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I have just bought a Nexus 5 phone. I love the phone, but like my previous two phones it gives me grief when turning the thing on or off. The problem is that the power button is almost directly opposite the volume rocker buttons, and so when I hold the phone in one hand my index finger naturally wants to press the volume down button when my thumb is on the power button. The phone normally turns on ok, but turning it off often results in a screenshot being taken instead. I have to hold it two handed or be careful of how I hold it. Often the buttons are offset slightly (as in the Nexus) but this doesn't seem to help and might actually be worse.

Why do designers persist with this? I realise the iPhone has the button at the top and also some Android phones (usually older ones, and this seems to have gone out of favour) but personally I don't like those ergonomics either; I don't see any 'natural' way of holding the phone when turning it on with a topmost button.

I'm coming from the perspective of a right-hander, but I imagine left-handers have it even worse.

Perhaps two buttons, one on either side of the phone and directly opposite, say about half way down and which have to be pressed at the same time, would be more natural. You would just pick up the phone and give it a squeeze. Perhaps not even buttons but just a depressable 'area' (or hidden buttons). This would also be more likely to avoid accidental turn-on's, IMO. That idea was off the top of my head, I'm sure there are better ones. Edit: Forgot; the above would also cater for left-handers.

Google Nexus 5

Added: Here's others with the same problem Of course not all think it's an issue :)

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You hold your phone rather differently than I hold mine. I have my three fingers below the rocker, and use my thumb to depress the power button. my index finger goes above the rocker to stabilize (nexus 4) Using my left hand the palm of my hand goes underneath the rocker, and the index finger is used to press the power button. Perhaps my hands are larger than yours? –  VoronoiPotato Jan 21 at 21:09
    
That's interesting. My natural motion as a right hander is to pick up the phone with my right hand. As always, others' mileage will vary. I just tried your way, and it seems this is easier (so lefties might be better off in this case!) –  codah Jan 21 at 21:37
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I'm not sure this is actually a question. It seems a bit more of the "X sucks, am I right?" type of post. What would a correct answer be like to this question - so what are you looking for in an answer that you can accept as the correct one? –  JonW Jan 22 at 10:01
    
In retrospect I wouldn't have begun with "I just bought xyz phone" but apart from that I think it's a valid question. It's my first so I'll learn how to word them better in future to be more generic. The correct answer would be one that just makes some sense to me from an ergonomics point of view I guess. –  codah Jan 22 at 10:19
    
Anecdotally, many iPhone users don't even know about that upper on/off button. They just use the home button and never turn the screen off. I'd also agree this isn't a great question for this venue but I totally relate to it - I also have an N5 and it's really hard not to accidentally hit the buttons opposite the one you intended. You need an opposite surface to squeeze your hand against, and they put buttons there! –  peteorpeter Jan 23 at 20:02

5 Answers 5

So that you don't accidentally hit the power button when you mean to press the volume buttons. Even if the put the power button away from the volume buttons, you can easily get them confused since they are used so much.

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Actually (and this is more of an issue with me at least, is accidental volume presses; i.e. turning down the volume instead of turning off the device). –  codah Jan 21 at 21:41

As you said, older phones used to have the on/off switch on the top. Probably (I'm speculating here) what happened is that after ergonomic studies and user observation, designers found out that they had something to improve:

The on/off switch, charger jack and audio jack were all in the same place

This meant that some operations were difficult to perform when you where using headphones or when charging your device. As an example, it became difficult to lock the screen when using headphones.

So designers tackled this problems with three different approaches:

  • Iphone - leave on/off switch on top and move jacks to the bottom. This decision has the advantage that the on/off switch is now alone and situated in a place that you can easily interact with a single hand
  • Samsung - move on/off switch to the opposite side of volume controls. Leave audio jack on top, and move charger jack to bottom. This has the problem of you accidentally pressing the on/off switch when you press the volume buttons and vice versa, but has the advantage that the audio jack is on top. This means that you can store it upwards in your pocket when you have headphones. (Not sure if this is really important from an ergonomics perspective)
  • Nokia - move on/off switch to same side as volume controls. This has the advantage that the controls can be used to zoom in and take a photo when you use your phone in landscape.

Conclusion Designers are constantly iterating and solving ergonomics and interaction problems. Several solutions emerge, and then by natural selection fewer live long enough to become a pattern.

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I would +1 if I could mainly for the Nokia comment, I hadn't realised that. I think that arrangement would be preferable (IMO). I will select this as correct if nothing better comes along soon. I think you're saying more or less "it's just the way it is" which is not a satisfying answer, but nonetheless probably as 'correct' as it's going to get. –  codah Jan 23 at 20:38
    
I really would like to see an ergonomics specialist take on this. –  jff Jan 23 at 21:31

My guess is that it's because how you hold the phone with one hand: the thumb on one side and the index on the opposite side. That way you don't have to move the finger to much to press a button.

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You hold your phone from its sides. By placing the power button on the top you don't have the risk to accidentally push the power button while using it (it requires a specific action/effort).

The volume buttons are on the side to be accessed during a call: even if you're holding your phone on your face you can easily find them just with your fingers.

My 2 cents.

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Regarding the power button, I always thought that the top is a good place. But when phones got larger, it gets more difficult to reach to the top so it got moved to the sides instead.

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