/ Technology

The touchscreen takeover – do you miss buttons and dials?

Touchscreens have been a boon for smartphones and tablets, but on cameras, radios and printers I’m left longing for a dial revival. When buttons do the job better, why don’t manufacturers just provide them?

Now don’t get me wrong, I love touchscreens when they make a task quicker, simpler and more intuitive – pinch to zoom on my phone, marvellous. But the fad for touchscreens on anything and everything, with seemingly little thought for what actually works best, is frankly disappointing.

This is particularly true when it comes to products like cameras where interaction is key.

Button, button, who’s got the button?

Take the Panasonic GF5 – Panasonic’s latest micro-four-thirds camera which retains the touchscreen control of the previous model.

The touchscreen is resistive, not capacitive – the first minor disappointment – so it requires a much firmer prod to make things happen than my smartphone.

All menu navigation is via the touchscreen, requiring a couple of prods to call up the menu when selecting a shooting mode. Now maybe it’s just me, but wouldn’t a dial that constantly displays my options and requires one twist be simpler and quicker? Particularly when shooting in sunlight can make screens difficult to use.

This Panasonic is just one example, but most of the camera brands we’ve tested have touchscreen cameras in their product ranges that work with varying degrees of success. And it doesn’t just stop at cameras.

Cameras aren’t the only culprits

Take the Pure Sensia digital radio with its large touchscreen display. It’s a versatile radio with lots of features that use the screen. This definitely makes the most of its web connectivity, but the touchscreen volume slider is anything but controllable (certainly for me) and practice didn’t improve my ability to select the right level.

Thankfully, there are also volume buttons on the remote control – although I’d have preferred a volume dial on the radio itself.

I understand that packing buttons and dials into products takes up space and that top-quality touchscreens cost money, but when functions I use regularly aren’t super-easy to control I start to regret my purchase.

Surely the best products are those that do their jobs well and are easy to use? So, if a combination of touchscreen and analogue controls would make frequent tasks simpler to tackle, why not have both?

How do you prefer to control your gadgets?

With physical buttons/dials (33%, 109 Votes)

I don't mind which (it depends on the product) (32%, 107 Votes)

With both a touchscreen and physical buttons/dials (25%, 82 Votes)

With a touchscreen (10%, 32 Votes)

Total Voters: 330

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Buttons, knobs and sliders make gadgets liable to damage if used in the rain. Touchscreens SHOULD address the problem, but touchscreen phones are easily damaged if they get wet.

Maybe the manufacturers assume that no-one will want to take their mobile phone outside. 🙂

This is a pet hate of mine for some devices!
I like touch screen technology, but it isn’t always the most efficient way of working with a device, depending on what you’re trying to do.

Take a SatNav for example. If I want to adjust the volume, I will have to navigate through a series of menus to actually find the control that does it, and then mess around with the volume control until it’s right for me. it would be far simpler to have a thumbwheel on the side of the unit to turn the volume up and down.

A volume control thumbwheel on the side of my TV would also be wonderful. Adjusting the volume on a remote control seems to take forever by holding the plus or minus button.

On a similar topic, why can’t they label some buttons and switches, e.g. on/off start/stop and so on? Why the silly symbols?
I also miss having a digital clock display on my DVD player 🙂

Things should be convenient and easy, especially in this now excessively busy world, when no one has time for anything.

It’s very easy to adjust the volume of a TomTom satnav. So easy that picking it up can inadvertently set the volume to minimum. That is how I discovered that there is no need to use menus.


The ‘silly symbols’ are probably ones that are used internationally, to allow for the fact that many products are sold in different countries. Even in the UK we don’t all speak the same language.

We need one more, to distinguish a proper power switch from one that puts devices in a standby or other mode that still consumes power.

Perhaps the option is to do what a few mobiles did a few years ago when touchscreens were new and have two screens such as http://www.gizmag.com/go/7219/

One for the main task, such as navigating you, and a separate one for buttons that can change or slide away.

anon the mouse says:
18 April 2012

I miss touch screens with pens. They were the best of both worlds, use your finger for general tapping and the stylus for precision work.

Then again, I just looked up and found my first touchscreen phone is now 7 years old O_O

james browne says:
24 April 2012

hate touchscreens if you have sticky fingers?