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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.