The keys are alright: 6 Android keyboard apps to try
Android’s open-source nature makes it one of the only mobile operating systems that allow their users to swap out the default keyboard—and why not? If you can choose the keyboard for your desktop computer, then surely you should be allowed to do so on your mobile phone. You can find a plethora of keyboard applications in the Google Play Store, but here’s a small helping of those that are worth a download.
Why bother going third-party when you can stick with Android’s native keyboard? Google’s own keyboard app is readily available in the Google Play Store, so you have access to Android’s stock offerings regardless of what your phone’s manufacturer stuck you with. Google’s keyboard supports gesture and voice typing, as well as next-word prediction, and wraps it all up in Android’s signature Holo design. Of the keyboard apps featured in this roundup, Google’s keyboard also sports the most simplistic design.
Swype was one of the first keyboard applications to introduce swipe-style typing, though it was previously available only as a sideloaded application.
Swype’s whole modus operandi is to make it easier for users to type a sentence without lifting a finger, but that technique still comes with its own learning curve. The Swype keyboard also features gesture typing, which can seem like a bit of overkill when it comes to actions like swiping across the screen—rather than simply long-pressing a button—to access the number pad.
Swype’s overall prediction engine becomes more accurate with every keystroke. If you don’t like what it predicts, choose another word and it will know for next time. You can also back up your personal dictionary, should you switch phones, and enable “crowdsourcing” from applications such as Facebook and Gmail for the Swype keyboard to learn your typing style. If you’d rather not type, you can use the app’s built-in Dragon Dictation capabilities to dictate. It also comes with a few preinstalled themes for variety.
If you end up liking Swype, you’ll have to pay $1 after 30 days to keep using the app.
SwiftKey refers to itself as the “mind-reading” keyboard because of its prediction engine, but it’s only as accurate as you make it. You have to give it access to observe your activity within other applications so that it can populate your personal dictionary, but you can back that information up to your Google account and carry it over to another device. SwiftKey will also pay mind to any “trending” phrases in your vocabulary and archive them for future use, and another feature will guess what your next word is and then allow you to type out a sentence word-by-word rather than by each individual letter. It saves quite a bit of time and is especially helpful if you don’t have full dexterity of your hands.
As with Swype, SwiftKey’s prediction engine will take a while to catch on to your word choices, but it’s a relatively fast learner. SwiftKey also comes with a few different themes to choose from. For $4 you can download the premium version of SwiftKey, or the tablet-specific version.
I wasn’t too keen on Go Keyboard initially. I stumbled upon it while I was researching launcher applications for Android, but now, after spending some time with it, I realize why it’s so popular in the Google Play Store. Go Keyboard can be a little overwhelming at first glance, but it’s the add-ons that enrich your experience.
Go Keyboard has its own predictive engine and supports slide input, and you can also download any of its massive amount of themes available in the Google Play Store to transform the app into your own. If you’re feeling expressive, you can even spring for the Emoji theme pack.
You’ll have to be careful with Go Keyboard if you like your device to run fast, however. It can bog down your phone if you leave the haptic feeback on. It’s also buggy at times if you download theme packs and plug-ins from suspicious sources. Bear in mind, too, that you’ll have to fork over some cash via an in-app purchase if you want to get rid of the annoying pop-up ads.
TouchPal X is another keyboard application that combines themes and swipe input. You can slide to type, or choose a keyboard theme that fits your personality the best. TouchPal X includes a sentence-prediction gesture that it calls the “Wave,” in addition to what it dubs “walkie-talkie style” input, which lets you dictate, type, and then dictate again. Commuters will appreciate the one-handed keyboard layout, which shifts the QWERTY keyboard over to one side of the screen so that you can more easily craft a response to a friend on Facebook. And if you’re curious about how fast you type, TouchPal X includes a built-in keyboard meter and statistics tracker.
Placing your fingers on the home row on a tablet, where you don’t have any tactile keys to refer to, can be awkward. If you’re comfortable with typing with your thumbs, however, Thumb Keyboard is a relatively inexpensive application (about $2 at this writing) that splits the keyboard in half so that your thumbs can more easily reach the letters—kind of similar to how physical ergonomic keyboards are split to help you keep your wrists properly angled. You’ll find separate tablet and smartphone versions, and both work well for thumbs-only typing. Thumb Keyboard also features different layouts for various screen sizes.
If you’re looking for something simple and reliable, Google’s stock keyboard is a sure fit. You’ll also have peace of mind knowing that your keyboard of choice is supported with updates directly from Google. But if you’re particularly set on something that utilizes swipe input, SwiftKey offers an impressively accurate predicition engine.
Regardless of the kind of virtual typing environment you’re seeking, there are plenty more keyboard applications where these came from.