot and are not cheap to replace.

      They also constantly malfunction, become unresponsive, etc. That's a frequent occurrence for me and people around me.

      Touch-screens also cannot get moist, just a little water makes them go bonkers. That's an issue for me since I live in a hot and humid place and my hands sweat a lot.

      1. [5]
        crdpa
        Link Parent
        Yes, my new phone has an amoled screen and it goes even bonkier with water. But i never had a touchscreen fail me. Buttons got worn out and harder to press with time.

        Yes, my new phone has an amoled screen and it goes even bonkier with water.

        But i never had a touchscreen fail me. Buttons got worn out and harder to press with time.

        1 vote
        1. [4]
          mrbig
          Link Parent
          Touchscreens fail me all the freaking time. This happened on different phones, models, and makers. I have a love-hate relationship with touch-screens.

          Touchscreens fail me all the freaking time. This happened on different phones, models, and makers.

          I have a love-hate relationship with touch-screens.

          1. [3]
            crdpa
            Link Parent
            Are you Brazilian, right? I only buy Xiaomi. Be aware, the cheapest models has weak glass and i broke two screens with little impact, the most expensive ones are better. But they are still cheaper...

            Are you Brazilian, right?

            I only buy Xiaomi. Be aware, the cheapest models has weak glass and i broke two screens with little impact, the most expensive ones are better.

            But they are still cheaper than other brands.

            1 vote
            1. [2]
              mrbig
              Link Parent
              Yes, I'm from Brazil. Are you? Why do you like this brand?

              Yes, I'm from Brazil. Are you? Why do you like this brand?

              2 votes
              1. crdpa
                Link Parent
                I am. Cheaper for the same or better specs comparing to the mainstream brands here. Xiaomi is widely famous for this. The price you pay for a Samsung or any other, you can buy a better Xiaomi.

                I am. Cheaper for the same or better specs comparing to the mainstream brands here.

                Xiaomi is widely famous for this. The price you pay for a Samsung or any other, you can buy a better Xiaomi.

                1 vote