Android allows developers to replace its keyboard with their own keyboard apps. This has led to experimentation and great new features, like the gesture-typing feature that’s made its way into Android’s official keyboard after proving itself in third-party keyboards.
This sort of customization isn’t possible on Apple’s iOS or even Microsoft’s modern Windows environments. Installing a third-party keyboard is easy — install it from Google Play, launch it like another app, and it will explain how to enable it.
Google Keyboard is Android’s official keyboard, as seen on Google’s Nexus devices. However, there’s a good chance your Android smartphone or tablet comes with a keyboard designed by its manufacturer instead. You can install the Google Keyboard from Google Play, even if your device doesn’t come with it.
This keyboard offers a wide variety of features, including a built-in gesture-typing feature, as popularized by Swype. It also offers prediction, including full next-word prediction based on your previous word, and includes voice recognition that works offline on modern versions of Android. Google’s keyboard may not offer the most accurate swiping feature or the best autocorrection, but it’s a great keyboard that feels like it belongs in Android.
SwiftKey costs $4, although you can try it free for one month. In spite of its price, many people who rarely buy apps have been sold on SwiftKey. It offers amazing auto-correction and word-prediction features. Just mash away on your touch-screen keyboard, typing as fast as possible, and SwiftKey will notice your mistakes and type what you actually meant to type. SwiftKey also now has built-in support for gesture-typing via SwiftKey Flow, so you get a lot of flexibility.
At $4, SwiftKey may seem a bit pricey, but give the month-long trial a try. A great keyboard makes all the typing you do everywhere on your phone better. SwiftKey is an amazing keyboard if you tap-to-type rather than swipe-to-type.
While other keyboards have copied Swype’s swipe-to-type feature, none have completely matched its accuracy. Swype has been designing a gesture-typing keyboard for longer than anyone else and its gesture feature still seems more accurate than its competitors’ gesture support. If you use gesture-typing all the time, you’ll probably want to use Swype.
Swype can now be installed directly from Google Play without the old, tedious process of registering a beta account and sideloading the Swype app. Swype offers a month-long free trial and the full version is available for $1 afterwards.
Minuum is a crowdfunded keyboard that is currently still in beta and only supports English. We include it here because it’s so interesting — it’s a great example of the kind of creativity and experimentation that happens when you allow developers to experiment with their own forms of keyboard.
Minuum uses a tiny, minimum keyboard that frees up your screen space, so your touch-screen keyboard doesn’t hog your device’s screen. Rather than displaying a full keyboard on your screen, Minuum displays a single row of letters. Each letter is small and may be difficult to hit, but that doesn’t matter — Minuum’s smart autocorrection algorithms interpret what you intended to type rather than typing the exact letters you press. Just swipe to the right to type a space and accept Minuum’s suggestion.
At $4 for a beta version with no trial, Minuum may seem a bit pricy. But it’s a great example of the flexibility Android allows. If there’s a problem with this keyboard, it’s that it’s a bit late — in an age of 5″ smartphones with 1080p screens, full-size keyboards no longer feel as cramped.
MessagEase is another example of a new take on text input. Thankfully, this keyboard is available for free. MessagEase presents all letters in a nine-button grid. To type a common letter, you’d tap the button. To type an uncommon letter, you’d tap the button, hold down, and swipe in the appropriate direction. This gives you large buttons that can work well as touch targets, especially when typing with one hand.
Like any other unique twist on a traditional keyboard, you’d have to give it a few minutes to get used to where the letters are and the new way it works. After giving it some practice, you may find this is a faster way to type on a touch-screen — especially with one hand, as the targets are so large.
Google Play is full of replacement keyboards for Android phones and tablets. Keyboards are just another type of app that you can swap in. Leave a comment if you’ve found another great keyboard that you prefer using.
Image Credit: Cheon Fong Liew on Flickr
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