Saturday, August 20, 2011

[X7 Review] Part 3 : [Anna] Split Screen keyboard : Not Smart Enough !

Posted on 13:24 by SlipKoRnSaad

As you know, one of the most important enhancement coming with Anna was the updated keyboard as well as split screen implementation and i have to say that I’m pleased with some and disappointed with a lot, and i’ve decided to only focus on the Keyboard as well as Split-screen in this part of review as i was really frustrated on the C7, much less on the X7 in some cases (thanks to its big screen, details below).

Ps : This isn't exclusive to the X7 but to all symbian^3 devices receiving the Anna update as i was complainig on some of inconsistency of software integration ;)

So, as i said, the Anna update improve text input usability through the introduction of a portrait QWERTY keyboard and widespread use of split screen input à la iOS and Android for example. Split screen overlays text entry input boxes on existing screen elements and works in both portrait and landscape orientations.

We did saw this implementation even before the Anna update for example, in Maps a search can be entered and auto-completed results seen as you enter text. Similarly, in search widget, but that's all !

Now, the good news is that the same goes for Messaging, when you reply to a message in Conversations view you can see previous messages in the thread on Email, Calendar and most importantly on the Web browser (so captcha codes will not be a headache anymore).

Symbian Anna brings along with it a new portrait QWERTY keyboard that has 3 rows for characters, one row for spacebar and delete, and a third row for arrows, enter as well as settings. These 5 rows take up about half the screen, leaving the other half either a gray (theme dependent colored) box or a “live” viewing plane if split screen is available in the particular area.

In landscape mode the characters still fill out 3 rows but the bottom  2 rows of the portrait keyboard (spacebar, delete, return, arrows..) have been merged into a single row = 4 total.

Copy/Cut/Paste prompts appear immediately when text is selected and somehow seem more user friendly than before.

Predictive text actually works now like it should, previously what you typed would stay unless you specifically chose the correction/suggestion, now the default is similar to that of iPhone where the correction suggestion stays, but you can choose to stick with what you typed by tapping on it.

Suggestions include preloaded dictionary terms, but also names, places, and terms from your address book, calendar, and other phone apps. The virtual keyboard also learns from past entries and disregards unintended touches.

It also comes with a “text correction level” option which can be set to: High, Medium, or Low.

Finally when searching contacts the annoying block ‘letter by letter ABCD’ keyboard that removes each letter after refreshing contact list is gone giving you a normal portrait/Landscape keyboard. personally I found the old contact search method tiring as there was no constant position for letters as they were being constantly removed or changing position- which made it tiring to search !

 Enough with "good" points here ! Let's see what drives me crazy !

When using an AZERTY layout (as i speak and write in French in the normal life) i have a set of special characters in permanence which add extra (unneeded characters) to the space (which we don't have) and the keys becomes more compacts and a bit small (especially for the big handed users, well, there is space around each key to give a margin of error when typing) and the 3.5-inch touchscreen on most symbian^3 devices, isn't a good size to make the most of the Portrait QWERTY, thanks god, the 4 inch of the X7 and E7 save the day (well, a little bit) :

I'm wondering, why should i have those extra characters when holding a letter provides the ability to select this "special" letter (â, à, é, è etc.) !

But the best of the best ! When choosing the "numeric" layout, look at what we have here ! A classical numerical keys as we're typing on a 3310, no Nokia, no ! People are using iPads, GalaxyTabs, iPhone and Android phones nowadays, or even an N900 ! Not a 3310 or 1100, if you placed them on the center (or on the right side) or even better on the top as devices listed above, i'll logically understand this approach, but on the left side, C'M On !?

What causes me another headache is the inconsistency in Split screen integration. THIS IS A MUST. It’s unbelievably annoying when there is no consistency between UI in different applications and worse even when these are NOKIA/OVI branded official apps or third party applications that have nothing to do with NOKIA.

I don’t understand why the split screen keyboard isn’t hardcoded into the whole S^3 software, it seems to have been added as an afterthought- and once it was decided they enabled it in each application separately. I had planned on making a list of applications/settings where split screen is not available but I gave up after I realized how many there were, but here are some of the essentials : Notes application- how difficult should it be to fix this?? Even some NOKIA/OVI apps don’t support split screen such as OVI store, Default dictionary…

A lot of third party apps don’t seem to support this split screen at all such as : Youtube Downloader, Skype, Fmobi.. etc.

Most setting prompts such as : Country selection, time, date, networking/Wi-Fi… the list goes on. You still get the same ugly grey backdrop but with a clock

What’s worse than not having a split screen display is having a failed one, for some reason Instant Messaging by Nokia (known as OVI chat) doesn’t seem to be able to handle orientation changes when running a split screen as sometimes the app would be stuck in landscape but displaying a portrait keyboard.

The other major problem in Symbian Anna is simply that text selection HAS NOT been improved at all, true the copy/past prompts now appear but it’s just little bit as difficult to select text from a message as there is no draggable bar- like android, or anything else except the difficult to see typing cursor to guide you.  Also Email as well as browser DO NOT support text selection AT ALL (except in fields you enter of course).

Plus, this is not an intelligent keyboard, if you have an iOS device you'll understand immediately what i'm talking about :

- When you’re using Web browser, a “.com” key doesn't appear on the keyboard to help you type domain names faster.

- And the @ key doesn't appear neither when you’re typing an email.

- It doesn't add apostrophes in words such as “can’t” and “let’s.”

- It doesn't adapt its keys and layout for different applications due to the inconsistency i talked about earlier...

This is NOT what I expected from a much promised update that’s been delayed over 8 months now...

Well, two "good" news left before i conclude this chapter :

- If you're not happy with the QWERTY layout and still addicted to the T9 like me, you can switch back to the Alphanumerical keyboard layout and keep all split keyboard blessing :

The portrait keyboard also enables Swype in portrait mode, giving you another input option (note you need to install Swype app from Ovi Store) starting this Monday ;)

Enough is Enough, i'm going to play some Angy Birds now, see ya ;)

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