Writing vs. Typing on a Mobile Device – Which is Faster?

Tablet with Pen and KeyboardLet’s face it. Trying to write a document or long email on a tablet or smartphone can be a real pain. The small virtual keyboards that often are missing special characters unless you page through to another keyboard screen can really slow down someone trying to be as efficient as possible. As mobile processing power gets better, there is the possibility that users can write on their screen with a stylus instead of typing on a virtual keyboard. But is this necessarily more efficient? I decided to try and put things to a test by comparing several different methods for trying to write lots of text on small mobile devices. Let’s see which method is the best…

The Test

I chose a random web page that I was browsing and decided to transcribe as much as I could in a fixed amount of time three different ways. First, I would just use a pen and paper and write as much as I could to determine how many words per minute I could write. Next, I transcribed the same site using the virtual keyboard on my iPad Mini 2. Finally, I used my standard desktop keyboard on my computer. Below are the results in words per minute for the three different methods:

Physical Keyboard - 57 wpm, Virtual Keyboard - 38 wpm, Handwriting - 39 wpm

Now you may be wondering why I did not include voice input which is already supported by a number of mobile devices. While the voice method will work well for many people, it is not something that can really be used in a public place like a coffee shop, library, or lecture hall. Writing and typing are something that is not as disruptive.


Logitech Bluetooth Multi-Device Keyboard K480Based on my test, it is clear that the fastest method for typing or writing on a device for me is still the physical keyboard. I will even admit that my typing speed is not as fast as it once was but I’m still faster than the average user. In addition, the typing on the virtual keyboard of the iPad was certainly much better than if I were typing the same information out on my iPhone keyboard. So, if you use a tablet to write, an external keyboard like the may make sense.

When it comes to writing vs. typing on a virtual keyboard, the results are essentially even. Being able to write out your message via a stylus onto a device and have it translated into text into a document seems to be similar to using the virtual keyboard. The choice will really depend upon several factors of which would be best to use.

For instance, most tablets right now do not have reliable writing to text interfaces such that you don’t have a choice to write onto your tablet rather than using the virtual keyboard. This is an area that is primed to be developed by the various manufacturers though. Of course, this method is only going to useful if it is comfortable to use and accurate in translating the writing into text. I don’t have the nicest of handwriting and have seen many issue with devices trying to interpret it.

Even if the software is able to execute the translation of the writing to text, there could still be issues of comfort. For instance, if the stylus is not comfortable to hold for extended periods of time, it may not work. Similarly, if you are used to resting your hand onto a page when writing your wrist or palm may interfere with the software and touchscreen from interpreting the handwriting.

The size of the device is also going to play a big role in it as well. For instance, the tiny virtual keyboards of most smartphones can be extremely difficult to use especially with the auto-correct features that can have some humorous results. It may actually be easier to write long messages on a tablet with a stylus than to try and type it out.

So which method should you use? Well, do a test like I did with your device and decide which one works and feels the best. For me, that means using an external keyboard

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