What is the least-sucky Android phone with a physical keyboard?
July 23, 2015 10:30 AM   Subscribe

My current phone, a Samsung Galaxy S5, is all sorts of smashed and dying. I would like a replacement that runs a recent build of Android, works on my carrier (Verizon), and has a physical keyboard. Halp? (Details inside.)

If this narrows things any:

- I'm in the US, my carrier is Verizon. I hate them, but I am not going to do anything about how much I hate them right now. Something I can drop a SIM card in or whatever and also use in Europe would be a nice bonus, but whatever.

- I hate typing on screens, and yes I have tried things like Swype. I really, really just want a qwerty keyboard. Please do not tell me I don't want a physical qwerty keyboard. All of the manufacturers and service providers already exist to tell me that. I write long e-mails and SSH into servers and chat on IRC from my phone. It would be beautiful if I could do those things without wanting to pull my rapidly-thinning hair out.

- I know I could buy a bluetooth keyboard and snap it on some device as a case, but I actually have to carry this thing, and I would rather avoid adding a separate piece of hardware with its own battery etc. to the mix.

- The stockest available recent Android would be a nice bonus, a la what tends to come on Nexus devices. Samsung's custom stuff, for example, is utter garbage. That said, I'll probably take what I can get. (I know I can always root the phone and put a community build on there, but I also know I've been too lazy to do this for about 5 years now, which is probably not going to change any time in the next couple of months.)

- Yeah, I definitely want Android, unless there is some other tiny Linux device with awesome battery life etc. that will act as a phone that is a real product I can really buy right now.

Any advice welcome. This is just one of those things where Googling and searching Amazon only tells me that yes, some devices exist, but I am having a hard time extracting any meaningful sense of what ones might be least-awful to own.

posted by brennen to Technology (19 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know of any decent Android phone for Verizon that would have a keyboard, hate to say it but you are looking for a Blackberry, I've played with the Passport at work and it really is a very nice device.

Depending on how long you can wait I would bet money that Blackberry will switch to running Android asap .

Alternately you could get something like this keyboard case for a Galaxy Note: Amazon
posted by Cosine at 10:38 AM on July 23, 2015

Last I checked, you can't really buy a non-Verizon phone and then activate it on Verizon. You can buy an old Verizon phone and reactivate, though. But that wouldn't have a recent build of Android.

Looking at their store online, I only see the Blackberry as having a physical keyboard, so you may be out of luck.
posted by selfnoise at 10:42 AM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hrm. I'll shut up after this, but on reflection if anyone has a suggestion that doesn't fit the Verizon / CDMA constraint but is otherwise good, it's still something to look at, so please fire away.

Re: Blackberry, I don't think I could handle it based on their older stuff I've used, but I will take a look just in case. The keyboards are nice.
posted by brennen at 10:46 AM on July 23, 2015

The newer blackberries are capable of running Android apps.


The best one of the new crop is, in my opinion, the Passport, which is not on Verizon; however Verizon does offer the updated Classic, which runs BB 10 and thus is capable of running android apps, and using the Amazon Appstore.

So since you says you don't root your phone, it seems unlikely that you'll miss the fact that Android is built on top of linux; BB 10 is built on QNX so at least it's still *nix, ish.
posted by gnomicPerfect at 11:01 AM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Just chiming in to say you are going to have a hard time with this. We use Verizon and my wife likes a slide out keyboard. Basically they really don't have any models available and it doesn't seem like its a popular enough feature to stock. We spent a lot of time finding hers and from what I was told they are phasing them out.
posted by Busmick at 11:17 AM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I love physical keyboards, but they just aren't very common anymore. I used to use this phone and I loved it, but it's a bit outdated now (as reflected by how much cheaper it is now). I'm sure it would be fine if you don't do a lot, but if you're a multitasker like me or using heavy apps, you need something with more power. I rooted mine to get as much crap off of it as possible (rooting is actually extremely easy these days -- feel free to PM me), but it would be a big downgrade from a Galaxy S5.

I'm not sure why there isn't a manufacturer making a quality Android phone with a slide out keyboard -- it makes emailing and typing so much faster and less stressful. I've upgraded to a touchscreen phone and it's better in many ways, but I sure miss the qwerty keyboard.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:51 AM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I used to use a slider on Sprint (so, CDMA) and gave it up only very reluctantly because there really don't seem to be any close-to-current-gen ones. Up until about a year ago I was using a Samsung Epic 4G, but the 0.5GB of RAM started to hurt eventually. The Motorola Photon Q LTE and the LG Mach were, I think, the most recent CDMA sliders, and neither is really fantastic, particularly by comparison to an S5.
posted by jackbishop at 11:58 AM on July 23, 2015

Phonescoop search results for currently available or coming-soon Android phones with physical keyboards. None of them are very new or full-featured, unfortunately. Two of them appear to be CDMA.

Of these, I've used the Kyocera Rise. It's not great, or very fast, and the OS doesn't seem to deal with having a slide keyboard very well. Not the most stable phone ever, but the keyboard was pretty nice to have. I'm with you on the unpleasantness of touchscreen typing.

The NEC Terrain looks pretty good to me (the Android flakiness seemed to center on the slide mechanism with the Rise, so I'd hope just having the keyboard out all the time would help.) Some AT&T phones will work on Ting, so I'd probably go that route if I were to get one of these.
posted by asperity at 12:10 PM on July 23, 2015

As pointed out above, keyboards really aren't the In Thing right now. But modern phones (both Android and iOS) can use Bluetooth keyboards, and there are various companies that make slide-out or flip Bluetooth keyboard cases for cellphones. For example BoxWave; search for Boxwave Keyboard Buddy. Something like that might be a workable solution for you. I'd certainly recommend a decent phone without a keyboard, and a Bluetooth keyboard, over the crap that's available with built-in keyboards.

That said, I used to be you but I found Fleksy (Play Store, freemium) to be more or less usable and never actually purchased a slide keyboard.
posted by doomsey at 12:40 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm in exactly the same boat vis à vis needing a physical keyboard. Which is why I'm still on my Droid 4.

I wish there were more phones with QWERTY keyboards, but it's not that popular I guess. Except for Blackberry, I don't think Verizon even offers a new phone with a keyboard anymore. If I'm forced to upgrade, I'll probably go for a Nexus 6 because it'll have stock Android and, ya know, Blade Runner.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:48 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

When I made the transition from flip phone to smart phone, I thought I wouldn't do well using that tiny keyboard on the screen so I too got the Samsung Galaxy Relay and have been happy with it. THEN I discovered voice to text and haven't slid that keyboard out in months. Seriously, voice to text - while you can't use it in public - is the shit and should already be on your Galaxy Relay, so try it out if you haven't.

Looks like Samsung stopped making slide out keyboards with Ice Cream Sandwich, but if you don't mind it being outdated, here is one for Verizon.
posted by NoraCharles at 10:15 PM on July 23, 2015

I firmly believe that the next gen will have more small-form sliders. So firmly that I am sticking to my iPhone 4 for the forseeable future. Am parallely playing with a SE Xperia x10 Pro Mini for my slider itch. Stay strong, stay true! We should start a petition!
posted by Iteki at 12:04 AM on July 24, 2015

Well, the LG enact isn't terrible. It's fairly similar to the moto E which is a decent basic phone, has an upgrade available to android 5.0 officially(!!!!), and has a ginormous battery.

Honestly though, i'd get a used newer blackberry as suggested above. They can run quite a few android apps, and they're so freaking cheap used. They're also built a lot nicer than the enact. Nicer screen, everything.

Even a brand new blackberry classic didn't hit $300 on swappa. I think fiddling with that versus buying a low end junker is worthwhile. Blackberry phones, while not "high end", are at least very well built.
posted by emptythought at 3:40 AM on July 24, 2015

Thanks everybody. I'm getting a general "there is not a good solution" vibe, but lots of stuff in here to follow up on.
posted by brennen at 12:21 PM on July 24, 2015

I have the same problem you have. My current solution is to live with Hacker's Keyboard on a Nexus 6. I'd much rather have a physical keyboard, but Hacker's makes the on screen foolishness tolerable for SSH use, as long as the device is large enough. TBH, I'd rather have something a bit bigger, along the lines of a Galaxy Mega, for that particular use.

An alternative might be an old Symbian phone like an E7 Bluetooth or wifi tethered to a newer Android. That way you can SSH or whatever from the E7 and have the Android goodness for everything else. A Blackberry would probably be easier, though. I never did like their keyboards as much as Nokia's, though.
posted by wierdo at 1:45 PM on July 24, 2015

The Droid 4 is still a pretty respectable phone, if a gen-and-a-half behind, if you can find one in like-new condition.
posted by 256 at 4:52 PM on July 24, 2015

Much, much later answer: You want the Blackberry Priv, an Android phone with a nice physical keyboard.
posted by jaduncan at 4:18 AM on November 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Worth noting, on the point of the blackberry priv(which is quite pricey), that blackberry is about to introduce a lower cost more basic keyboard model.

No one knows when however. The priv is generally regarded as a good to great phone at everything it does already, and is pretty much the option right now. Everything else is comparatively a waste of money.
posted by emptythought at 2:10 PM on November 12, 2015

Also in the interim, I became aware that there is such a thing as a phone case that has a Bluetooth keyboard.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:49 PM on November 12, 2015

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