Hardware I miss from my old Android phones

I've been using Android since before it was released in the UK. When I was working at Vodafone, I got a pre-release HTC device with an early version of Android on it. I've been pretty much in the Android ecosystem ever since.

Recently, I treated myself to an upgrade - a Pixel 8 Pro. The biggest, fastest, fattest, AI-stuffed Android phone yet. It's pretty good! The camera is excellent, the heat-sensor is crap1, the battery is gorgeous, the weight is annoying. Google's software was too needy, so I replaced it with GrapheneOS.

But, as much as I like the device, there are some hardware things which I think would improve it. No, I'm not talking about a headphone jack! I'm talking about useful things2.

More precise input

The early Androids - and most BlackBerrys - had either a rollerball or touch pad just below the screen.

Photo of an Android device with a rollerball just above the USB port.

It made it so much easier to do precise selection. Yeah yeah, I know you can slide along the spacebar to move a cursor, but it just isn't the same.

I get that a rollerball gunks up pretty quickly - but a touchpad or optical joystick would be lovely. Perhaps it could go on the...

Rear finger-print sensor

The technology behind the in-screen fingerprint sensor is magical. It works brilliantly. But I rather liked my One Plus 5T's rear sensor. It didn't blast my face with light, and I found it more natural to use when picking up the phone.

But, even better, the rear sensor acted as an input! When I stroked down on it, the notification shade appeared. Stroking up dismissed it. I'd love to have a rear-input like that again. I'd like more inputs in general!

Physical Buttons

In the future, cars will be ditching touchscreens in favour of physical buttons. Perhaps Android will do the same?

This is the HTC Dream - the original Android. And it is perfection.

The HTC Dream G1 - it has a pop up screen which reveals a keyboard, a trackball, and several physical buttons.

Wouldn't it be nice to have physical buttons for home and back, rather than trying to remember what swipe actions to take? OK, perhaps a modern phone doesn't need this many buttons - but there are still some things where switches are useful. For example...

Silence Slider

Both the iPhone and several Android devices have a dedicated "silence" switch.

White Android phone with red slider switch.

It was so handy. There's a comfort about being able to reach into your pocket while sat and the theatre and know that your phone is on silent. No unlocking and fiddling with on-screen menus. One flick and you're good.

But, with most modern Android, you have to peer at the screen to know what's going on. I kinda miss...

Status LED for power and messages

Back in the day, every Android phone had a multi-colour LED. It would show red when your battery needed charging. It would pulse when being charged. It would flash green if you had an SMS. With a glance you knew what your phone was doing.

AMOLED hasn't really lived up to its promise. There's no single-pixel flashing away on screen to let me know if I have a message. Instead, I have to pick up my phone to get the entire screen to activate. What a waste of battery life!

NFC on the top.

My new phone has NFC right in the middle of the back of the phone. That's a bit awkward for placing on a tap-to-pay terminal on the bus. My previous phone had the NFC right at the top.

It is doubly annoying for me as I wear an NFC ring. And the damn thing keeps triggering my phone!

I realise this is an extremely niche problem!


The last Android phone I had with a keyboard was a complete disaster. Maybe I'm kidding myself that a full tactile QWERTY experience is necessary?

Phone with a keyboard at the bottom.

But look how pretty!

Infrared Camera

Remember how I said the thermal sensor was shite? I've reviewed a couple of Thermal cameras for Android.

They're expensive - but certainly useful. Both for finding hotspots in your home and for seeing who is sweaty. OK, it isn't the most compelling bit of hardware. But if you're going to put a sensor on a phone, at least make it useful!

3D Screens and Haptic Screens

Years ago, I tried an LG phone with a 3D screen. No glasses! It used the same sort of technology as the Nintendo 3DS.

OK, it wasn't the highest resolution and you had to sit at a precise angle. But it was interesting tech!

Similarly, I once played with the Senseg haptic screen. It used weird electrostatic tech to make the texture of the screen change. It is almost impossible to describe and, if I didn't have this video, I might believe I dreamed it.

There are phones with built in laser projectors which, while fun, aren't that compelling to me.

What else is missing?

What do you remember from the early Androids that you think is missing now? Which crazy innovations need to make a comeback? Which Shenzhen-special already has all these features?

  1. This is not an exaggeration. It is the most pointless piece of hardware I've ever seen on a device. And I once had an experimental Nokia with a receiver for DVB-H
  2. Fight me! 

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16 thoughts on “Hardware I miss from my old Android phones”

  1. @blog I really miss the back fingerprint sensor too. You can set android up to have onscreen back, home and app switch buttons. Not sure if GrapheneOS has that setting.
    I miss the sidekick keyboard and the shake to open gesture, but I'm not sure it would work with a screen this big.

    | Reply to original comment on xoxo.zone
    1. EB says:

      I never got good enough with the back fingerprint sensor to not accidentally hit it when I was putting my phone in my pocket ... thereby turning it on when I put it away.

    2. says:

      My favourite implementation of a fingerprint sensor I've seen is to have the lock button on the side be a fingerprint sensor, as done in the Samsung M51. You are going to put your finger in it to turn on the screen anyway, and it is in an easily reachable place, without being accidentally triggered. It can also be used as a swipe input, like a back sensor.

      I do miss the status LED on my old Samsung S7 though. Its too easy to miss when a message comes without it.

    3. @edent says:

      There is an on-screen back button for GrapheneOS. But it is hardcoded to be on the left of the screen.

  2. @blog
    I would like a good thermal sensor. Doesn't need to be a thermal camera - a single narrow spot sensor is fine if you can aim it with an on-screen display using the camera. It should go high enough to handle cooking (so up to ~250°C), and low enough to check outdoor winter temps (so -40°). And enough range that you can measure, say, frying oil without getting splatter on the phone.

    | Reply to original comment on fosstodon.org
    1. EB says:

      Yeah, anyone else remember using a palm pilot to control a TV with it's IR blaster?

  3. DinoNerd says:

    If you want physical buttons on a phone that probably happily runs graphene OS, check out the offerings from Planet Computers. I bought their Gemini PDA via an Indiegogo campaign in 2018. At the time, there were a few too many rough edges for my taste, so when it died I replaced it with a Pixel. But you are plainly more tolerant of rough edges than I am (you run GrapheneOS), and they've had at least two generations of device since then. And yes, they are phones, not just PDAs, though the original was available both with and without phone capability.

    Note that they don't just have buttons - they have a fairly decent small keyboard.

  4. says:

    I personally don't miss right now too many things, I am happy with my Fairphone 4, but your post brought back a lot of good memories.

    My LG G3 from 2014 had many things that you mentioned, it had the fingerprint sensor at the back, surrounded by volume buttons, and it had the blinking diode. It was a good phone until I broke it.

    And I too miss the physical buttons and keyboards, when I was in high school my dream phone was the Nokia 5510 but I could not afford it.

    And speaking of status LEDs, my Samsung CF62 was the king of blinking lights, it was a ring of LEDs around the whole body, and they could do different patterns, depending on whether it was a call or an SMS. I loved that phone and it served my well until it died when I was texting too much in the rain.

  5. said on mstdn.social:

    @Edent I miss being able to replace the battery easily, which I could do on my still working Nexus 5. My interim Pixel 3 had a fingerprint reader (on the rear) that had fewer misses than current Pixel 7. Also had a headphone jack.

    Currently want a new 7 or 8 inch tablet but fingerprint reader like that on current Lenovo Tab4 is a must (on the side and works perfectly).

    Reply | Reply to original comment on mstdn.social
  6. Ian says:

    i loved my old phone with physical buttons, you could T9 text without looking at the phone at all.

  7. said on bsky.app:

    Phones are so big now, I do use my old little phone as a car GPS

    It had a rear fingerprint sensor & the status LED, it just got very slow.

    Got a refurb OPO last year & fast, v good but battery dwindles quickly & so hard to find a screen protector, finally got a custom one at the Spanish border!

    Reply | Reply to original comment on bsky.app

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