This is the latest in our Weekend Poll series. For last week's, see Did You Get An Android Device For The Holidays?

In tablets, having buttons on-screen rather than built into the body is standard operating procedure. On phones, however, there's really only one that eschews physical buttons for software, and that's the Galaxy Nexus. Still fuzzy on what I mean? Take a look at the comparison shot below, lifted from our review of the Galaxy Nexus:


On the left, the Galaxy Nexus, with its three software buttons displayed on-screen. On the right, a Motorola Atrix, with its four hardware buttons at the bottom.

By now, you've hopefully experienced software buttons for yourself (and read Ron's editorial on Why On-Screen Virtual Buttons In ICS Will Be Great) - but what do you think? Do you prefer one style for tablets and another for phones? Or is your preference universal? Sound off below, then share your thoughts in the comments below.

Do You Prefer Hardware Or Software Buttons?

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Aaron Gingrich
Aaron is a geek who has always had a passion for technology. When not working or writing, he can be found spending time with his family, playing a game, or watching a movie.

  • Mark

    Software for both. More screen real estate is always better in my book.

    • Jason

      Software buttons = less screen real estate.

      • Joey

        Please explain. With software buttons they can disappear depending on what program you are using; hardware buttons are there for good.

        • BobbyPhoenix

          It can go both ways. Look at the image given. On the one with hardware buttons (atrix on right) you have more info shown. Even on a much smaller screen. You could have easily put hardware buttons on the Nexus without making the phone bigger, and thus showing the same amount of info on both phones.

        • Me

          @BobbyPhoenix actually, the less info on the Nexus is due to an issue the screen's DPI and resolution, not the software buttons.

        • Eric

          Software buttons will hide, but they cannot dissapear. They can become small dots, but they take up the same screen size. Hardware buttons will never take up screen size.

      • kenyu73

        I think it can be close to the same. With the hardware buttons gone, there is more room for the screen into which soft buttons are used.

        Real estate remains close to the same.

        • Joey

          @eric no they can completely disappear, ie, when watching videos, etc, the screen expands. They remain as dots for many applications, but it is incorrect to say they can't disappear.

  • http://pharaohtechblog.blogspot.com Conan Kudo (ニール・ゴンパ)

    Software for both unless the hardware buttons for the phone are physical buttons instead of capacitive ones.

  • Seth M

    The software buttons are great for real estate as the previous poster said. Ive been having adjustment trouble with it so far, mainly with accidentally hitting home instead of space in sunlight conditions. The stock spacebar really needs a bottom border or something...

    • phorq

      I did the same thing with the home button so close to the space bar. And for as often as the menu button is used, why take it away or shrink it to a couple little dots in the corner? Give me hard buttons back!

    • Jerry M

      @Seth, One day at a time brother lol

  • the1who

    Well, for onscreen, lets keep it software. The capacitive buttons on my phone seem like software buttons as it is already, the and even if it was hardware, the OS would have to be working anyways to really use them. More screen real estate is the way to go, and it allows it to be graphically enhanced or tweaked if they didn't turn out quite the way they originally planned. That's one thing that I think will differentiate Apple and Android with the Galaxy Nexus for sure, no true dedicated fixed button on the front at all.

  • Kim G

    I have a Nexus and the soft buttons are so good you don't even realise they are only on screen!

  • kimir

    A week ago i would have said software tablet hardware phone... :)

  • monkiekitty

    No not soft ... my house will never last my mototola droid out lasted my ipod tuch my puppy likes to play with things and put them in there water bowl ... and with my bad cerulation I get corps fingers that the get as cold as ice in the summer and the stupid screan won't respond ... in short I NEED THE KEYS!!!!!!!!!

  • http://mobilegeekinc.com rodakk

    Whoa! There's a new Google Reader for ICS? I bet it can't be installed on 2.3..?

  • Roger Lyons

    Software all the way, it eliminates a lot of frustrations and gives you a lot more screen. Apps should support it more so that the buttons disappear when the app loads up, like when you watch a movie.

  • Soukthachone

    as long as the touch doesn't fail then i'd go with software for both.

    • J Rush

      EXACTLY! If your software gets messed up, you're up a creek. I prefer Hardware because they'll always be there, they can't possibly disappear when I need them most.

      • kissmyassapple

        my hardware, are we talking physical buttons or capacitive? Capacitive is pretty much software, I think physical buttons are ugly. The software buttons on the GN looks pretty awesome.

      • Me

        It's the same CPU thread that handles the physical buttons as the on-screen ones. If the phone is in a loop, neither will work. So unless you're talking about actually messing with the soft-key application then how else would they disappear?

      • http://www.thepixelpuse.com aj

        That doesn't make any sense. Capacitive buttons are run the same way as software buttons. I've NEVER had an issue with the software keys on my Honeycomb tablet, and I can guarantee the software buttons on the Galaxy Nexus/ICS will be just as reliable/functional.

  • droidRocker

    I rather ur moms buttons owww

  • http://gplus.to/ChromebookGurus Jason C

    I prefer physical hardware buttons oppose to software buttons on my phone.

    I haven't used a tablet, but I reckon I would rather software buttons that automatically hide.

  • dm

    touchscreen freq failed to response if been too.long in pocket. hardware button otoh never fails.

    • http://www.thepixelpuse.com aj

      What kind of phone are YOU using? Sounds like it sucks.

  • http://gplus.to/mediaphile mediaphile

    Hardware buttons are much more consistent. Software buttons means having to hunt around the screen to figure out where the programmers decided to put certain functions. And software buttons at the top of the screen are the worst, as it pretty much forces you to use two hands.

  • Josh

    On my DInc I love using the hardware button to take pictures. I can actually feel it when my wife wants me to take a picture of the both of us. Also, she has the Xperia play and I enjoy playing games on her phone way more than using touch screen controls on my DInc.

  • Fabulas

    Software for both, but I just wish they were customizable. I'd love to have my search button back

  • http://kennydude.me Joe Simpson

    I prefer hardware, but only because they're easier. I would love it if we could see some interesting hacks to do with software buttons, however that's down to the peeps at Google or hackers.

  • Attila Wiszmeg

    Prefer physical buttons if we are talking about real buttons (HTC Desire). If we are talking about capacitive ones, I might just as well have on screen ones, like my Galaxy Nexus.

  • Golightly

    I like the hardware button on the Atrix. They're always accessible. Using my friend's SGSII always throws me off due to the different button layout. Apps, home, back and search should be available at all times, w/o the need for -any- other interaction.

    I also want more phones to have a fingerprint reader. Even if I swipe incorrectly 4 times, it is still faster to do that than my PIN or pattern. First device to offer a next-gen cpu/gpu/etcpu AND a fingerprint reader is mine.

  • J-Dog

    I haven't really had the chance to play with software keys yet, so this is just speculation, but I think I'm gonna go in favor of software buttons on both.

    Like was mentioned in the "Why software buttons..." editorial, the screen can be expanded to fill more of the front of the phone. And when not needed, the buttons can disappear, leaving more room for the video, game or whatever.

    Or when I rotate the phone, the buttons can rotate along with, so they're always at the optimal spot. Occasionally when I use it in landscape mode, I find it hard to press the back button, but if it swung around with....

    Though I think a more useful feature would be the fact they're not locked down... If, for example, the app I'm using doesn't have any option/settings, the phone won't have to display that button. Or the back button frequently gives me headaches... Sometimes it'll take me back a screen, sometimes it'll exit the app & take me to the phone's home screen. If it was a button on the screen it could change to let me know better, what it was going to do if I press it (again).

    Though there are two buttons I'll probably miss. First off, the home button is how I wake the phone. Its convenient, I pick up the phone & have my hand in the lower corner anyway, so just tapping it with my thumb... The other button will be the search button. Right now its fairly useless for me. However, if Majel works as well as I'm hearing it will... Being able to wake the phone & activate Majel's search by long pressing search as I'm pulling it out of my pocket "Computer, what song is playing on the radio?" and Shazam auto pops up & starts listening...

  • Ron Amadeo

    Software everything: 68%

    Good job everyone... Good job.

    The Nexus is just the first baby steps for software buttons. Hopefully there are much cooler things coming. There's just so much potential.

  • Jeonghun

    I once used a phone named Optimus Mach which has physical hardware 4 buttons that you can actually click. Prior to that, I used a variation of Motorola Droid which has capacitive 4 buttons.
    At first, the physical buttons felt a little bit weird but soon I became to like the buttons I can physically click. They reduce the chances of accidental clicks. I am currently using Atrix but it really bothers me that I often accidentally touch the capacitive buttons while I play Asphalt 6.

  • T Beiber

    Need my back light notifications. Cant live without them.

  • richard

    This is one of those issues like political questions. I cannot understand how anyone could possibly take the other side. (I won't say which side I like since I don't mean this as a troll.)

    • Richard

      Yeah, I've been reading people on the opposite camp using the same arguments as I did to prove their point. You have as many people saying "I prefer soft buttons that can disappear to give you more screen real-estate" as you have saying "I prefer hard buttons so you have more screen real-estate without having buttons hiding part of it"

  • Freak4Dell

    Hardware for me. Actually, what I really like is physical buttons rather than capacitive ones, but since the universe is determined to make extinct every single feature I've ever liked about any phone ever, asking for physical buttons these days is unrealistic. So, if I have to go for the stupid fake buttons, I'd have to go with the hardware capacitive ones in the interest of saving screen space.

  • Justin

    Didn't think I would, but, I am loving the software buttons!

  • Michael

    I completely agree. I assume you are in favor of software buttons. This is because:

    A. They work exactly like hardware buttons.
    B. The flip to match screen orientation.
    C. Buttons may disappear for extra screen real estate.
    D. I believe certain roms allow to add a search button and stuff for the Nexus
    E. Personal opinion, but I'm completely in love with the look of my phone, the Galaxy Nexus, mostly because the whole phone is a screen.

  • Martin

    Either, they both do the job for the most part though one issue with them, my GN buttons re-orient to the top end of the phone in landscape so I keep assuming that is the bottom-end flipping back to portrait lol

  • Ryland

    Hardware for phones, software for tablets. I personally think the software buttons on the GNex make the screen look crowded when a lot of information is being shown. As long as the hardware buttons on phones are capacitive and backlit, I'm happy.

  • Lazarus Dark

    tablets are big enough, they need software buttons to keep the size of the device limited. I find I have no problem with the buttons on my OG Droid, but when going above 4" screen and especially 720p res, software button is preferable to keep the phone size limited as much as possible.

    Of course you still need power buttons and volume rocker. So I would actually like to have a single menu button on the side of the phone, press once for menu, twice for multitasking menu, hold for home screen, for those times when the touchscreen locks up.

  • alex

    Software, it looks really nice, plus you use mods to customize the on screen buttons.

  • Lucas

    I like the software buttons, but I wish their layout/placement were a little more consistent in ICS (galaxy nexus).

  • STiK

    I've run into an issue or two where the app locks up but the capacitive buttons still allow me to return back or home so I can close out the app. I can see that being an issue if the app is full screen and freezes. You are left with one option and that is to reset the device. I prefer to have physical/capacitive if at all possible.

    • Richard

      My daughter's Archos 43 has this exact problem. When a full-screen application locks up, she has no way of getting out of it. I end up turning the device off then back on to get her back to the main screen.

  • Kevin M.

    Most preferred to least:

    Tactile buttons
    Software buttons
    Capacitive buttons

    I'm attached to tactile buttons like my old Desire had (and a trackball/pad!) But those days are over. I hate capacitive buttons, but the software buttons on my Galaxy Nexus give better feedback than any capacitive button. And they always stay on the right when rotating the phone. I wish they would have enabled the phone for use upside down, as can easily be done with software buttons.

    As for tablets, soft all the way.

  • Tim

    Less things that can break if you go all software, IMO.

  • Aaron

    I agree, if an app is full screen and locks up what do you do? Occasionally even my capacitive buttons are nonresponsive. Sometimes you can hit the power button to lock the screen, and it come back on the home screen. But other times I have to hard reset.

    • Melissa Peterson

      You mean soft reset, a hard reset is when you do a factory reset and wipe the device. A soft reset is just restarting the device.

  • augustofretes

    It depends. If the screen can be made bigger by means of soft buttons that's great (and you still get full screen with videos and games), but if you going to put a stupid led, well, you could've put the hardware buttons instead, and make one of them also be a led.

    Personally, I think a slide approach, N9 style is way better (from outside the screen), I would love to use ICS in the following way:

    Slide from the bottom: home screen.
    Slide from the sides: Multitasking UI (perhaps from left the multitasking and from right search).
    Slide from top: Notifications.

  • Soul

    Physical buttons are much better just because its a better way to unlock the screen

  • The engineer

    Software if they where consisten. Where is the menu button? And a 'multitasking button' wtf? It does the exact same thing as longpress home button have done for ages.

  • http://droidsamurai.blogspot.com PixelSlave

    I can't understand why software and hardware buttons cannot co-exist? Yup, that also means I have a hard time understand why some of you are arguing (to those of you who insists we can only have one way but not the other.) A physical home screen button is almost always needed, so does a physical button to trigger the voice recognition -- we don't need physical button for everything, but we do need some of them.

  • mzdroid

    I chose HW for both. Even if SW buttons do leave space for usable screen, I still feel bonded to the touch feedback (not talking about the vibration stuff).
    I would love to have SW button that can realistically return the sensation of something that gives in in response to pressing. Is it too far from reality?

  • Steve

    "On phones, however, there's really only one that eschews physical buttons for software, and that's the Galaxy Nexus."

    Don't forget about the Continuum. Its buttons were software too.

  • zE

    Loving ICS buttons on my friend's Nexus, I believe software buttons will quickly become the new standard.
    The hardware buttons on my Captivate are garbage, I have to make a weird swiping motion instead of just tapping and even through thin gloves there is no chance of them responding.

  • http://pinoypentaxian.com Nols

    Software or Hardware buttons for me. Tried capacitive buttons once and really hated it. Still love the buttons on my aging HTC Desire.

  • Tequila Bob

    Software buttons > hardware buttons >>>> Capacitive buttons.

    I feel like I have to double-tap my Galaxy S 2's buttons to get them to work.

    • WORMSS

      Rule #2: Double Tap.

      You will survive ZombieLand

      If the user can't add/remove/reorder the software buttons, then there is F all reason to have them.
      They never disappeared on the Xoom, just turned them selves dark, so did not give extra room for viewing.

      If they do vanish and give up that extra space, how do I get back out of the App if the app is taking up the space where the button should be?
      If the app becomes un-responsive, normally you would push home button, all is well. If there is no Home button to press because of crappy software buttons.. Then again? No point..

      Its why I stuck with my Nexus S instead of upgrading.

  • http://www.g33kme.com John Doe

    Im not a fan of software buttons, but i guess its human tendency to learn a new navigational format. For example, I use the home button to wake the screen up on my SII. I will not be able to do tht on the Nexus, unless I press the power buttons. So yes, there are pros and cons, and then, there is this http://goo.gl/ddiqu

  • bevardimusg

    Software buttons all the way! Devices with hardware buttons seem dated to me now...

  • Bomberlt

    Software buttons biggest con is a bigger screen = bigger battery drainage. And most of the time you see buttons on screen (well except if you use it just for movies and games). Capacitive buttons on the other hand doesn't require battery (well almost) and works as a screen extension (you could pinch all the way to buttons).

    So if you don't mind battery life - software buttons is the best. But if you need better battery life (most of newest phones doesn't have changable battery, so you can't buy bigger battery) capacitive is the best. And I hate hardware buttons because they got weared up and you have to press it different way you press your screen. Only one good use of hardware buttons is for sound/music control - most of the time you need it when screen is off.

  • Maximillion82

    Software buttons have the advantage that technically you can add more buttons or remove them, or even make them look different or get them to do different things, much more flexible and more options. Plus hardware buttons seem very dated.

  • Johannes

    In my opinion hardware buttons (both physical and capacitive) seem to lag 0.5-2 seconds which makes me vote for software all the way.

  • GooglerGuestHD

    Software just opens a new world of customization.

  • Gnex

    Softkeys FTW

  • someone755

    I'd like that. Removes bezel and offers more functionality and customizability. Though I've always been a sucker for fancy hardware buttons. :3
    Or PIE, on Nexus devices.