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Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 waves goodbye to on-screen Android buttons: good idea or not?

Posted: , by Victor H.

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Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 waves goodbye to on-screen Android buttons: good idea or not?
Just recently we saw more images of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 and while there is nothing that striking about the upcoming tablet at first glance, look at it closer and you’d realize it looks just like the Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note smartphones. No, it’s not just the rounded edges and glazed plastic, we are talking about the physical keys!

Yes, the on-screen buttons taking out tons of screen estate are finally gone. For us, that is a huge relief - it seems such a waste of screen space to have those on-screen buttons on the display at all times! We could forgive this in a phone (and even then it seems like a huge waste), but in a tablet you end up with an abysmal waste of space. 

Losses of screen space due to system bar

Losses of screen space due to system bar

Just look at the Nexus 10 or Nexus 7 in portrait or landscape mode, you’d see a large black strip at all times (in all fairness it at least disappears in videos).

Now, all of this confusion started with Honeycomb and then transferred to Ice Cream Sandwich. 

Here is how much screen real estate is wasted on some of the most popular Nexus devices because of on-screen buttons:

  • 7.5% of the vertical resolution (1,280 pixels), or 96 pixels, (48 device independent pixels) are occupied by on-screen buttons on a Nexus 4/Galaxy Nexus. That space is wasted for real content.

  • 4.4% of the vertical resolution (1,280 pixels)), or 56 pixels, on a Nexus 7 in portrait mode
  • 8% of the vertical resolution (in this case, 800 pixels), or 64 pixels, on a Nexus 7 in landscape mode

  • 3.75% of the vertical resolution (2,560 pixels), or 96 pixels, (48 device independent pixels) on a Nexus 10 in portrait mode
  • 6% of the vertical resolution (1,600 pixels), or 96 pixels on Nexus 10 in landscape mode

With and without on-screen buttons

With and without on-screen buttons

Rounding it all up, we have big losses of screen space that Google is trying to push as the de facto standard for Android devices. Luckily, Android is open and no one is forced into this model.

Sadly, while you can choose between high-end devices with on-screen buttons (Sony Xperia Z, Nexus 4 most recently) and without on-screen buttons (Samsung Galaxy S III, HTC One X), you didn’t have that choice in recent tablets as virtually all of them came with on-screen keys.

The Galaxy Note 8.0 brings that choice of having all the screen up for use by real content and not just buttons.

We don’t know whether it was Apple’s iPad mini that showed just how big of a difference a form factor makes with its full-screen 7.9-inch tablet, or what was it that caused the change, but we’re glad Samsung listened and decided to right that wrong. And we’d be looking forward to the Galaxy Note 8.0 launch because of that.

How about you - how do you feel about on-screen buttons? Did you realize how much of a screen space they eat up? Or do you think the uniformity of experience they deliver is worth that loss? Sound off in the comments below.

98 Comments
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posted on 25 Jan 2013, 13:18 2

55. Dinged (Posts: 35; Member since: 12 Jan 2012)


Virtual buttons need to be awoken first with another physical button which can be a pain in certain instances.

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 09:39 19

1. valapsp (Posts: 557; Member since: 12 Aug 2011)


Both a bad and a good idea. I can't say for sure before working with it :)

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 13:12 10

53. Dinged (Posts: 35; Member since: 12 Jan 2012)


Coming from a nexus and galaxy device. I prefer a physical Home button for the most used functions such as waking it up, going to the default Home screen and checking the time.

It's simply easier to use a single finger and tap a physical button to "wake" a phone vs "waking" a phone with a side button than moving your finger to the virtual home button for a follow up function.

Additionally, I used the tactile feel of the Home button to return to a default screen while driving where I have my most useful driving apps so that I can minimize time spent looking down at my phone.

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 13:27 3

59. Dinged (Posts: 35; Member since: 12 Jan 2012)


Google most likely focuses on virtual buttons to avoid any similarities to the iphone which may cause a lawsuit. Additionally, they can put a patent on the idea to prevent competing OS's from using the idea.

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 15:58

69. andro. (Posts: 1999; Member since: 16 Sep 2011)


Definitely as good thing,many many people would love to have the option to auto hide the bottom bar on their android tabs

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 17:28

73. jroc74 (Posts: 6019; Member since: 30 Dec 2010)


I dont like them. It takes up screen real estate. For me...its a good move. When I had the G Nex...my least fav feature were the on screen buttons. I have a Maxx HD now....and I still dont like them...lol.

They do disappear when watching Netflix. But I also still have the same problem I had with capacitive buttons and games...accidental presses and gettign kicked out the game. Android and the game devs are doing better with pausing games when this happens....I still hate it tho.

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 23:46

82. Nadr1212 (Posts: 741; Member since: 22 Sep 2012)


This is A TERRIBLE IDEA!!!! The screen pictures qnd words look way smaller 2 me
And 2 think u were gonna stay like ur old, good, original self Note Tablet!!!!!!

posted on 26 Jan 2013, 20:49

89. kclgphilsbsa (Posts: 765; Member since: 21 Jan 2013)


anyway, there is a 70% chance that these images are fake :D
i dont remember any valid leaks of Sammy new flagship models being uploaded everywhere a month before the official annncmnt..
if this wud be the real note 8.0 den Sammy has a month to listen from d consumers and put sermons against their DESIGNERS!!!! hahahaha

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 09:41 20

2. JonBjSig (Posts: 176; Member since: 17 Nov 2011)


I personally like the on-screen buttons more.
Not for any reason I can point out, just a personal preference.

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 09:48 23

6. Aeires (unregistered)


Because they rotate with the screen. I like them too.

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 09:50 17

8. cezarepc (Posts: 718; Member since: 23 Nov 2012)


+1 for on-screen buttons.

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 09:52 3

9. RaKithAPeiRiZ (Posts: 1488; Member since: 29 Dec 2011)


same here

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 10:57 9

31. yougotkilled1 (Posts: 167; Member since: 27 Apr 2011)


Also I think the phone looks much better with no buttons to display when the phone is on sleep. The screens on the galaxy nexus and the 4 look awesome when the display is off.

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 11:02 7

34. Aeires (unregistered)


Agree with that, the solid glass fronts do look great.

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 11:45 4

41. darac (Posts: 2156; Member since: 17 Oct 2011)


Capacitive buttons can look just as cool - they are completely undistinguished on galaxy S3, when not in use.
I really prefer capacitive buttons for now - the current phones using the on screen ones are not having any less bezel compared to classic models.
Way too much of screen space is wasted on the Nexus 4, for example, and here I completely agree with the article.

I also think tablets should have capacitive keys (both for portrait and landscape mode ) because their bezel is abundant anyway.

But this particular solution by Samsung is hideous

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 11:51

43. ChrisG (Posts: 38; Member since: 22 Aug 2012)


I don't really *like* the on-screen buttons on my Galaxy Nexus, but they don't bother me at all, either. I don't miss the "wasted space." I do like the smooth, button-free glass front of my phone, though. Less places for dust to build up!

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 13:24

57. jamrockjones (Posts: 345; Member since: 26 Oct 2011)


I concur, I like the appearance of on screen buttons, especially on tablets. It's not always just about screen real estate, there's also convenience (like when you turn the screen), also in some applications more options come up. I think it's a forward looking approach and I'm all for it. Now if manufactures could figure out a way to make the screen go closer to the bottom and sides of the phone.

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 13:26 2

58. Zero0 (Posts: 592; Member since: 05 Jul 2012)


That and that it can change with advancements in UI. See the Droid DNA's lack of a menu button (which ends up taking up screen space anyway) and the general clunkyness of the Galaxy S3.
Want Google Now on the Galaxy S3? Hold down home, then press a button on screen.
For Google Now on a Nexus, just slide up from the home button.

It also looks really nice with the screen off.

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 13:58 2

61. wendygarett (unregistered)


physical button increase bezel and the end reduce screen size as well, in order to keep overall size the same...

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 14:04 3

62. rdaex (Posts: 149; Member since: 24 Oct 2012)


Something I just found recently. On the S3, if you hold menu, it shortcuts to google now.

Yes, still a press, but its pretty easy, and you dont stand a chance of missing the gesture a la GNEX

posted on 26 Jan 2013, 03:12

84. blinkdagger (Posts: 81; Member since: 04 May 2012)


And also it can be tweak to show more than just those 3 default buttons. It can be arrange to personal liking too. *cough*aokp*cough*

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 09:43 6

3. sats.mine2k4 (banned) (Posts: 208; Member since: 10 Aug 2012)


A very bad idea...

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 09:43 4

4. justme (Posts: 58; Member since: 09 Jan 2012)


Are we absolutely sure that this is a real image? (Still hoping it's not).

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 09:45 17

5. neutralguy (Posts: 1152; Member since: 30 Apr 2012)


THE THING IS IT LOOKS REALLY UGLY! IT's a phone on a tablet size. Not PHABLET, TABLET! oh god. why samsung whyyyyyy

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 09:56 5

14. RaKithAPeiRiZ (Posts: 1488; Member since: 29 Dec 2011)


i kind of think the design is nice (confession bear)

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 10:38 2

27. neutralguy (Posts: 1152; Member since: 30 Apr 2012)


*another bear drags you out*

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 10:39

28. neutralguy (Posts: 1152; Member since: 30 Apr 2012)


They should put an interactive capacitive button if they really want to separate it from the screen like what meizu did.

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 17:18 1

72. umadd (banned) (Posts: 40; Member since: 25 Jan 2013)


If they got rid of all the capacitive buttons and made it landscape orientation, it would looks really good, like the Nexus 10.

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 09:48 16

7. Techsplash (Posts: 41; Member since: 24 Oct 2012)


not an apple fanboy or android hater but this really looks ugly.the edges are too much rounded.

posted on 25 Jan 2013, 09:53 7

10. ogy_dogy (Posts: 453; Member since: 29 Jun 2012)


After having a froyo and gingerbread tablets and then switching to a jellybean one i must say the latter with no physical keys is more to my liking. one of the reasons is that buttons are placed to be used in either landscape or portrait direction, and you rarely have both, while with onscreen ones you save on construction costs, they can point to God allmighty if need be, and they can dissapear too. only problem is that google has not implemented a gesture or something to have them dissapear or reapear on screen like msoft did with w8 charms. all in all, i think samsung is taking a step back....

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