Not Feeling It


Q: Touch screen phones don't work very well for me. When I touch the screen of a smartphone it often doesn't recognize that I've touched it. The strange thing is my mom has the same problem with touchscreens. We've always figured it had something to do with our circulation or something, but neither of us has cold or clammy hands. So my question is two part. First, what's up with that? Why don't touch screens like me? And second, I'm getting to the point where I need to upgrade my old phone which has a fold-out keyboard. Can you recommend a new phone that has a keyboard?

A: That does seem kind of unusual. I did a little Googling though, and you're not alone in your complaint. Some people refer to it as 'zombie fingers'. But don't worry, you're probably not about to develop a taste for brains.

The first thing you need to know is that there are two types of touchscreens - resistive and capacitive. Resistive screens are pressure sensitive. They are composed of two layers, and when you press down on them the layers make contact and send out an electrical signal.

Capacitive touch screens, on the other hand (hah!) work based on the fact that human skin is electrically conductive. When your finger makes contact with a capacitive screen, it creates a tiny electrical disturbance which the phone detects to know that it's been touched.

It used to be the case that there were lots of phones with each type of screen; nowadays most modern high-end phones feature capacitive screens and it's getting harder to find a good resistive screen phone. You have to apply pressure to get a resistive screen to recognize your touch, while with a capacitive screen you don't (that means that pushing harder on your iPhone screen won't make you any better at iPhone games). Most people don't like that, and they're voting with their fingers, er, feet.

Now, I haven't found any scientific studies on people whose fingers don't get along with capacitive screens, but my guess is that you are either a musician or you work with your hands. Callouses are dead skin, which means they aren't very electrically conductive. So when your calloused fingers touch the surface of the screen, it can't detect the tiny disturbance in its electrical field which it needs to operate. You could try using a different finger - I've noticed differences in sensitivity between my own fingers, but if that doesn't work you do have other options

One really out there suggestion I've heard is to use a piece of cold sausage to operate your touch screen. I haven't tried this and I'm not recommending it. That's just... Ewww. You probably don't want to carry a sausage around with you all day anyway.

A more practical solution is purchasing a capacitive stylus. Remember that any old plastic stick won't do - capacitive styluses actually have a small electrical charge at the tip, which can be used to operate a touch screen. You can buy one online for cheap and operate any touchscreen phone with it. They actually work really well, although keeping track of one might be inconvenient.

The Samsung Galaxy Note is a phone actually built for use with a stylus. It's gotten pretty solid reviews and has a slot for the stylus so that there's less chance of losing it.

If you want another keyboard phone, unfortunately, they are going the way of the dodo. The last decent qwerty keyboard phones came out over a year ago. None of the current lineup is anywhere near flagship phone quality. However, there are pretty decent slide-out keyboard attachments for the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy series phones that you can buy. However, a mysterious case of zombie fingers shouldn't stop you from enjoying a nice new smartphone.

No comments on this story | Add your comment
Please log in or register to add your comment