It’s National Novel Writing Month once again, time to challenge yourself to write 50000 words in 30 days, no easy feat! But with your Android device by your side, you can keep working on your novel or non-fiction book anywhere and anytime. Throughout this week, we’ll share our best apps, thoughts, and tips to help you achieve that writing goal.
About a month ago, I considered purchasing a tablet because it’d enable me to write anywhere without having to carry around my bulky 17″ laptop, which is great for editing photographs and video on location but not so great for a quick article or blog post. Armed with a new Nexus 7, I decided to start taking my writing outdoors for a change of scene and some fresh air.
The next step in becoming mobile while working was finding a way to type efficiently on my tablet. The Nexus 7 ships with the stock Android Jelly Bean keyboard, which is nice enough but not nearly as flexible as I’d like. So when I began looking for a replacement keyboard, I found Thumb Keyboard to be a compelling choice because of its new approach to improving the two-handed typing experience. It looked to be just what I needed to turn my 7″ tablet into a killer writing device. Here is my experience with it so far.
Thumb Keyboard is a customizable replacement keyboard for all phones and tablets of all sizes running Android 2.2 and up. Its main draw is a split keyboard layout which makes keys easy to reach using your thumbs in landscape and portrait mode. It’s currently available at US$1.95 (25% off) in the Play Store, and comes with a ton of useful features that make it worth checking out, whether you have a small 7″ or a big 10″ tablet.
Look and Feel
With a traditional keyboard, some keys (particularly those in the middle) may be hard to reach with your thumbs when typing with two hands. Thumb Keyboard offers a layout with a space — or less-used keys like the numbers and arrows — in the middle to divide the letters into two areas on the left and right, making them easy to hit with your thumbs in landscape or portrait mode, on devices of all sizes.
When you try it for the first time, you’ll notice your thumbs stretching over the gap to hit keys across on the other side (your right thumb reaching for the E key which is on the left, for example). However, the new layout doesn’t take long to get used to and you’ll find yourself making fewer errors and eventually typing faster, in just a couple of hours of use.
You can choose from normal or split layouts suited for standard smartphones, 5″ phones, 7″ tablets and 9″/10″ tablets. There are options to hide keys like the right shift key in landscape mode, the settings key (which is replaced by a dedicated comma key) and even the arrow keys. You can also adjust the size of the keyboard to gain some extra screen real-estate when typing.
Thumb Keyboard also supports several languages including Spanish, Russian, German, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Finnish. It also has accented letters and even offers layouts like QWERTZ and AZERTY — making it a great choice for international users.
Customizing Your Keyboard
The look of the keyboard can be customized by applying any of 28 themes, including some inspired by popular Android keyboards and the iPad, and a selection of unique designs. Key fonts, font colors and sizes, and even keyboard backgrounds can also be changed to your liking.
Thumb Keyboard also allows you to set key bindings for special characters and symbols that can be accessed with a long press. Additionally, you can toggle a toolbar that sits on the top and has several empty slots to which you can assign just about anything you need — numbers, symbols, emoticons, navigation keys, functions like Delete Word and Tab, and much more that you can see in the screenshot below.
The folks behind Thumb Keyboard are all about helping you type faster, and that’s why they’ve included two great features in their app — text shortcuts and text substitutions — along with many other. Here’s a rundown of them all.
- You can save up to 25 text snippets (each with their own label) and press the Pink key to invoke them and paste in a jiffy. This is great for URLs, email addresses, login names and even email signatures (with line breaks).
- Thumb Keyboard lets you use snippets to expand any pre-defined keywords. For example, you could type aas and have it expand to Android AppStorm.
- There are word suggestions that pop up as you type. With bigram suggestion, the keyboard keeps learning your most-used phrases and will try to suggest upcoming words from them. For example, let’s say I frequently type Play Store, after a few times, the keyboard will learn and suggest Store after I type Play.
- It also supports continuous voice recognition if you’re using Ice Cream Sandwich and above.
Getting It Right
If accuracy is important to you, you can configure Thumb Keyboard to give you aural, visual or haptic feedback as you type — choose from a selection of sounds activated on key presses and adjust the volume, have keys pop up so you can see them even if you have large fingers, or even have the device vibrate to let you know you’ve hit a key.
There’s even text-to-speech feedback (English only), which reads out each word as you type it. Thumb Keyboard also accommodates typing errors with auto-correction, prediction and touch-to-correct features.
Neat Little Touches
Going by the name, I expected Thumb Keyboard to merely offer a split layout, and was pleasantly surprised by such a comprehensive feature set. This keyboard gets a lot of little things right, including:
- Auto spacing after selecting a predicted word
- Auto case correction
- An option to include contacts’ names in the keyboard dictionary
- Configurable one-hand mode which compresses the keyboard to a small size and puts it within reach of one thumb
- Swipe-based gesture support for a variety of actions like cursor navigation, backspace, and so on.
Using Thumb Keyboard
The Nexus 7 is a great size for a tablet and Thumb Keyboard pairs with it beautifully. The simple idea that all keys with letters should be easily accessible using your thumbs makes sense in theory. In practice, I found myself typing fairly quickly and accurately, much more so than on the stock keyboard. I also enjoyed the near-endless customization that’s possible with this keyboard, right from the themes to the space between keys.
The additional speed and accuracy features are great too, and I’m glad BeanSoft didn’t scrimp on these while working on a keyboard that already performs better than the competition with its split layout. I especially love the customizable toolbar, where I’ve added functions and symbols that I use frequently.
With Thumb Keyboard, I can leave my desk carrying just my tablet, feeling confident that I can comfortably type more than a few words, whether I find some spare time on my commute or I am at an event where I need to take notes.
Thumb Keyboard is a brilliant replacement over stock keyboards available on most Android devices, and is a must-have for two-handed typing on tablets. The features make it worth buying even if you’re using a smaller tablet — everything you’d want for increased speed and accuracy is baked in. International users will love the bevy of shortcut and key binding options available on this keyboard, as words and accented letters are much easier to type out.
The one thing that I do wish this keyboard had is text selection — having to rely on my clumsy fingers to mark out an area to select text is rather a chore. Other than that, this is a wonderful keyboard that’s simple to set up and use effectively. It also costs less than half of what the competition (SwiftKey 3 Tablet Keyboard and FloatNSplit Tablet Keyboard Plus) is charging.
If you’re rocking a tablet or are looking to replace your phone’s clunky keyboard, give this a try — it’s really as easy as twiddling your thumbs!