Finding Your Type: The Best Android Keyboards

Spend any time using your phone or tablet and it’s hard to avoid using the keyboard. Whether knocking out a quick email or typing URLs into your browser, there’s a limit to what you can get done without having to type. And chances are that the keyboard baked into your copy of Android is nothing to write home about — there are few stock keyboards that really cut the mustard.

Sitting at my desktop or using my laptop, I’m a fairly accomplished typist — I’m probably not the fastest in the world, but I’m certainly faster than average. The same cannot really be said when I’m using my Android devices — touchscreens offer a completely different way of interacting with a device and it proves, on the most part, to be a slower form of typing. This is why I find myself on a constant mission to track down the perfect keyboard. If you’re on a similar quest, and whatever your preferred style of typing — one-handed, two-handed, gesture input, just a forefinger — this roundup of the pick of the crop should help you find a keyboard that suits you.


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SwiftKey

A keyboard may seem like something you shouldn’t have to pay for, but this was the first of its ilk to tempt me into parting with some cash. SwiftKey does not disappoint; gesture support (or Flow) is impressively accurate as is word prediction. These two features combined found me flying through long passages of text in next to no time.

Swiftkey is still one of the keyboards I keep coming back to (I switch between this and Google Keyboard at the moment) and I often find that I only have to swipe the first word and the rest is accurately predicted — obviously this only works in certain circumstances such as standard SMS replies, I’ve not been able to train the app to write full reviews for me yet!

Swiftkey supports a large number of languages and has the handy option to have up to three enabled at the same time and easily switchable. The one disappointing feat is that there are separate versions for phones and tablets so you’ll have to make two purchases if you own both types of devices.

Price: $3.99
Google Play Link: SwiftKey
Developer: SwitftKey

Swiftkey's signature keyboard with Flow

Swiftkey’s signature keyboard with Flow

Kii

Kii is another swipe-friendly keyboard which prides itself on the fact that it borrows ideas from many of the other keyboards featured in this roundup. Skins are supported so there’s scope for changing the look of your keyboard to suit your mood or the lighting you find yourself in. There’s also more than one keyboard layout to choose from including an interesting split option which is ideal for thumb operation on a tablet.

What is irritating is that while the app is free, many of the features are available as in-app purchases — or at least uninterrupted use requires an in-app purchase. Voice support and rows of extra buttons are nice touches, but it is in terms of speed that Kii really excels.

Price: Free
Google Play Link: Kii
Developer: Kii Dev

Kii's split keyboard layout is useful on tablets

Kii’s split keyboard layout is useful on tablets

GO Keyboard

The GO development team are responsible for a number of extremely popular apps including the impressive GO Launcher.  It’s a shame to put a dampener on an otherwise great app, but there is a slightly beta-ish feel to GO Keyboard that is often found in many GO apps.

There are a massive number of themes to choose from to help with customization, as there are emoji, but many of them are garish, amateur-looking affairs. This feeling is not helped by badly worded descriptions and options that have clearly been poorly translated into English. However, switching between different keyboard layouts is little more than a side swipe away which is handy for anyone who works in more than one language — and there are dozens to choose from.

Price: Free
Google Play Link: GO Keyboard
Developer: GO Dev Team

Go Keyboard supports themes, emojis and several input methods

Go Keyboard supports themes, emojis and several input methods

Google Keyboard

One of the latest additions to the keyboard smorgasbord is Google’s very own offering. Lifted directly from devices such as the Nexus 7, this keyboard won over huge armies of fans long before it was made available to all Android devices. It is very hard not to love this keyboard as it feels like it really belongs in Android — as well it should be — and while it may not seem all that impressive, looks can be deceptive. Lurking beneath a rather plain exterior is arguable the best gesture typing available, in both speed and accuracy.

There may not be a massive number of options in terms of layouts and extra settings, but what is present works superbly and you’ll soon wonder how you coped with any other keyboard — that’s how I felt, at least, and I’m hard to impress. There’s also a very useful hidden feature that can be used to ape the likes of Text Expander and further reduce the amount of typing you need to do. When adding new words to your personal dictionary, it’s possible to add shortcuts — this means you can opt to automatically expand ‘brb’ into ‘be right back’, but there are endless other possibilities.

Price: Free
Google Play Link: Google Keyboard
Developer: Google

Google's own keyboard looks and feels at home on Android

Google’s own keyboard looks and feels at home on Android

Swype Keyboard

Swype is the original swiping keyboard. Where it led, countless others apps followed. Many have tried to copy it, but few have matched it and fewer still bettered it. Prediction levels here are staggeringly good and you don’t even need to be particularly accurate with your gestures as the app does a good job of interpreting what you mean based on the shape you draw. Two key strengths of Swype, and something that helps to improve its accuracy, are its ability to pick up word and names from your contacts, emails and other documents, as well as the fact that the dictionary is crowd-sourced.

The predictions dictionary is constantly updated with words that are trending around the world and this extends into next-word prediction – so you should find that you can enter the name of a brand new movie or TV programme very quickly. With voice recognition and a universal app suitable for tablets and phones — additional modes are available for tablet users — it’s difficult not to recommend Swype. If you’re yet to try it out, install it this instant to see what all the fuss is about.

Price: $0.99
Google Play Link: Swype Keyboard
Developer: Swype

Swype offers several layouts for phones and tablets

Swype offers several layouts for phones and tablets

TouchPal

Gesture-based or sliding typing, as you’ve probably noticed from this roundup, is becoming the norm. TouchPal looks to up the ante with its Curve feature which aims to make typing even faster by eliminating the need to swipe words in their entirety. Another time saving feature makes it easier to access numbers and symbols. Rather than tapping and holding a key to view a list of alternative options, you can instead swipe up or down for instant access.

Despite having no cost associated with it, TouchPal’s range of supported languages is wide and varied. To help with the personalization of suggestions and auto-completes, information can be imported from our address book and online updates ensure that a new supply of words is always available. Or course, there is the usual raft of skins available, but the key thing here is speed. TouchPal is undeniably fast – even though this does come at the expense of accuracy.

Price: Free
Google Play Link: TouchPal
Developer: TouchPal

TouchPal trades accuracy for speed

TouchPal trades accuracy for speed

Smart Keyboard Pro

As if to prove that swipe typing is not the only option for getting characters into apps, Smart Keyboard Pro takes a much more traditional approach to things. Everything is much more basic here, and the app closely resembles the look and feel of the iOS keyboard. This is by no means a bad thing but you are restricted to typing by pressing each character you want to enter.

For fans of old technology, Smart Keyboard Pro has a great feature – the resurrection of T9 prediction text input using a traditional phone pad layout! There are no fancy extras like next word prediction but it does win points for being highly customizable.

Price: $2.64
Google Play Link: Smart Keyboard Pro
Developer: Dexilog, LLC

Smart Keyboard goes old-school with its iOS look and functions

Smart Keyboard goes old-school with its iOS look and functions

Other Unique Options

Above are some of the highlights that are to be currently found in the Play store. You’ll probably have noticed that, while there are a few subtle differences here and there, for the most part these are keyboards that look and feel fairly similar to each other.

Minuum

One project that looks to disturb the norm is Minuum, which has been funded through Indiegogo and will initially be released for Android devices, with the possibility of iOS, Blackberry and Windows Phone versions to follow. The key aim of the project is to free up screen space by shrinking the keyboard as much as possible.

The look is unique. The tiny strip you use to type looks too small and fiddly to be usable – a standard keyboard has been compressed onto a single line – but by employing a combination of letter and word prediction, in the sample videos at least, Minuum appears to fare very well indeed. It is an outlandish design that will not be to everyone’s taste, but it is going to create a storm when it hits the Play Store.

Minuum's unique one-strip layout

Minuum’s unique one-strip layout 

ZoomKee

If you’re looking for something a little more out of the ordinary, ZoomKee is worth a look. There’s a clue in the name here, and the key selling point — although the app is actually free — is a zoom function. Tap a word that has been typed and it will be displayed in a larger view complete with a zoomed in keyboard. This has been done to make word editing easier, but it does mean that you have to be willing to slide the keyboard from side to side as it is not entirely visible in its magnified mode.

ZoomKee's signature zooming function

ZoomKee’s signature zooming function

Thumb Keyboard

Another keyboard of note is Thumb Keyboard ($2.35 from Google Play) which is available for phones and tablets and, as the name suggest, allows for quick thumb driven typing. At first glance it looks like nothing out of the ordinary, but there is an intriguing split mode that make it easier and faster to type with just thumbs and a personalized shortcut bar. There are different layouts for different sized screens but this is definitely a keyboard for fans of two-handed typing.

Thumb Keyboard packs a split layout and a nifty shortcut bar

Thumb Keyboard packs a split layout and a nifty shortcut bar

Do you have a favorite keyboard that we’ve missed? Have you found your perfect input app or do you find that you constantly switch from one to another? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.


  • Christopher Robert

    Wish they would release Samsung keyboard to the play store. I love how it has swype, but also has the numbers in a top row that is always present.

  • http://www.twitter.com/KreativeMente Kreative Mente

    I was a big Swift fan on my phone until Google released the Google Keyboard to the Play Store. Maaaaaaan, Way better in my opinion. If Swift has a Google Keyboard skin and the numbers always stayed at the top, I think it would be the best.

    Alas, I love my Nexus 7 Keyboard, so I had to make the switch.

  • rap

    On my Nexus 7 I alternate between SwiftKey and Swiftkey tablet. I like that arrows on the regular keyboard but the split layout in landscape in the tablet keyboard. Wish it had tab on the main screen though. I see Google Keyboard does so I may have to take another look at that.

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

      Amen to the arrows! On a phone, they’re so much more efficient that trying to move the cursor inside the text with your thumb on the screen.

  • Mounty Dumpty

    heyyyy you forgot Hacker’s Keyboard D:

    • Alvin Brinson

      Definitely, for a 10″ tablet, Hacker’s Keyboard can be pretty awesome. On anything smaller it can be a bit bothersome, plus it doesn’t support any innovative input methods such as swyping/sliding, etc.

    • Peter Massey

      Hacker’s Keyboard is brilliant if you do anything even slightly ‘code’ related, be it actual code or even just SSH command. I can actually use screen with Hackers, whereas Swiftkey/Google KB are just painful.

  • LorenzoZanirato

    I have never encountered any obligatory in-app purchase with Kii. I’m using it since ever, never felt the need of purchasing extras.

  • Rowena Scicluna

    Don’t know how you left out Multiling Keyboard! It’s not a swipe keyboard, but it’s intuitive, packed with features, endless amount of languages, lightweight, and free!

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

      Looks like an impressive keyboard that has flown under our radar! Thanks for mentioning it.

      • Rowena Scicluna

        You’re welcome! Glad to be of help! Have been using MK for years now, and have never been let down!

  • vittorio

    really too bad the Google keyboard is not available where I live.

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

      You could get the apk from the internet and install it manually. It’s a workaround, but it should work.

    • Jeremie

      That “feature” from the playstore is rather stupid, why wouldn’t be available in France and why then would they bother the pstore description in french ? Or maybe it’s based on cid (international htc in my case) ?

  • http://www.alankerlin.blogspot.com/ Alan Kerlin

    I love Ai Type. Some of the skins are iffy but the custom mode has allowed me to design my own keyboard that has everything I want (except an ellipse character – wanted for twitter to save 2 characters!) And my key lettering is an orange red that means I don’t have to change things when doing astronomy to preserve my night vision.
    The predictive text learns from my social media accounts and email so reads my mind from day 1. Plus it has an autocorrect function that dovetails in beautifully. But it beeps quietly to draw your attention to making an autocorrect so you know to check it for errors.
    Voice is in there, and even cursor keys!
    Only thing it doesn’t do is cater to handwriting for Samsung Notes, which is a pity. But it seems none of the apps shown here do. So I still swap back to the pretty good Samsung keyboard when I want to do notetaking in meetings – because the Samsung handwriting recognition is awesome.

  • Michael McClellan

    I have used the MessagEase keyboard for years now. And I love it. Or 8pen is pretty nice, or was before they updated it.

    • wtanksleyjr

      Agree about MessageEase — it’s as fast as any swipe KB even though it has almost no AI, it’s totally precise (doesn’t secondguess or even complete your word you unless you ask it to), and gives full access to all ASCII and accented characters (and many foreign languages are supported with a download and a quick swipe). I use it to program in J, which is an APL derivative, so you can rest assured that it has a LOT of characters.

      It’s faster not because it’s clever, but because the letter targets are much bigger, so they’re a lot easier to hit when you’re moving fast, even if you’re a little clumsy. The layout is essentially 9-key, but it uses directional swipes to give you access to more than just the 9 most used letters without having to do the incredibly slow T9 stutter.

      And it’s free.

      It is a unique layout, so it takes some effort to learn. Use the typing tutor “game” they provide; it’s easy, well directed, and as quick as I think is possible. I was rapidly up to the same speed as the swipe-type keyboard I was using at the time, and much happier with the ability to easily type words that aren’t in the dictionary (which is a HUGE liability with fancy AI keyboards).

      On the other hand, the landscape display takes as much room as any normal keyboard and doesn’t use much of the extra space. It can be customized, and the separated view works well for me, but I’m really eager to see Minuum. (I have a root app named ‘Keyboard Manager’ that automatically switches keyboards when the screen rotates, so I plan on testing it with that.)

    • Dierkdk

      Really miss FITALY, but as it does not seem likely to ever make the jump to Android, MessageEase is the best alternative found to date.

      Usage is STYLUS based (Galaxy Note 2), and while still haven’t reached FITALY input speeds, MessageEase is capable of keeping up with (most…) Live Speakers, which is impressive given the relatively brief time in use. (A few months for MEase vs YEARS for FITALY!)
      Download the “MessageEase Game” to help get up to speed, and try fiddling with keyboard size & location. Drag length also deserves some customization, and “TurboMode” seems helpful – and there are many other Optional Settings to play with.

      (Usually fluctuate between Sizes 11 & 12, with a slight margin between keyboard and screen edge; TurboMode is On, and use a medium Drag Length – which has been the hardest factor to tie down, as either Too Long OR Too Short results in incorrect input.)

      In all, an Impressive piece of work, and even after several months usage am still finding “new” useful functions.

  • Jeremy Blake

    Swype or Google Keyboard for me. :)

  • sid

    what bout siine keyboard?

  • Adriana Arumndalu

    Since I first using Android smartphone, I always use Simeji Keyboard. It has everything that I need in a keyboard. First of all, it has the easiest kana and kanji type mode with so many mode options such as Flick, Bell, Toggle, Azerty, Qwerty or Qwerty-Ex (this is the one that I used for a Japanese beginners). The other keyboard doesn’t support Kan and Kanji type mode like this one. It’s also has a lot of theme and my favourite is the transparent one. Another thing is that it’s sophisticated look after the update. You can choose to whether use number on top of your keyboard or not and it can be slide to the right to see the menu options. It is also integrated with customized emoji and emoticon applications. So convenient and very japanish.

  • David Schoolderman

    AI keyboard automatic typo correction best keyboard ever

  • Frank Czap

    You forgot to mention Big Buttons Keyboard.

  • NormEron

    Another really innovative and unique text input app is 8pen. Watch the video https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.eightpen.android.eightpen

  • jusdes

    you guys should check out iKnowU Keyboard, I’ve been using it for a while and it’s quite nice. Also they tend to update fairly regularly and each time it gets significantly better.

  • ianthetechman

    All android keyboards these days are better than they were before BUT i personally like the Touchpal keyboard has i find it very precise compared to somer of the others. Especially considering it is not a big name compared to say swift key.

  • Ubong

    Dynamite keyboard is cool. Try it

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