Today was an out-of-office day with several meetings and visits out and about. The calendar and contacts data on the T-Mobile MDA came in very handy. So the effort I put yesterday in synchronizing was well worth it. However not having e-mail setup yet, was not a good thing (see yesterday’s challenges). But I am hoping to get the e-mail setup handled tomorrow. Today, I focused more on some usability issues.
The 5-way navigation, the stylus, the touch screen, and the sliding keyboard
I mentioned earlier in the experiment that you have many user interface options when working with the Treo devices. I also mentioned that even though more options is usually a desirable thing, with more options comes more complexity. The T-Mobile MDA seems to take this “more options/more complexity” phenomenon to yet another level. In addition to the 5-way navigation, the stylus and the touch screen, you have the sliding keyboard.
The sliding keyboard, good, or evil, or what?
Well theoretically it is a great concept. You have a keyboard (a good size keyboard) that is hidden and you slide it out when you need it. In practice though, I am not sure if this concept works as well as it sounds. At least these are my first impressions, and of course, they are very subjective and subject to change as I use the keyboard more extensively in the next few days.
First of all, the sliding keyboard which doesn’t take much physical space in the “x” and “y” axes (not adding to the length and width of the device because it simply slides out from underneath the screen), does take additional space in the “z” axis (depth). This makes the device “thick”. Thick also means bulky, not so elegant, and not so practical.
But let us forget about form factor for now and let us talk usability. You have one more decision to make when using the T-Mobile MDA. Do I slide the keyboard or do I just use the onscreen keyboard (typing with the stylus on the touch screen)?
Let us say I slide the keyboard out to use it. Now my thumbs are further away from the 5-way navigation key (which by the way has an awkward orientation when you are holding the device in “landscape” position). My thumbs are also further away from the touch screen and using my fingers to make selections on the upper area of the touch screen not convenient.
Typing on the T-Mobile MDA keyboard requires some getting used to
Even though the keys are larger and seem to be nicely spaced, I seem to be making more typing mistakes on the T-Mobile MDA than I did on the smaller keyboards of the Treo, Motorola Q, and BlackBerry Pearl. I am often typing the letters twice accidentally. I think that the problem is that the keys are not pronounced enough and they do not offer enough “resistance” and therefore it is easy to press them inadvertently multiple times.
In terms of layout, the keyboard has the numbers on the top row which is not typical in the smartphone world (it seems that most smartphones provide a phone pad arrangement of the number keys).
So let us say that the T-Mobile MDA is a unique device. Unique devices take more time to feel comfortable with. Let us see how things unfold in the next few days.