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...
This is a discussion for a news article. To read the whole news, click here

200 Comments

132. svart

Posts: 6; Member since: Jun 09, 2014

I hated software buttons until I met LG G3. G3 can smoothly hide them at any time and give me full screen! And combined with tap-to-wake it is easy to wake the device. I get a more consistent experience with ONE kind of buttons instead of 3: physical, capacitive and on-screen interactions. And I can get minimal bezels. And I can customize, rearrage as I like. Software buttons done right is good, but most manufacturers do it really badly and just waste screen space.

133. Jaslath

Posts: 8; Member since: Feb 17, 2015

"we had to concede that it just didn't make enough sense." Um, sure it does. In fact you guys figured out why in your own article. Here is the reason: "a discrepancy between our views and those of the public" Wake up call: what you guys want and what the public wants is not actually the same thing. It's the same reason you guys keep thinking that every phone needs a QHD screen and ignore the fact that your own polls find that most people consider 1080p screens good enough especially if it leads to better battery life.

187. Chris.P

Posts: 567; Member since: Jun 27, 2013

My impression is that virtually nobody on staff is into QHD screens.

135. LikeMyself

Posts: 631; Member since: Sep 23, 2013

For me, physical home button is no go. It's ugly, elder people get confused as to why this is a button when the phone is touchscreen. Capacitive buttons are great for me, but I prefer on screen buttons as I can change their look and especially their arrangement as they are used and looked at the most in a modern smartphone! I tend to change the layout and arrangement of my on screen buttons very often!

136. Hammerfest

Posts: 384; Member since: May 12, 2012

Yep, Hardware buttons for LIFE (my HD2 sitting in a clear case next to my desk at home, looking at you!) I would NOT mind it if the screen actually was lengthened to where those hardware buttons where but as they don't, like you found, 0.36", NOPE NOT HAPPENING!

137. Patikas14

Posts: 1; Member since: Nov 21, 2011

Most of us that we like soft navigation buttons, we care to have the full screen active only when we see a video or image! Moreover.. We can have the recents key wherever we want it (left or right!)

138. RandomUsername

Posts: 808; Member since: Oct 29, 2013

Samsungarena strikes again... You know that software keys don't sacrifice screen space. Does "Immersive Mode" ring a bell?

139. shinobi71

Posts: 3; Member since: May 02, 2014

physical buttons are better. if i purchase a phone for a 6 inch screen i want to be able to utilize the ENTIRE screeen. this is y to me the m9 is horrible, not only a black bar on the bottom of the screen but also on screen buttons which makes the screen look uneven and ugly i had a lg g2, beautiful phone but damn was it annoying seeing that black bar in games and other core apps. even with immersive mode its not compatible with everything. once my phone froze and i had to wait for it to die so i can use it again, usual method didnt work. i rather have solid hardware control rather then depend on software that can go buggy with glitches. i prefer functionality over appearance.

143. bugsbunny00

Posts: 2262; Member since: Jun 07, 2013

i dont like the home button on that galaxy too, hope it go's away.

146. Bjray

Posts: 199; Member since: May 29, 2014

PIE Control fixes all the down-sides of software buttons (100% usable screen) ... I even double tap the screen to wake which emulates a large center physical button like on Galaxys' / iPhones'

150. Branson28

Posts: 55; Member since: Mar 26, 2014

Software buttons. With the physical button that is just one more thing that could break and you will have to replace. Plus, for things that you actually NEED the screen realty for (i.e. movies, games, etc) the phone goes into immersive mode anyway. So you really ARE watching a movie on a 6 inch screen on a Nexus 6. Physical buttons also means bigger bezels which we know you weirdos of PA are extremely psycho about.

152. arch_angel

Posts: 1651; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

captive buttons for the win.

153. Trex95

Posts: 2380; Member since: Mar 03, 2013

Samsung copying the best.

163. irbaaz

Posts: 175; Member since: Mar 27, 2014

Not a fair article for what I want to use that full screen 1. For watching videos 2. For playing games. 3. For doing some productive work. For all this purpose the software navigation button hides itself bringing more space for the application. On the other hand the physical hardware button increases the dimension of the phone which is more painful .

166. RushFan2112

Posts: 26; Member since: Jun 16, 2011

Software buttons all the way. It's been said by a few others and I'll repeat it again, LG did it right with the G3. I can choose the apps where they are always on screen or leave them so they automatically disappear and a swipe in from the edge brings them back for use. I can also set shortcuts to them so a long press can do other tasks.

169. gigaraga

Posts: 1454; Member since: Mar 29, 2013

Hardware keys are way better. It can even integrate the finger print scanner. Also, at least the bezel is put to good use (looking at you XZ3). Also, it makes waking up the phone more quicker.

185. irbaaz

Posts: 175; Member since: Mar 27, 2014

Fingerprint scanner can be embedded in Digitizer (touch screen itself).

191. 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

192. alycheema

Posts: 4; Member since: Jan 06, 2011

We have to compare the screen lost due to soft buttons with the addition to the physical size of the phone due to capacitative keys... my guess is that the girth gained by a phone due to physical buttons would be the same (if not more) compared to the on-screen buttons... hence using immersive mode e.g. in pictures & video the phone-to-screen-size ratio would be much better for soft keys vs dedicated capacitative ones..

194. gavilan355

Posts: 59; Member since: Mar 19, 2015

come on Phone arena. Just because the overall public did not select the option you guys wanted, doesnt mean we are wrong. By saying that capacitive buttons are better than on screen buttons doesn't make it true. this whole topic is subjective, not a fact. It doesnt matter about the "proof" you guys provided, making it seem all scientific. On screen buttons has more leeway in how developers and manufacturers want to utilize it in. having on screen buttons allow for a phone to be compact yet have a large screen. It allows for more gesture options with runs smoother than long pressing a button . While in landscape mode, you tend to accidentally press the capacitive buttons. I've never had that issue with on screen button.

195. gavilan355

Posts: 59; Member since: Mar 19, 2015

come on Phone arena. Just because the overall public did not select the option you guys wanted, doesnt mean we are wrong. By saying that capacitive buttons are better than on screen buttons doesn't make it true. this whole topic is subjective, not a fact. It doesnt matter about the "proof" you guys provided, making it seem all scientific. On screen buttons has more leeway in how developers and manufacturers want to utilize it in. having on screen buttons allow for a phone to be compact yet have a large screen. It allows for more gesture options with runs smoother than long pressing a button . While in landscape mode, you tend to accidentally press the capacitive buttons. I've never had that issue with on screen button.

196. tokuzumi

Posts: 1866; Member since: Aug 27, 2009

I prefer software buttons. When in landscape, I know the buttons will always be in the same spot, regardless of device orientation. With physical buttons, I need to remember which side the buttons are. It's not a huge inconvenience with physical buttons, but it's my reason for prefering software buttons, over physical. Plus, it gives more flexibility in phone usage. Look at LG and HTC. They have added soft buttons for notification shade pull down, split screen, powering off, etc. Physical button devices can't do that.

199. _PHug_

Posts: 482; Member since: Oct 11, 2011

On screen buttons are cool in theory but it sucks in the real world. I made a huge mistake buying the LG G2 and this phone has soured me on software buttons. I will never buy another phone/tablet that relies on software nav buttons.

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