The evolution of keyboards has come a long way since the first iPhone was introduced in 2007. Not to give Apple too much credit, but virtual keyboards were simply just a novelty before the iPhone, and now, all the popular mobile devices either implement a virtual keyboard or a combination of virtual and physical.
The question remains as to which style keyboard is right for you? The answer is difficult to come by, yet there are some issues to consider. What type of user are you? Do you typically respond to hundreds of emails a day from your mobile device or are you a casual email user responding to a hand full a day? If you are a power emailer, a physical keyboard may be better for your needs. When not emailing what do you like to do? If these activities lean towards media consumption and playing games, a virtual keyboard may be to your liking because, when not in use the virtual keyboard disappears and lends itself to more screen real estate.
How are you built physically and how do you like to type? If you have pudgy finger and like to type with your thumbs, you may find a virtual keyboard frustrating as there is no tactile feedback to confirm key presses. On the other hand, no pun intended, if you have skinny fingers and prefer typing with with your index fingers, a physical keyboard may not be as ergonomic as you would like.
Personally I have short pudgy fingers and found that typing with a physical keyboard is very cumbersome, as each individual key just seemed too close together for my liking. Now since I have moved to a virtual keyboard I have become an index finger typer and have become pretty efficient at getting my emails typed in a reasonable amount of time. Considering I respond to about a dozen emails a day I find this fits my needs and I can enjoy more screen real estate when not typing.
These considerations will help you make a decision about what type of keyboard is best for you, but no amount of advice will replace actually taking some time with each typeof keyboard and testing them out. Find a friend or two with each type of keyboard and ask them to let you try them out for an afternoon as this will give you a good idea of how you will use the device over a longer period of time. If you can’t come to a definitive conclusion there are many devices that implement both a virtual and a physical keyboard and may be the solution you are looking for. This is a very personal decision and I am interested to find out what type of keyboard you use and if it meets your needs. I look forward to your feedback.