Thumb-boards: is there really a need on UMPCs?


Vulcan_flipstart_thumbboardOn the way home from my business travel last night, I chatted breifly with James; I hadn’t had a chance to to see his Vulcan FlipStart demo, nor had I really seen the Samsung Q2 with a thumboard. I’ve seen both now, but in our conversation last night we hit upon people’s desire to have a keyboard integrated with a UMPC. Our discussion is worth a mention, considering the new device announcements.

James said something that bears repeating and commentary; I mentioned that the thumb-board in the Q2 isn’t a compelling feature for me. The 1024 x 600 native res sure is, but a thumb-board; not for me personally. James mentioned that the FlipStart thumb-board is usable, mainly for brief bits of text input. There’s the key right there: brief text input. He said for a a few sentences, a smallish keypad is fine but, (and here’s the kicker) for a few sentences, you can likely ink them just as fast, assuming you’re relatively proficient at writing. So where’s the real need for a small, integrated keyboard on a UMPC? I’m not sure there is one. For short bits of text, I can ink them nearly as fast as I can tap them on a small thumb-board. For longer bits of text, I’d want a full size keyboard; integrating such a beast would eliminate other mobility advantages of the UMPC class, so I don’t want to see that either. Thoughts?



Just a quick note here in case the product folks (from wherever) are reading this — TOTALLY agree w/you on this one.

Dion Forster

I have two ‘very small’ PC’s, a Sony U50 (that has no keyboard), and an OQO 01+ that has the thumb board. I would not trade my OQO for the world (well, maybe for an OQO 02!) I find find the OQO so useful because it has the keyboard, it is so convenient to be able to tap out a few ACCURATE words, without having to correct handwriting recognition that won’t work as it should, or tap something out on the onscreen keyboard! Also, I find that using my OQO for Instant Messaging is very functional. Whereas I never used skype on my UX unless I was going to make an audio call.

Sure, I often use my U50 and OQO with a folding bluetooth keyboard, however, when I am in the line at the bank, or driving in my car, I can’t use that keyboard, then the thumb board is fantastic!

I have found that since I got the OQO I hardly ever use my U50 (it is now little more than a portable media player and occasional web browser).

I would love an OQO 02! Although, I believe the fan noise in that is just as annoying as it is on the 01 and 01+, perhaps I will settle for a Sony UX series next… I have never tried one to compare the keyboard with my OQO, so if anyone out there has, please let me know if it compares favourably or not.



some guy

I’m a newbie and I dont want to use a stylus tho i do want a touch screen . inking just seems cumbersome .. the very fact you have to take the stylus out of the device first to write anything puts me off. I can see how long time tablet users would prefer inking because they are used to it .. but .. just the thought of taking out a stylus to write something seems like an unnecessary step for soemthing so small.
Theres also the fact that when a normal every day user gets one of these devices it will most likely be the only device of this kind that they have and so they get very proficient at using thier thumbs as an input method . my sister does a lot of texting and she amazingly fast on just a 12 button phone .. thumb board is a must imo. i will not even consider a umpc with out one.

Steve Paine

Pick one up, balance it on one hand, get the pen out, click the input field, click the TIP icon, write, correct, then put the pen back naturally!

OK Its not as bad as that I know. I’m exaggerating a little. What we need are some newbies to test it out on. Anyone fancy taking a UMPC out with and without keyboards and doing some tests?


Steve Paine

I guess you and many of the tablet users can ink faster than on a mini keyboard. You[ve had a lot of practice and thats one of the main points. Its too much of a learning curve for many people that are intersted (and targeted) by UMPCs.

This is an excellent thread of comments by the way. A lot of good thinking here.



Every time I try inking anything more than one number at a time on my WM2003 (cutting-edge!) PDA, I get so frustrated by it that I just go back to the software keyboard. I made 10 tries at inking a lower case k and could never do it, switched to the keyboard and it was there on the first try.

dr z

I agree that the thumb-keyboard is not an ideal solution for long periods of data entry. For short bits of text, maybe the size of an SMS, or email at most, it would do; but for entering a Word document, or lengthy programming, nothing beats a real keyboard. In those cases, an onscreen keyboard would be as good as a thumbboard for me; as both give me similar rates of wpm of data entry.

Stephen Feger

Like many of the others here, I like the addition of the split keyboard. I especially like it because it comes at no *cost*. What I mean by that is this: The space wasn’t being used anyway. It’s functionality without penalty. For those who like a tablet experience without the twisting and turning of a convertible, they have an option. It also keeps the thickness of the device down as compared to most convertibles.

No one is going to be a real speed demon on a keyboard like this. Heck, no one is going to be a speed demon on a P1610 keyboard. Speed demons use a full keyboard. But having and not needing is a whole lot better than needing and not having.

On design alone, I think the Samsung Q2 is going to be beat the hell out of the Flipstart. I just can’t help but think that the Flipstart is still a year too late, if not more.

Muliadi Jeo

I wonder if anybody is going to design a built-in keyboard as good as those were on “Psion” handheld/PDAs. I started my PDA day using Psion 5 and then Psion Revo, both units have a really perfect keyboard. They keys are big for thumb typing but the design is so sleek that it does not sacrifice the overall size of the PDA. When you have those kind of keyboard, you can type way faster than inking.

For those who does not know Psion, here is a link of the picture of it:

some guy

I think the stylus part of the UMPC is seen as an add-on , a bonus by the majority of people who are looking at umpc’s . You guys are tablet people and you think the device is for you but it isnt , its for us people and we want a keyboard .
The fact is that for lesiure activities no one wants to be holding a pen . e.g. if i’m in the kitchen making some tea and browsing I want to put the umpc down on the table and then pick it up again when I have out the tea bag in. I do not want to replace the sylus or have it roll around on my table , and then re take it out and find it etc etc.
add to this the awkwardness of using a stylus while I am jumping off the sofa on to the other sofa, what im the stylus goes in my eyes and blinds me ? samsung have thought about this.

Rob Bushway

Are they needed? In my opinion, yes.

When on the go, standing around or something, I don’t want to have to pull the stylus out to peck or hand write something out for something quick – I’d like the option, but I don’t want to be forced to use the stylus if I don’t want to. The keyboard gives choice. I’d prefer to hold the device with two hands, like the q2, pepperpad, oqo, etc, and type it out.

They are not meant for long things – just brief bursts of text. Integrated keyboards like the oqo, q2, etc are some of the best things to happen to umpcs in my opinion.


I think that I have been giving the impression that I do not like keyboard. :D
I do not need them, I can live without them but in another hand I understand that to have a keyboard could be good for certain uses.

I like a keyboard in a UMPC if that does not add extra weight and side to the overall Design. So, Samsung did a good job on that. Another good example of a keyboard implemented with a very good test and design is the one used in the US702W.

@Steve, I still think that I can write faster than what I can type in a keyboard that small as the one used in FlipStart or OQO devices.

One thing is sure and I have came to that conclusion a long time ago, I do not care if they are ugly, I do not care if they have or not keyboard. All I want is more and more devices between with displays between 5 to 7 inches. In another words, the release of new UMPCs will make this market healthy and will contribute a lot to reach that gold price range that everybody is expecting of 500 to 700 dollars.

Bob Russell

Nobody seems to have mentioned one big reason why it’s nice to have a thumb keyboard… you don’t have to get the stylus out and can use your fingertip to get around on the screen. That’s something that is probably obvious to Treo owners.

I like thumb keyboards relative to inking letters because of the surity of what you enter (correcting input errors with a digitizer is frustrating) and because it’s easier on my near-carpal tunnel condition.

Split keyboard sounds terrible to me because you can’t watch what keys you are hitting unless your eyes dart back and forth, but I reserve judgement because many people report they like the pepper pad.

At any rate, the Q2 sounds like a winner to me if it’s not giant and not a giant price.


I’m a VERY mobile safety consultant, always running assessing businesses and properties all over the UK.

I currently use a combination of and MDA PRO, HP TC4200 and a desktop.

My experience is TC4200 to heavy and bulky to carry around with me while walking and working and the inking experience was lacking in XP (I have to fill out LOTS of Electronic forms) due to the steep learing curve (e.g. my in ability) to navigate around forms (I always found I had to use a combination of buttons and stylus).

However when trading up from a LOOX720 to an MDA PRO it was a fantastic experience.

I can convert a lot of my e-forms (pain having to convert back and forth though) to use with text maker 2007 on the WM5 device.

However I really miss the input buttons that were on the LOOX720 in portrait mode (the MDA PRO flips and covers the keys) as my gaming has really stalled without them (I played games ALOT when traveling). It’s surprising how many apps rely on keys and don’t provide soft key alternatives.

My next move will be an OQO2 (where are those OQO2 Reviews?!?), which I hope will bridge my input gap e.g.

Ink for notes and document review
Keyboard for completing forms/short reports

It should also satisfy my craving for the following:

Games (old ones granted)
No doc conversion
Integrated web access (via sim card)

I can always use by spv c600 for navigation via tomtom :-)

Still I wish it had a passive screen rather than an active digitiser that way when I do need to ink I could use a finger in a pinch rather than HAVING to fishing for the stylus.

Mike Cane

Well, yesterday was the first time I tried to use inking on a UMPC. I posted a mostly-inked entry in the Samsung Q2 entry. It was somewhat frustrating: no easy way to backspace (OK, no *intuitive to me* way), entry of symbol or some punctuation. OTOH, I did *like* it. OTOH, I also liked the split QWERTY of the Pepper Pad 3. I think the Q2 will give me the best of both. And I think Samsung will have a real hit with the Q2.


I share a lot of the same feelings here. I spend most of my time using the browser and having a thumb board would be handy for typing in passwords or entering a quick search.
I mostly use my finger to touch the screen and it would make things a lot easier to just touch a text field and start typing. It’s a minor annoyance to take out the stylus, wait a second for the tip to come up, and then use the OSK to enter my short text.
Also, I’ve grown used to the keyboard on the blackjack phone. I prefer using that to IM (or twitter) since I’ve become very fast at it. So adding a small keyboard like in the Q2 would be great. It doesnt take much space and doesn’t take away the slate experience.

Steve Paine

“I have being saying that and Steve at Carrypad too”
Have you read my keyboard speed test posts? Or my review of the PepperPad 3? The split keyboard is absolutely wonderful on that. I’m very pro-keyboard and I disagree with you quite strongly on this point. For a certain target customer, the keyboard, thumboard, qwert board is more natural than writing on a computer screen and its certainly not just for tapping in a password. Speak to Gen-SMS for a start.

@joe blogs.
Here’s a few things to think about.
1) You don’t have to take hands from the side of the device. They keyboard is right there. Taking one hand from a device creates a huge weight on the other hand due to fulcrum and even pressure on the screen from the pen. Its uncomfortable for many mobile situations.
2) You don’t have to lose screen space to an on screen input panel. There’s only 480 pixels height on most UMPCs. Its bad enough already without having to lose 25% to an input panel.
3) You don’t have to worry about teaching your device.
4) You don’t have to worry about learning the ‘tricks’ of handwriting (or having the correct drivers or avoiding ‘vectoring’ or having/paying for software that even supports it or learning how to write an ‘ampersand’ or ‘at’ character)

Handwriting and on-screen input is for a certain type of customer and thats not the customer that Samsung are likely to be going after. Touchscreen is fine. Wonderful. Don’t mis-understand me. But handwriting on a screen is probably not a high-priority worry of Samsungs.

Quik stat: On the PepperPad I reach about 55% of my normal typing speed. On the screen using handwriting its about 30% of the speed and I don’t have to balance the device in one hand or lose screen space. On the Fabric keyboard I was at 55% of my normal typing speed in the first 10 minutes of using it.

The only drawback of keys on the frame is the physical design challenge. It means that you end up with rather a wide device. Its the reason that the PepperPad looks a little strange.

So as you can see. I’m very very happy to see that qwert board and its the first think i’m going to hunt down next week.


Michael Venini

For me there are two reasons, why I would want a thumb board on my UMPC.

1. Games.

With having a keyboard, I now could be able to program keyboard buttuns to a bunch of games.

2. I like to have as many options ad i want

I don’t care if you could use the on screen keyboard or not. I want the option, of not having to write ink, or tap on the screen. By having a keyboard it provides me with the abilty to chose what I want to use to input with. I’m really getting tired for all of the people who say “UMPCs DON’T need keyboards. You can do everything on the screen.”

If you don’t want to use the keyboard, then don’t use it. But by having it, it now allows all the people who wanted a UMPC, but whould not buy one because the lack of a keyboard.

Everybody different, just because you don’t need a keyboard, doesn’t mean I don’t need or WANT one.

Hanno Zulla

I own a Nokia N800, which could be described as the next-best-thing to a linux-based UMPC, and used to miss a keyboard for it. So I bought a bluetooth keyboard and was surprised to find that I hardly ever use it.

The keyboard is handy when I try to write a longer email on the device, but that’s the only reason to use it so far.

Dave Haupert

That’s a good question- as a long time PDA user from before there were keyboards to now where they are quite common, I have gone full circle. I used to love graffiti, wrote a small Words per minute gauge app for the ‘Pilot’ back in the early days and got my handwriting speed into the 30ish pretty consistently.

But when I got my first Treo device, I realized I could not only type slightly faster, but I was more confident in the data entry- it didn’t seem as ‘chancy’ to write, and I barely have to make corrections, etc. To me that makes input far less stressful.

I’ve been looking at all of these devices and watching with great anticipation of someday biting the bullet when I find the perfect setup. To me the OQO2 seems dangerously close, but at it’s price I don’t see it being cost-justifiable for me personally.

That being said, I’m actually wondering if a device like the new Toshiba phone (g900 or e900?) could suit my needs. Since it has the touch screen, 800×480 res, a slide out keyboard, and WM6 (which supports hi res’ much better than WM5 for it’s app, supports native office documents, and has a much improved Remote Desktop app), I’m wondering what I wouldn’t be able to do on there that I would want to on a mobile PC. And hoping it comes in at 600ish US dollars if and when it ever comes to the US. That’s like a third the price of an OQO.

So that’s what I’ve been wondering!


arebelspy, you can add any word to your dictionary using the TIP in Vista. But you are right, I have not seen any tool to edit your custom dictionary. But… I have not tried the one for XP.


raffi, unless you are using a DOS program at full screen. I have not run in a case where I can’t use the on screen keyboard to type commands. But I agree with you, if you are using MTTY or those kind program probably an integrated keyboard will be helpful. But if you can have the best of both world in one machine that would be the option, in another words, I would go with the OQO 02. But that’s me. I really do not need keyboards unless I want to write a very long text and with a normal side keyboard I can reach easy 55 to 60 WPM, the double of what I can reach handwriting.


If Dial-keys or a similar app hits, then my answer is no. Speaking of which… HUGO!!!, where’s the follow up to the tease from last week?!?!

If nothing like Dial-keys exists then yes, I need/want one and I like the Q2 style since it is like my Nokia 6820 phone.

It is needed for things like URL entry, logins to web pages and quick text stuff (folder/file renaming) or whatever.
I do need something like that.

I am getting better at inking each day so for longer postings like this, inking is fine and better suited for the device.

For longer posts or articles or docs or scripting, etc, I have to use an external keyboard.


One thought: Quick entry of alphanumeric passwords when browsing.

XP Tablet Edition 2005 had a dictionary powertoy to add those random strings in, so they’re get recognized when written. Vista doesn’t. Small keyboard helps (although yes you could use a SIP).

I know, nitche idea. I agree, useless for the most part (and not asthetically pleasing). The OQO’s is at least better than the Q2’s split thing.



I have being saying that and Steve at Carrypad too. In such small keyboard the maximun you can get is around 30 WPM and that’s exactly the speed of any normal person handwriting.

That tiny integrated keyboard could be useful for password, it’s useful for hot keys, it’s useful to make “DONOT-HAVE-KEYBOARD PEOPLE” happy but from the point of view of usability it’s as good as your handwriting. But, you don’t have that option in the Flipstart, that’s one of the reason why I do not think that this device is going to be a hit. The contrary, I think that this device is going to be the biggest marketing fiasco of this year. It wont be able to compete against the OQO 02 which include a digitizer.


I’m in the market for one of these. I work for a company but I also do consulting and I am usually on the road when clients need help. I carry around an X60s which isn’t big but I would prefer something even smaller. Right now I can use utilities like from my smartphone, but its inconvenient on that screen to work with. So I’ve been toying with whether or I want to get a Q1, OQO, or Flipstart. Now seeing the flipstart, I’m leaning toward the OQO Model 02. I’m concerned about ordering one before they are shipping though. So beside email typing, there are times that you are remote controlling or running command lines that don’t lend themselves to inking.

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