Best handheld computer with thumb typing?

I had a OQO 1+ I bought for $300 USD back in 2008, I loved it with few complaints.

  1. Heat, the thing was a hand warmer even though I ran a stripped down winXP on it and only ran one program at a time. The heat got so excessive at times I had to let it rest for awhile, forget about putting it in your pocket!

  2. Battery life was horrible, 2 hours max.

But I loved the thumb typing keyboard, I just loved it. I loved running winXP and having access to the wide software variety. I loved that I could webbrowse while listening to mp3s, I could watch movies and TV shows in avi format without special formatting, I could do anything you can in winXP.

I played with a ipod touch and didn’t like it at all, I did not like the touch screen keyboard and the requirement to specially format video files annoyed me.

I was looking at the Nokia N81 but I wonder if is too underpowered at 300mhz to do anything, I see people claiming to watch bog standard 700mb avi movies but really? It is cheap though!


Please don’t base your opinion of modern handheld devices on the iPod touch - aside from the typical iOS limitations around formatting, multi-tasking, and app integration, it’s fairly anemic, and has a relatively tiny 3.5" screen.

Android is a very capable OS, and probably the most likely to offer a PC-like experience, especially once the most recent 4.0 version (aka Ice Cream Sandwich) becomes more prevalent on handhelds. You can find several with slide-out mechanical QWERTY hard-keyboards, although none that I know of have 5" screens. You can also get tablets that support Bluetooth peripherals, but it sounds like that might be bigger than you are looking for.

As someone who until recently, hated soft-keyboards on touchscreen devices, I can say two things - 1) you get used to them, and 2) Swype. Swype is still a soft-keyboard, but it’s so easy to pick up for most typing that I find myself really missing it when I switch from my personal Android phone to my work iPhone. I’ve composed pages-long emails on my phone in Swype without the thumb-cramping frustration of my old slider-keyboard Windows Mobile device, and in much less time.

Also, just about any mainstream dual-core Android device will have much better responsiveness than a Nokia N81, or even the OQO. Plus, the Symbian OS on the Nokia is very dated, and just about ready to kick the bucket from a supportability standpoint - that’s why Nokia’s switching to Windows Phone.

And Android has broad media format support, and usually excellent battery life.

I want to offer a contrary opinion as an Android user of a few years: I generally hate it.

I’ve had a Droid, Droid X, and Galaxy Nexus. I’ve tried many of the browsers, both manufacturer-shipped, Google-shipped, and third-party.

I dislike Swype (it’s too slow, imprecise, and over-reliant on autocorrection for me). Useless for website names and such that aren’t already in its dictionary.

I do like the alternative keyboards that allow haptic feedback (where the vibration motor buzzes for a quarter second or so to simulate a physical keypress). The on-screen keyboard with the touch response was better than any of the physical Android keyboards I’ve tried (Droid, Droid 2, some other ones that I can’t remember), but not as good as the old Nokia text messaging phones with unfolding physical keyboards. It beats the iPhone virtual keyboard, but that’s not really fair because the Android screens are typically bigger.

“Broad media format support” is dependent on the video player your manufacturer decides to grace you with upon shipping, if any. And even if you download another one, many of the third-party players are still dependent upon codecs already on the phone, so broad support really isn’t all that broad. There were a few that had their own software codecs, but last I checked their interfaces sucked. It’s nothing at all like just booting up VLC on a PC and having it work, though last I checked VLC was working on an Android version. This is all the worse because “avi” is really more of a container format that can include any of a hundred codecs, and your phone won’t necessarily be able to tell you why a certain file will or will not play (you need a codec identifier for that).

Synchronizing media to your phone is still a pain, requiring either an OEM-supplied solution (like MotoBlur), a per-album sync (as in Google Music and Amazon MP3), or an expensive third-party program. I still have not been able to find an easy-to-use, automatic, full-library sync since I last checked about three months ago.

The Droid X is slow and often unresponsive. Touch responses often take a few seconds to register, and then happen all at once (missing a few in between). Applications often hang or crash altogether. There are faster phones out there, but there are slower ones too.

Web browsing is still far from perfect. The browsers I’ve tried still have trouble translating regular webpages for the mobile screen. Text reflowing is hit-and-miss. Drop-down menus tend to break if there’s anything layered under them. Links too close to the top or bottom of the page are often unreachable due to UI menus/bars being in the way and the scrolling not letting you go past that. The built-in browser prior to Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich handles multiple windows very poorly (no tabs, just a long list, and it doesn’t always tell you when it opens a new window until you suddenly hit the max). The third-party tabbed browsers are better but usually slower than the built-in one, and every update causes it to not be the default anymore and every other program that tries to launch a browser will ask you again.

On the positive side, Android’s popularity means there are usually dedicated apps that bypass all those interface hurdles, such as Tapatalk for forums like this one, a semi-usable Facebook app, a mostly-functional Pandora app, many of the Google services implemented to various degrees of usability (usually medium to high) and reliability (usually quite low, especially Google Voice).

Battery life usually doesn’t last longer than a day and is especially bad on 4G phones, even with extended batteries.

TL;DR version: Android’s very far from perfect and using it as a web browser or media player is still a chore.

I hear good things about Windows Phone 7.5, but I’ve never used one myself so don’t know the particulars.

I liked Swype better than the default Android keyboard, but I much prefer SlideIT keyboard to Swype.

If you haven’t tried it, check out MX Video Player. It’s very good with it’s software codecs, and gives much the same seamless experience as VLC on a PC.

A 7" Android Tablet might be just the ticket for the OP; they are available from several different manufacturers. Decent size, and there is a large variety of virtual keyboards you can try out on them.

Yeah, I’d say a 7" Android tablet, there are many coming out in the $200 to $300 range. I have an HTC Evo View that I love. It’s good for browsing, gaming, watching videos, and more.

The nice thing about Android is you can actually get to the hardware and file system. You can customize most/all of the UI. Install custom launchers. You can browse the file system, either by plugging it into a computer or on the device itself, and you have full control of what files you want to put where. If you want music in a MUSIC, MP3, or SONGS folder, it’s your choice.