Minuum Keyboard: Gimmick or Innovation?

A couple of months ago, an interesting project appeared on Indiegogo promising a new take on touchscreen keyboards: Minuum. While other keyboards were losing screen estate by adding more functions and buttons, or were trying to revolutionize input by changing the QWERTY input method, Minuum took a more simplistic and minimalist approach. It kept the QWERTY arrangement that everyone is used to, but squished it in height and used smart predictions to correctly insert words despite the lack of precision typing.

Given that my biggest gripe with onscreen keyboards is that they block most of the phone’s screen estate, I liked the premise of Minuum and decided to pledge for it. The first beta was made available a few weeks ago and I’ve been using it on and off ever since. In the following article, I’ll look at the most important questions I asked myself about Minuum before I tried it and answer them for you. Now that you can all buy Minuum for $3.99 in the Play Store, it’s crucial to know whether it’s worth the financial — and learning curve — investment or not.


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How Good Is the Prediction?

The most important question when looking at a keyboard that bases its whole premise on sloppy typing and accurate predictions is whether or not that prediction lives up to the expectations. And the general answer is yes. In about 90% of the cases, Minuum guessed my intended word as the first suggestion. In some cases — on vs in, it vs my, for example — I had to pick the word from the suggestion bar. Very, very rarely, did Minuum completely miss the intended word in all of its predictions.

Minuum picks up your sloppy typing for complicated words (left) but might require some manual selection for small ones (right)

Minuum picks up your sloppy typing for complicated words (left) but might require some manual selection for small ones (right)

Do I Have to Relearn Typing?

The thing about Minuum is that it’s completely intuitive as long as you don’t force it. Once you stare at the letters and try to think of where your finger should be going next, you start going slower and making mistakes instead of improving your efficiency.

That was my problem with Minuum when I first tried it, and the reason why there is a learning curve despite there being nothing to relearn. As a very controlling person, I had to forget that I type every letter very precisely on other keyboards, and start trusting my instincts to guide my fingers to the correct letter’s vicinity. Plus, it took some time for me to believe that Minuum could correctly predict all the words, despite any mistakes I make.

Can I Add Words to the Dictionary?

Minuum recently added the ability to switch to a full regular keyboard. Simply tap and hold with both fingers on it, and the complete keyboard appears instead of the single line. You can write anything there, without prediction ever kicking in. Alternatively, if you tap and hold anywhere in the small keyboard, you get to precisely pick each letter or symbol.

Both precision typing (left) and the full keyboard (right) let you add words to Minuum's dictionary

Both precision typing (left) and the full keyboard (right) let you add words to Minuum’s dictionary

Both methods allow you to input words that aren’t in the dictionary yet, but the bigger keyboard is obviously faster and easier to deal with. If you want to remove a word from the predictions, tap and hold on it and it’ll be gone.

Can I Modify the Settings?

Minuum lets you modify several of its settings, mainly the height of the different components for more comfortable typing, as well as whether or not to show the space bar. I personally really like using Minuum without the space bar, for the main reason that it makes the keyboard a lot more strange for onlookers. Instead, I swipe across the screen for spaces, and friends who see me use it look bewildered.

That’s one of the appealing features of Minuum. It looks unique, and anyone who’s trying to use your phone will be terrified when they see it on the screen. Most people will have no idea how to use it, or will be overwhelmed by the way the letters are placed. If anything, it might stop your friend from posting a silly Facebook status on your behalf for example.

Minuum's settings let you remove the space bar and modify the height of its elements.

Minuum’s settings let you remove the space bar and modify the height of its elements.

How Good Are the Gestures?

Minuum offers a few gestures, aside from the double-tap and hold to switch keyboards, that turn out to be quite useful:

  • Swipe to the right and it inserts a space, swipe back and it deletes the last word. I have grown fond of the latter, and I now wish all keyboards would let you delete words this easily. It’s quite intuitive.
  • Swipe up and to the right to insert a line break, and up and to the left to activate voice typing. Minuum only recently added this last option, and it’s a welcome one to have. As for the line break, it one-ups the Google keyboard which doesn’t have it.
  • Swipe down on any of the keyboards to switch to the numbers and symbols input. It’s simple and fast enough that I want it on every other keyboard.
Gestures let you easily add line breaks to tweets (left) or activate voice typing (right)

Gestures let you easily add line breaks to tweets (left) or activate voice typing (right)

Is It Comfortable to Type On?

Putting aside the fact that Minuum is a lot more intuitive to use than it looks, the keyboard isn’t really comfortable for typing on large modern smartphones. The reason is that the keyboard is placed too low on the screen, forcing you to hold your device a bit lower than usual and to put more effort into balancing your phone in your hand so it doesn’t tip over.

I suffer from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, which makes any weird or cramped position of my wrist result in striking nerve pain after a while. That’s my main complaint with Minuum now, and the reason I can’t make it my primary keyboard for a long period of time.

I might be a special case but I can’t imagine that Minuum is comfortable to type on for longer periods of time, even for a regular person. Modern smartphones are just too big for you to be forced to hold them from their very lower side. I think a dragable keyboard that can be placed a bit higher on the screen would solve most of Minuum’s problem.

The Verdict

Minuum Is Perfect If…

  • You do a lot of two-handed short bursts of typing — things like a Twitter update, an SMS, a chat conversation.
  • You plan to write English exclusively. It’s currently the only supported language.
  • You need to type a lot of specialty words. Thanks to the double-tap trigger, Minuum lets you quickly switch between predictive (1 line keyboard) and free input (full keyboard). Few other keyboards allow you to activate and deactivate predictive input this easily, without heading deep into their settings.
  • You use punctuation a lot. The fact that a double space always lets you pick between a period, a comma, a question mark and an exclamation point makes it excellent for punctuation freaks. It’s another feature I wish would be implemented in other keyboards.
  • You do a lot of typing in landscape mode. Compared to other keyboards that take half the screen and don’t let you see more than a couple of lines of text along with the notification bar, Minuum leaves most of your screen visible and accessible.
  • You want to show off or scare away onlookers. The keyboard’s unique look, the possibility to remove the space bar, and the gestures, combined with your fast typing when you get used to it, can easily awe anyone. That’s Minuum’s strength: it looks awkward and almost impossible to use to others, but it really isn’t any of that.
Minuum is great in landscape mode, where it doesn't eat half the screen, leaving you with many lines of text.

Minuum is great in landscape mode, where it doesn’t eat half the screen, leaving you with many lines of text.

Minuum Still Has a Lot to Go If…

  • You do a lot of one-handed typing. The keyboard simply doesn’t lend itself to that. You’ll start looking for letters, you’ll make mistakes and you won’t be efficient. If Minuum added swipe input, it would be the ultimate one-handed keyboard. However, I doubt the design would lend itself well to swiping, since that would interfere with some of its core gestures. The developers need to look into it extensively and see if it’s doable, because that can make or break Minuum’s one-handed usability.
  • You use any language other than English — for now, other languages will be added soon.
  • You use any transliterated languages that require frequent number input, like Arabic. You’ll either have to use the full keyboard constantly (which defeats the purpose of Minuum) or keep switching every few strokes to the number and symbol view.
  • You frequently type longer texts, like emails or documents on bigger devices. Because of the cramped position your hands take and the device imbalance that causes, Minuum can be uncomfortable.
  • You use emojis. Currently, they aren’t supported natively, and you can’t use the keyword triggers to insert them like on the default Android keyboard.
  • You’re used to Swiftkey‘s prediction engine that foresees most of your words before you start typing.
  • You use multiple devices. The learned dictionary doesn’t sync over the cloud, like Swiftkey does, so all of your taught words are tied to the device you used them on and won’t carry over.


Summary

Minuum is a minimalist one-line keyboard that uses intelligent prediction to pick up all your sloppy typing, while not taking a lot of screen estate. Despite some of its shortcomings, Minuum is great to have in various situations, if only to demo your typing prowess to friends.

8
  • Abdur Rehman

    minimal keyboard on Android is good step to meet many needs…..

  • http://j.mp/FerdiBuzz Ferdi Zebua

    On one-handed typing: I’m thinking minuum can implement “swype” mode when the full-size keyboard is open..? But then, minuum would also need to think up a one-handed gesture to activate the full-size keyboard..? [/just brainstorming]

    • http://www.symbian-guru.com khouryrt

      That could work as well, interesting idea.

  • erich

    The height hasn’t been a problem for me. Maybe it has more to do with center of gravity (CoG). If your phone is oriented with the walls, the center of the very bottom is the CoG. Likewise the center of the back is the CoG if oriented with the ground. In short, how far towards the ground you turn the back of the screen determines how far from the bottom you can comfortably hold it.

    If you enable the spacebar, a setting for the height in pixels becomes available. This shifts the keyboard’s vertical position upwards, so you could use this as the “height adjustment”. The rest of the keyboard including the gestures remains unchanged, so you could potentially just ignore it. Seems like a bit of a hack, but I’m not sure you would get much use out of the real estate below the keyboard anyhow if your dragable idea were implemented.

    To each his own, but I also find it more intuitive. I type all day on a desktop keyboard. Were I to close my eyes and hold a 3×5 card and just start typing what comes naturally, a spacebar at the bottom is more natural than a rightward swipe. The same goes for punctuation. The double right swipe followed by a punctuation choice hasn’t convinced me yet.