Type on the Small Keypad

Type on the Small Keypad

Composing your messages on a phone keypad doesn't have to be painful. Most handsets make it pretty easy, but the easy way is sometimes obscure.

Typing on the small keypad is always the challenge for mobile phone messaging. Some Nokia smartphones, such as the 6800/6820 in Series 40 and 9300/9500 in Series 80, are equipped with fold-out QWERTY keyboards. Those devices are ideal for messaging and enterprise applications.

For Nokia Series 60 smartphones, it is often possible to use an external keyboard. The Nokia Wireless Keyboard is a full-size, foldable keyboard that works over Bluetooth. Only Nokia 7610 and newer Series 60 smartphones are officially supported by this keyboard, but Nokia 6600 is also known to work. Besides Nokia's own offerings, the Think Outside Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard (http://www.thinkoutside.com/) is another choice. The Think Outside keyboard supports older Nokia Series 60 devices such as the Nokia 3600 and 3650.

While keyboards are nice, most mobile phone users still need to rely on the keypad to enter messages. In this hack, I will cover several important techniques to improve text input on regular smartphone keypads.

T9 Text Input

When entering text on the phone's numeric keypad, most people rely on the easiest but slowest multitapping method. Using multitapping, each alphabetic letter requires multiple repeated keystrokes on the keypad. For instance, to enter the letter i, you need to tap the 4 key three times; to enter the letter c, you need to tap the 2 key three times; and so on. Hence, typing a message such as "I cannot find my pants" requires that you press the numbers 444 222266666668 333444663 6999 726687777 on your phone's keypad. Come on, people, the Morse code is faster!

In the multitapping mode (alphabetic input mode), it is slow to enter numbers. For instance, you need to press the 2 key four times to enter the number 2. You can enter numbers quickly by switching to the numeric input mode, but switching modes is slow when you have mixed letters and numbers. To speed up number input, you can press and hold the number key to get that number without leaving the current input mode.

Thankfully your Nokia phone supports Text on Nine Keys (T9), which lets you type that phrase in roughly half the number of keystrokes: 4 226668 3463 69 72687. Figure shows the sequence for typing "pants."

T9 is a predictive-text input engine from Tegic Communications (which is owned by AOL) for mobile devices such as your mobile phone. Instead of having to press each key multiple times for just one letter, you press each numeric key only once per letter; as you're pressing the keys, T9 will examine what you're typing and predictively figure out the potential combinations for valid words. Most handsets will pop up a list that shows you which word Tegic thinks you're typing, but you can just wait until you are done typing the word, and it will be right in most cases. If not, you can select the next matching word from the T9 dictionary. If you don't see anything marked "next," it is probably the 0 key.

Typing with T9

You might find that T9 is not enabled on your phone by default. On a Series 60 device, tap the pen/ABC key and a menu appears: select Predictive Text On from this menu. (You can switch it off by selecting Predictive Text Off from the menu.) On a Series 40 device, press and hold the Options soft key to toggle predictive input. You will know when predictive text is enabled by looking at the pencil icon at the top of your screen. A pencil with lines under it indicates predictive text, and no lines indicates multitap, as shown in Figure.

A Series 40 device with predictive text turned on and off

Most handsets also allow you to add words to your dictionary. When confronted with a word the dictionary doesn't know, the phone asks you to spell it, and then it saves it to its local dictionary. In the episode of Seinfeld called "The Soup Nazi," Jerry and his girlfriend call each other "shmoopie" as a term of endearment. Figure shows me trying to add this word to the T9 dictionary on my Nokia 3650. The question mark at the end (and the appearance of the Spell soft key) indicates that T9 wasn't able to find the word in the dictionary. The "sion" in the figure is T9's guess as to what word I meant to look up.

Tegic encountering a new word

Since Tegic doesn't recognize the word, I need to type it in. First, I must press the */+ key to cycle through all the possible spellings. When I've gone through them all, the Spell soft key appears (it might temporarily take the place of the Options soft key). Next, I must press the Spell soft key to use multitap to input my word the old-fashioned way, as shown in Figure.

Shmoopie: not a word

I correctly spell the word "shmoopie" and press OK to save it for later. Now I can use T9 to type "shmoopie" whenever I desire (see Figure). Believe it or not, I use that word at least twice a day on workdays, and once per weekend.

Shmoopie: now a word

Let's look at how long it would have taken me to type this with multitap. Before having this word in my dictionary, typing it out took 19 keystrokes, not including pauses between the "m" and "o" keys (when you use multitap to type two consecutive letters that appear on the same number key, you have to pause between typing letters). Now it takes only as many button pushes as the word contains letters8, in fact, which takes a lot less time than 19, even if you're a really fast multitapper.

See http://www.t9.com/ for more information and interactive demos.

Copy and Paste

One of the most overlooked items in the manual for your handset is the ability to copy and paste text. I found myself wishing I could do this on several occasions, blissfully unaware that this functionality is actually built into my phone.

On a Series 60 phone (Nokia 3650, N-Gage, and many others), simply press and hold the pen/ABC key when you are editing text in an email, the Note Viewer, or other application. Normally this button allows you to change input modes from various languages, or to switch between T9 and multitap. If you press and hold this button, however, any movement with the navigation pad (i.e., the joystick) will draw a selection box around the text of your choosing.

Once you have selected some text in this way, press the Options soft key and select the Copy option. To paste, simply put the cursor where you want it, press the Options soft key again, and select the Paste option, as shown in Figure.

Copying and pasting on a Series 60 device

This is a clever way to add address information from an email to the contact card of a friend, or to capture a long URL from your browser to email to someone else.

Emory Lundberg

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