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

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. 

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

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.

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98 Comments

98. brownbrady

Posts: 1; Member since: Jun 21, 2013

Neither. Just copy the way the BlackBerry PlayBook does it with a simple swipe up or down to wake up the device or to switch between apps, swipe down to reveal app options, swipe from top left/right corner to reveal status bar. Works in any orientation. That way, the app is always on full screen.

93. Twisted247

Posts: 282; Member since: Oct 12, 2012

I personally think it's a great idea. I like hardware or physical buttons myself. The three button system on the Galaxy s3 and Note 2 is perfectly ideal for me. I didn't like the 4 buttons on my Evo. For me the search button was just a nuisance, if I wanted to search I have a Google now search bar on my home screen at the top. If I want to search files Ihave the option in the menu keys lineup. So just having a menu, home, and back button is exactly what I like. I really hope they keep the same setup for the s4 and note 3. The only place where on screen buttons may have a place is on a device in which the screen runs bezel to bezel, no black space or anything taken up by the frame etc. Then and only then would it be possible to be utilized correctly.

92. bigstrudel

Posts: 621; Member since: Aug 20, 2012

The idea behind virtual buttons is that they go away when they arent needed. In my experience however; they are almost always present. And they are extremely hard to avoid; especially in games where they are often in landscape orientation and on the right side exactly where buttons are located. Its a great idea. But right now; they quite frankly need alot of work. Personally, Im a big fan of capacitive buttons. They are smooth to the touch, and thus dont get in the way when holding the phone in landscape AND dont reduce the screen size. Plus they arent as fragile as physical homebuttons; which do wear out over time and are far more often faulty than capacitive ones (in my experience of course). It still boggles my mind how god awful Samsung's button arrangement is. Having a dedicated settings button these days is straight up retarded. All of your settings are easy to change from your notification tray ESPECIALLY in Touchwiz.

91. firestarter2

Posts: 16; Member since: Jan 24, 2012

I think the intention was to have the screens be larger due to the lack of hardware buttons. Common were are the edge to edge screens?

90. phonemirer

Posts: 111; Member since: Dec 07, 2012

on screen might be better if theres no bezel down

88. Riven

Posts: 25; Member since: May 25, 2012

Geez calm down, the buttons vanish when you're doing most things were you need more screen (like watching movies, youtube etc) I cant believe this author is going bat s**t crazy over 4-8% of his screen SOMETIMES not being there. I used to hate on these On Screen buttons, but then i started liking the fact that they made navigation easier because as i tilted and moved my device the buttons moved with it and i wasnt reaching across the earth to navigate. Now i totally like them on my Nexus 4, i'm glad Google is going in this direction. Pretty soon we're gonna run out of bottom bezel anyway and this author won't have a bone to pick and lose sleep over 4.4% of his screen. My thoughts, have a nice day!

85. monkeytown

Posts: 125; Member since: Jul 26, 2012

on screen buttons should be get rid of asap and boy, do android tablets have a f****** huge bezel :S

83. ChafedBanana

Posts: 409; Member since: Sep 20, 2011

I love my on screen buttons on my Galaxy Nexus. If I want an expanded desktop, I hold down the power button for a second to easily get rid of them thanks to Cyanogenmod 10.

81. elsupercaico

Posts: 9; Member since: Nov 20, 2012

Im glaf someone was smart enough to think about this and bring it up for discussion because one of the reasons why I traded my nexus 4 for a galaxy s3 was because of the huge space wasted thanks to the buttons on the screen. I think that if they have to be there by necessity then at least they should dissappear when not needed or being used.

80. Etzioni

Posts: 1; Member since: Oct 09, 2012

I can see the HTC One X behind the Note 8.0!

79. ckoch125

Posts: 193; Member since: Oct 29, 2012

They want their design language to show across all their devices. Makes sense so that people can recognize without a doubt it's a Samsung.

86. monkeytown

Posts: 125; Member since: Jul 26, 2012

people already do recognize when they see the glossy plastic

78. Tele7

Posts: 47; Member since: Dec 12, 2012

Maybe in a 7 inch tablet or smartphone its is 'waste' but in a 10 inch tablet it is absolutely good

77. CMonster

Posts: 7; Member since: Dec 04, 2012

How much you wanna bet Verizon slaps their logo on that button too? >:-/

76. CX3NT3_713

Posts: 2365; Member since: Apr 18, 2011

I'm buying!!!! Please have 4G

75. InspectorGadget80 unregistered

I prefer physical button than on screen buttons. if something happened to the on screen button the phs

74. Phaze0085

Posts: 124; Member since: Sep 22, 2011

Great idea. I love the physical buttons cause everytime i see onscreen keys I just always thing how more of the screen can go where the buttons are. I think its imoportant separate your screen from where your buttons are.

70. ashb22

Posts: 19; Member since: Jun 15, 2012

I have a Galaxy S3, and it's always bugged me a little that it has the physical home button and the two capacitive buttons. I just don't like the inconsistency from a design standpoint. I'd be fine with either all capicitive buttons beneath the screen or having all of the buttons onscreen.

68. abchco123

Posts: 12; Member since: Aug 06, 2012

In 4 years this will be the size galaxy s8.

67. protozeloz

Posts: 5396; Member since: Sep 16, 2010

If they really want to screen space the solution could be a toogle option like the one found on paranoid rom and TMT launcher where you get this beautiful stuff https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4kVWi5_7fw&feature=youtube_gdata_player

65. saiki4116

Posts: 413; Member since: Mar 31, 2011

On screen Buttons gives you clean look and are flexible,uniform.I don't mind some space is wasted for the uniform look.

64. phonemonkey

Posts: 168; Member since: Feb 13, 2012

if you think they don't know there is a loss of screen size you are smoking crack. the companies spending millions and millions of dollars about these devices know 100x more about its design than you do, read a few columns, write a few, and all of a sudden you know more than those spending millions of dollars designing these tablets

63. lauremar

Posts: 181; Member since: Feb 29, 2012

I am sure Google will find a way to auto-hide the on-screen buttons and pull it up whenever you need it with a swipe gesture if Android users are concerned about loosing screen real estate all that much... I'd be up for that...maybe it's already in the works and may come out on the next Android version 5.0 Key Lime Pie?

51. semipro1337

Posts: 117; Member since: Oct 01, 2012

whats the purpose of the speaker up at the top as if it were a phone? Somethings not right here....

56. taz89

Posts: 2014; Member since: May 03, 2011

It has phone capabilities...nothing new the original tab and the tab 7.7 had phone features in some regions..if you going to have a sim in a tablet you might aswel have the ability to make calls

60. semipro1337

Posts: 117; Member since: Oct 01, 2012

I agree with that, but just the fact that they made a tablet look like a phone is kinda stupid. I can see if it had only BT and speakerphone for making calls, who in their right mind is going to hold this thing up to theyre ear? I can get my N7 to fit in my palm and hold it that way, but this thing is even bigger.

99. hmmm...

Posts: 81; Member since: Jun 05, 2013

Actually I've seen people use the original galaxy note 8 as their daily driver. They do put it to their ear when taking calls . It looks a little weird but not that bad actually.

50. taz89

Posts: 2014; Member since: May 03, 2011

100% agree always hated on screen buttons on my screen and taking up valuable real estate on my nexus 7.

49. lft4ded

Posts: 12; Member since: Aug 14, 2011

I prefer physical buttons. There are somethings I can do without looking at the phone directly that I would have to divert my eyes for with onscreen buttons.

48. matt212308

Posts: 1; Member since: Jan 25, 2013

I have a Galaxy Nexus and a Nexus 10. With custom software installed I always have the option hide the on-screen buttons at any time or have them on. I really like having the option depending on the usage situation and much prefer this to the physical buttons on my previous devices.

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