Here's why on-screen navigation buttons on Android are bad for you

Here's why on-screen navigation buttons on Android are bad for you
A few months ago, we ran a poll asking you to state your preference – would you rather have physical/capacitive navigation keys on your smartphone, or on-screen, software ones that take up space on your screen, but offer a bit more flexibility if you're into modding your device. 

The results honestly surprised us. A whole bunch of people (42.86% out of 5112 votes) chose software buttons – something that we didn't at all expect. Quite frankly, we expected this to be a one-sided poll. We recently revisited the topic at the office, and again found a discrepancy between our views and those of the public (we tend to prefer physical/capacitive). After a few mental exercises that had us attempt to figure out why people nevertheless liked software keys, and failing to come up with a decent counter, we had to concede that it just didn't make enough sense. And that's despite the fact that some folks pointed to 'immersive mode" as soft keys' saving grace – our tests clearly indicate that even stock Android doesn't make use of it with essential apps like your dialer, messaging, browser, camera, app drawer, and so on. It's a feature that is mostly utilized by some third-party apps, and far from all.

Here's why on-screen navigation buttons on Android are bad for you

So how much screen real estate are you sacrificing for them on-screen buttons? We ran the numbers (after measuring the exact dimensions of the displays of several popular flagships and the space occupied by their on-screen buttons), and the results are telling. On average, you should expect to have about 0.36" cut off from use, or between 6% and 7% from the total area of your display. That means that your 6" Google Nexus 6 actually has less than 5.7" of usable screen space most of the time – less than the 5.7" Samsung Galaxy Note 4, which features physical/capacitive buttons. And the HTC One M8? It has less usable space than the 4.7" iPhone 6.

With that in mind, do you still prefer software navigation keys over their physical/capacitive counterparts? Discuss!

FEATURED VIDEO

200 Comments

2. jesusnexo unregistered

Doesnt really matter, if they put physical buttons the screen would need to be smaller ot keep the same size, or the bezzel bigger. Either way people wont be happy with the phone and keep bitching about it. Look at the iphone 6, the 4.7 inch phone is as big as my 5inch nexus, so it does not matter at the end. Plus phones with physical buttons look ugly, look at the droid turbo

13. penguinbelly

Posts: 162; Member since: Dec 27, 2014

Droid Turbo is ugly because it's fat. iPhones are that way because of Apple's incompetence.

25. jesusnexo unregistered

iPhone is that way because if they move to on screen buttons people would be bitching at them for "copying" Also, no the droid i understand the fatness in exchamge of battery life, but that face with ugly button make it look like a 2010 phone

27. jesusnexo unregistered

exchange*

34. Felix_Gatto

Posts: 942; Member since: Jul 03, 2013

But when Microsoft introduced onscreen buttons on WP, only few are bitching at them for "copying".

37. jesusnexo unregistered

because its not Apple, lately its just "cool" to bitch at apple regardless of whatever they do.

147. Scott93274

Posts: 6025; Member since: Aug 06, 2013

I don't think anyone cares enough about Windows phone to actually pay attention to what Microsoft is doing with the platform.

56. Awesoman64

Posts: 292; Member since: Mar 18, 2015

Dude, why the heck would iOS need software buttons?

114. jesusnexo unregistered

thinner bezels always help. but there again it would render the finger scanner useless

154. UnlimitedSkye03

Posts: 277; Member since: Apr 27, 2012

Cause of broken home button :/ assistive touch comes to play

65. tedkord

Posts: 17131; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

"iPhone is that way because if they move to on screen buttons people would be bitching at them for 'copying' " Which is really unfair, because Apple fans never play that silly card.

113. jesusnexo unregistered

im not saying they dont. But it goes both ways, and im not gonna start talking about Samsung that would unnecessary and unrelated to my point im trying to keep this unbaised on a page where everyone hates on everything

204. Tanujtiwari

Posts: 84; Member since: Mar 18, 2015

_______________________________________ THIS DEBATE WILL END HERE I'll tell you why software keys are the best. 1) They're more responsive 2) We can change what they do (LG phones) 3) There is immersive for apps which require it. 4) The bezels can be made smaller( nexus 6) 5) We can always launch Google now in most phones 6) No fear of accidentally waking up the screen 7) Sometimes, capacitive/button keys are not backlit. This problem can be countered esp. In low end phones 8) The cons of software keys can be countered. E.g. fingerprint scanner can be put behind the phone

52. maherk

Posts: 6703; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

The S4 had a 5" screen and was smaller than the M7 and Sony Z. The Note 4 has a 5.7" screen and is smaller than the 5.5" iPhone. The Tab S is smaller than the Z4 tablet yet it has a .4" bigger screen.

84. buccob

Posts: 2952; Member since: Jun 19, 2012

Recent Sony phones (flagships) have a great body-to-screen ratio, and the addition of front facing speakers is really great... Specially because it is true stereo, and not double mono, and for watching movies at around 10" from your face, the effect works pretty good. I used to be against software keys, but now that I actually got to use them on a daily basis, the make sense IMO. They move to follow your screen orientation (even if upside down) so you use your device normally, no matter what... and they rotate / transform when needed. I don't really see a point for hardware buttons now, even if the bezels are the same size.

108. UglyFrank

Posts: 2190; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

S4 is a great example,I do miss that phone

58. Awesoman64

Posts: 292; Member since: Mar 18, 2015

So the Samsung Galaxy S6 is ugly after all. Look at those physical buttons left unchanged for years. *burn*

69. tedkord

Posts: 17131; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

You misspelled "iPhone 6."

75. Awesoman64

Posts: 292; Member since: Mar 18, 2015

Dude, you need serious eye surgery.

117. tedkord

Posts: 17131; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

20/20 vision. You know how I know I'm right? Just go back to all these sites before the iPhone 6 was officially announced, when the leaks of it came out and read the comments from the hard core iPhone fans. Comments like the leaks are fake, Apple would never release anything so ugly. Nobody believed that were authentic, because they were so ugly. And I can understand that. The iPhone 4 through 5s were some of the best looking phones out. I didn't really believe they were real.

157. Awesoman64

Posts: 292; Member since: Mar 18, 2015

Ok, I wonder where that glass back came from? Probably a 4/4s? Oh, and i see an iPhone 6 speaker right there. Maybe you were so thats why you couldnt read my post very well.

174. medtxa

Posts: 1655; Member since: Jun 02, 2014

Oh please this arguments are for kids. oh you are still just kid then?

120. dorianb

Posts: 617; Member since: Oct 24, 2012

The subject of physical or software key is like arguing over the pronunciation of tomato or tomato. Or potato or potato if you prefer.

145. bambamboogy02

Posts: 834; Member since: Jun 23, 2012

I like the look of the Turbo. It's just buttons built into the body, it's not like they added extra bezel for the capacitive buttons. Just used the space wisely, and let users use more screen for screen use. It's like having your damn volume up/down and channel up/down buttons on your tv displayed all the time just in case you want to adjust it. You would be pissed.

205. Tanujtiwari

Posts: 84; Member since: Mar 18, 2015

_______________________________________ THIS DEBATE WILL END HERE I'll tell you why software keys are the best. 1) They're more responsive 2) We can change what they do (LG phones) 3) There is immersive for apps which require it. 4) The bezels can be made smaller( nexus 6) 5) We can always launch Google now in most phones 6) No fear of accidentally waking up the screen 7) Sometimes, capacitive/button keys are not backlit. This problem can be countered esp. In low end phones 8) The cons of software keys can be countered. E.g. fingerprint scanner can be put behind the phone

3. AME85

Posts: 42; Member since: Dec 16, 2014

For me, the physical home button is so convenient and ready to intervene should any software glitch arise !! I prefer physical buttons

30. Awalker

Posts: 1962; Member since: Aug 15, 2013

If there's some software glitch there's really not much you can do with software or hardware keys.

73. buccob

Posts: 2952; Member since: Jun 19, 2012

There is always a way to hard reset the phone using physical keys such as Power / Volume buttons... I used to be against software keys, but after using them, they actually make sense IMO, and Sony has gotten way better at reducing bezels and using them for front facing speakers... If I need full screen, it is usually for Movies, Pictures or certain games... and the keys DO hide for those....... for everything else, I really don't mind having .3" less (its almost like using my old 4.3" phone, but with the ability to strech it to 4.6" when I really need it)

5. Rexperia

Posts: 136; Member since: Sep 28, 2012

blame it to google, why they're making a differentiate among the vendors, to be honest I preferred on screen button than physical one, it feels more futuristic and simple, that's my own opinion, it's definitely another preference will come up.

57. Awesoman64

Posts: 292; Member since: Mar 18, 2015

Blame the OEMS,not Google. Google just makes the software.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

Latest Stories

This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. You can order presentation-ready copies for distribution to your colleagues, clients or customers at https://www.parsintl.com/phonearena or use the Reprints & Permissions tool that appears at the bottom of each web page. Visit https://www.parsintl.com/ for samples and additional information.