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 software ones that take up space on your screen, but offer a bit more flexibility if you're into modding your device...
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200 Comments

186. Chris.P

Posts: 567; Member since: Jun 27, 2013

As I mentioned somewhere else here, I consider capacitive keys far and away the best choice, followed by physical + capacitive combos (Samsung style). Reason I don't necessarily agree with your presumption is that capacitive keys are simply part of the touch screen digitizer, and therefore take no/very little space underneath in terms of extra wiring and whatnot.

16. penguinbelly

Posts: 162; Member since: Dec 27, 2014

It is useful to have a home button. Especially for those who are not technically versed. It is sort of an "escape" button they can rely on at any time. On-screen buttons confuse them because they sometime disappear, sometimes don't, and sometimes overlap with other buttons on the menu. Physical home button also enables features like double-tap to camera, fingerprint scanner, etc. On-screen fingerprint scanner will be more difficult to implement and to use.

140. bestmvno

Posts: 251; Member since: Mar 07, 2014

Yes, long pressing other software buttons can be set to enable camera etc, as can setting gestures. I personally don't like the home button because its something that can wear out and break. Software buttons can be made to disappear, can be made bigger or really tiny as in my case.

18. iLovesarcasm

Posts: 589; Member since: Oct 20, 2014

The main reason why I switch to Samsung from Sony is the physical home button. You can use it for turning on the screen and lengthen your power buttons life span.

23. DefinitiveKid

Posts: 259; Member since: May 15, 2013

True but at the same time the home button life span takes a hit in the process, by being physical.

26. greyhulk

Posts: 182; Member since: Jun 30, 2010

Um...you do know that the home button gets MUCH more use than the power button, right? And that's without using it as a power button as well. So what happens when you wear out your home button?

39. DefinitiveKid

Posts: 259; Member since: May 15, 2013

I guess all in all the best way to go is the capacitive buttons like WP ones or Xiaomi ones. Probably less wear and tear than physical buttons and no screen real estate loss.

202. greyhulk

Posts: 182; Member since: Jun 30, 2010

I use my physical buttons as little as possible, which means that I prefer phones with double-tap to wake. But when I have a Samsung phone, I almost never use the home button to wake it because the home button already gets a ton of use. I'm with you on no wanting to wear out my physical buttons. Every mechanical part only has so many uses. The iPhone's home button gets abused like crazy.

160. romeo1

Posts: 813; Member since: Jan 06, 2012

there is something called double tap to wake. There are apps out there that can make it go to sleep the same way

19. rotkiv3451

Posts: 85; Member since: Jan 07, 2015

Software buttons look better, you always know when you tapped them, and they will only stop working if your screen breaks. Plus, smartphone screens are big enough, so I don't mind loosing real estate at all. We can also theme or hide them to our liking, so customizability is another plus.

20. Awalker

Posts: 1973; Member since: Aug 15, 2013

Why would anyone care about the navigation keys being being visible in the dialer app? The fact of the matter is that most apps don't need an immersive mode. The keys only need to disappear when watching videos, reading books or playing games.

21. tadaa

Posts: 267; Member since: Apr 18, 2013

Lolwhuuut?!? Why would you want immersive mode on system apps? Does it makes sense to remove back buttons while navigating panes? Immersive mode is for APPS THAT YOU NEED TO IMMERSE IN e.g. a game or a video player. You don't need it while dialing a contact. Once i used softkeys i hated going back to physical ones. Capacitive maybe but having a clicky button on my galaxy tab doesn't feel as quick anymore as pressing the home key.

43. Chris.P

Posts: 567; Member since: Jun 27, 2013

I think you miss the point. If you had capacitive or hardware keys instead of soft ones, then it wouldn't even be a question of whether it makes sense, as you'd have more screen real estate to visualize, say, one more contact, all the while retaining navigational control.

80. Awalker

Posts: 1973; Member since: Aug 15, 2013

I guess we have different priorities. I don't see how one more contact being visible on screen out of the hundreds of contacts I have in my phone helps in any tangible way.

176. medtxa

Posts: 1655; Member since: Jun 02, 2014

Yes. what you want to say is on screen button works for you just that... But you don't deny that off screen button capacitive or hardware keys DOES NOT eat the screen estate /advantage of off screen button.

124. TylerGrunter

Posts: 1544; Member since: Feb 16, 2012

It´s the other way around: if you have capacity buttons either your phone is bigger or your screen smaller. None of them a too pleasant outcome.

128. buccob

Posts: 2963; Member since: Jun 19, 2012

Sony's On Screen Buttons are transparent sony's own applications, so I can, for instance, still see my thumbnail pictures through the buttons while scrolling... To be honest I made my decision Knowing that I would get On-Screen and you can see it as a Glass Half Full instead of Half Empty: When I see my Z3 Compact I see it as a device with a 4.3" screen, capable of using 4.6" for media and games... all the while retaining a small footprint. And to be honest that was one of the reasons I didn't want to get the Z1 Compact... but now I don't see it as bad as I thought it was.

24. b0wzer

Posts: 103; Member since: Feb 07, 2014

Hardware buttons are OK as long as they aren't capacitive, but I prefer the software buttons on my phone (Nexus 5). I think phones look better with software buttons, and when you don't need them they aren't in the way. A hardware camera button would be welcome though.

60. Awesoman64

Posts: 292; Member since: Mar 18, 2015

Wrong. Software buttons can pretty much get in the way as it could easily be accidentaly tapped unlike hardware buttons where a single tap wouldnt be a burden.

106. Edward_bly

Posts: 278; Member since: Dec 11, 2013

Your right about how "it could" be accidentataly tapped. But your wrong when you say easily. I've been using my G3 for a while now and havent had any accidental taps since the first three days I've had it.

28. natypes

Posts: 1110; Member since: Feb 02, 2015

LG G2 for personal use and a Galaxy S4 for work. I hate the physical home button on the S4. It requires more dexterity and and firmer grip on the phone to push it. Not to mention the back/menu keys do not have as big of a 'hot spot' as the on-screen keys of the LG. I also do not care about them taking up screen space because when I really want the space (playing games, watching videos) they go away. Also the customization for the software keys is nice. I am rooted and use Exposed framework to change the colors of my buttons to match my current Themer theme.

29. StraightEdgeNexus

Posts: 3689; Member since: Feb 14, 2014

I'll admit, Google failed badly at implementing immersive mode, we expected a hide option at system level(like WP8.1), and Google messed it with handing that to devs...

32. rojiblanko

Posts: 25; Member since: Oct 14, 2011

I prefer on-screen buttons because it gives you more screen to body ratio...sure it does take space when navigating through the system, but when you watch videos or use pie controls you will see the difference between hardware and software buttons...and not to mention customization as well.

36. Kakarotto

Posts: 255; Member since: Dec 07, 2010

You're wrong. You think you are smart, but you are not. For example, look at Note 4 with physical buttons and compare it to any phone with on-screen buttons. Note 4 will win in category of screen to body ratio.

59. maherk

Posts: 6767; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

Same goes for the Tab S, 73% of screen to body ratio is impressive for a 10.5" tablet.

111. rojiblanko

Posts: 25; Member since: Oct 14, 2011

kakarotto first of all that was my personal opinion and no I am not smart like you said...but the note 4 is not the best in the screen to body ratio, look at the Sharp Aquos Crystal with on-screen buttons it does better than the note 4 and also the Nexus 6 is almost identical that the note 4 but it manages to have dual front facing speakers....

177. medtxa

Posts: 1655; Member since: Jun 02, 2014

Aquos Crystal is an exception, Nexus 6 is not better, so which phone is that have better screen to body ratio like you said..none?

33. o0Exia0o

Posts: 903; Member since: Feb 01, 2013

Here's the way that I see phones. There are 3 different types of buttons: Physical buttons that are mechanical, Captive buttons that are touch screen derived and virtual on screen buttons. The thing is physical buttons rely on more space needed at the bottom of the device in order for the mechanical mechanism to be installed. They can be more reliable than captive or virtual buttons when a device freezes but may wear out quicker due to their mechanical nature. Captive and Virtual buttons are basically the same beast. Both rely on the touch screen for input but the captive buttons are stationary and can not be changed in appearance where virtual buttons can. Also Captive buttons take up the bottom part of the screen and that part is lost/cannot be used in any circumstance other than for the buttons that are present where virtual buttons can disappear while watching a movie or in an app that utilizes immersive mode. To be fair this is not an argument of physical buttons vs virtual, this is an argument of the uselessness of captive buttons over virtual. To me I would much rather have the Virtual buttons vs Captive just for the fact that I don't want part of my touch screen taken up that cannot ever be used.

82. tedkord

Posts: 17288; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

Just a minor correction - capacitive buttons are not part of the touchscreen, and don't rely on it. They rely on a similar mechanism, but are artists separate and distinct.

88. o0Exia0o

Posts: 903; Member since: Feb 01, 2013

Captive button are set on the screen. Take apart a device with captive buttons and you would see that the buttons are set on top of the bottom of the touch screen.

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