When Google invested in having navigation buttons reside on the screen, with never a look back, I think a lot of us assumed that capacitive buttons were done for.  Actually, quite some time has passed since the debut of on-screen buttons on the Galaxy Nexus and Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) in 2011.  But here we are, close to four years later, and we still see devices appearing with old-school capacitive buttons.  Yes, they’re the minority in the sea of device choices, but there happens to be one big presence that keeps them relevant – Samsung.

Galaxy devices make up a large chunk of the Android population, and you’ve guessed it, they still rock capacitive buttons.  So from this perspective and in the midst of the development over time, I think it’s still relevant to ask, what is your ideal setup?  Why?  Is the answer not cut and dry?  Or are you completely convinced and believe the other way is wrong?

What I enjoy about this debate is that we’re merely talking about buttons.   In immediate thought, they are a simple thing.  Yet we each have our own strong, arguable opinion on the matter.  This is because they happen to make quite a difference in our Android experiences.  Let’s briefly run through it.

I would say the biggest differentiating factor between the two approaches is screen real estate.  The result of on-screen buttons is a somewhat-permanent black bar taking up a bottom portion of the screen.  Thus, that screen size you drooled over on the spec sheet isn’t necessarily so.  It is roughly 0.2 inches less than that, unless you’re watching a video or playing a game.  This is pretty frustrating when you want the most of that huge screen you invested in.

But Google knew what they were doing when they made the decision, didn’t they?  When the navigation buttons are on the screen, manufacturers are able to use the space under the screen for other components or less bezel.  It can also be viewed as a more seamless user experience, with complete focus on the screen.  Further, the virtual buttons may be customizable, allowing you to add more buttons/functions.  You’re not stuck with just one layout.

I believe Google recognized that the on-screen solution isn’t perfect, but for them, there was more benefit than loss.  Do you agree, or are you glad that some manufacturers are still refuting it?  Vote down below!

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  1. It’s not that I am for capacitive buttons, but I am definitely against on-screen navigation buttons. My setup is to disable the software navbar with a build.prop edit and then install the Pie Control application from the Google Play Store. This clears up that screen real estate for me and not having to deal with capacitive buttons.

    Again, not that I have something against capacitive buttons, I just don’t generally buy Samsung devices. I do rock the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 though and it’s okay. I’m just spoiled on Pie Controls

  2. I loved the 4-direction button on the HTC G2, and would gladly give up ½ inch of screen for it. My thumb hurts now.

  3. I like the physical home button on the Galaxy. When you hit it, you know you did. No waiting around hitting a cap button 20x.

  4. You forgot to mention physical buttons! I still love the original G1, the Nexus 1, and I just bought a Samsung Active just because it has 3 physical buttons! Have you ever played a game on Android? And coursed when you were suddenly on the home screen or game’s main screen? Because there is no boundary between app and buttons and no force to be used. I hate Apple but the thing with the home button they got right from the start and sticker to it. Better immersion in apps and games.

    • Yes, but you hardly ever see them nowawdays. But it is a valid point, I think many people would agree with you.

      How about physical keyboards. Remember those? :)

  5. I love the onscreen buttons.ost of the time they are hidden. I have never had a problem with them interfering in games. Google has done a good job of controlling when they appear since Lollipop. Only time I ever had problems with buttons interfering in games is playing with a keyboard and hitting the windows key by accident.

  6. I’ll take the on-screen over capacitive or worse – physical. Nexus 6 implementation is perfect.

  7. Hmm I think on-screen are more elegant but capacitive manages to save precious screen space. And buttons like the S6 can be utilized to have fingerprint sensors and be shortcuts (as it is for the camera). But as Motorola proved, you can use gestures to launch the camera and hopefully we’ll see the implementation of the “Moto Dimple” as a fingerprint sensor. As of right now, capacitive buttons are more utilitarian, but I think on screen buttons are the future.

  8. Much cleaner, I like it :)

    As i mentioned before, I like capacitive more, but only because I want as much available screen real estate as possible. Even on the 5.5-inch LG G3

    I opt for Pie Controls though when I have the chance. A simple build.prop edit and a 3rd party application from the Google Play Store is all I need

  9. id rather keep the physical capacitive buttons. onscreen just hogs a bit of your screen. i remember using lolipop for the first time playing coc.. i had no idea how to exit, and the physical capacitive buttons werent there, which i was use to pressing during exit. i had to swipe from the bottom or side first so the onscreen capacitive buttons would appear, and the screen resolution would shrink. always an extra step sometimes in order for it to appear..

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