One of the great strengths of the Android platform, and one which attracted me personally to it over other platforms, is its customisability. Of these, the keyboards are probably the most important functional part of the device that the user interacts with (as opposed to aesthetic parts like icons). If you can’t type properly, then it really mars the experience for the user. In the early days of Android, this customisability was a saviour. Quite frankly, the stock android keyboard in the Android 1.x and 2.x days was rubbish. HTC introduced a fantastic keyboard (for its time) in the early Android devices (the HTC Hero etc.) which, along with the rest of its Sense launcher, really helped to propel Android forward.
Now there’s a plethora of different keyboards out there on the Play Store as well as the different keyboards bundled by the OEM’s (Samsung, HTC, LG etc). Over on Android Authority, they’ve done a really nice summation of some of the best keyboards out there. The article really puts forwards the pro and cons of the different apps so head over there to check it out. Looking at it made me realise that I had tried many of these before, so I thought I’d give my thoughts on some of those listed and others I have used.
The colossus of the Android Keyboard space in my opinion. Its prediction engine is fantastic, has swipe gestures and lots of themes available as In-app-purchases. It’s a testament to how good it is in that Samsungs Stock keyboard is based on it, that other manufacturers like Alcatel include it as their default stock option (rather then Google Keyboard) and Microsoft recently bought the company. For me personally, it’s on most of my devices. I do find that the auto-correct can be a bit aggressive, and a better tablet mode would be great but those are minor peeves.
A pioneer of keyboard functionality. Firstly it pioneered swipe keyboards, where instead of typing you trace over the letters. It was a novel concept, one that many people (myself included) weren’t sure of. However this converted me to the concept, and apparently most of the other Android big players too, with Google, SwiftKey and other OEM’S all taking the idea forward too. Secondly, it was also the first to have a cloud backup, so it doesn’t have to re-learn your habits on every install. Again, something that Swiftkey have taken onboard with their Swiftkey Cloud (though not as seamlessly in my opinion) I find that its swiping is fantastic, NS as a typing keyboard, it’s good, but not spectacular. Its prediction engine is a little hit and miss.
The stock keyboard created by Google and also available on the Play Store. A very competent and useful keyboard. Has all the things the other players have, prediction, swiping, cloud store, themes. Its a bit minimalist, and a bit of “jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none” but (to borrow a phrase from an arch-competitor) it just works. I find myself coming to this.
This has one big claim to fame, an outstanding auto-correct prediction engine. Frankly you can press whatever letters you want in the most haphazard way you like and it’ll figure out what you meant to write. I’ve heard such good reviews of this, that I have recently gone over to it. I find that the auto-correct prediction really is amazing. However, the lack of a swipe option might make me go back to one of the others. It’d be interesting to see what it’s like on a tablet so I might put it on my Tab S2.
Hmmm, yet another different paradigm. It has a usual mode, but its distinguishing factor is its “mini-mode” that makes the keyboard about as tall as your thumb nail. It also boasts the ability to let you type sloppy and automatically understand what you’re saying. But there is a bit of a learning curve and personally, I couldn’t get used to it.
If customisability is your thing, this is the way to go. Themes, icons, fonts; the whole caboodle can be customized. Personally its a bit bloated and cartoonish for me, and doesn’t offer any major functionality over the big players. However, its packed with other features, emojis etc that “da kids” love. (DOI: My 11 yr-old loves it).
A bit less-known; its claim to fame seems to be its simplicity and context-sensitivity (basically the colour of the keyboard will change depending on the app you are using, similar to the way the top bar of Chrome changes in certain websites). The best thing about the keyboard is its language support. Its supports 60 different languages, many of whom have different characters. I am especially impressed with the Indic character support (Devangeri, Tamil etc). One to try in the subcontinent methinks.
I think that OEM keyboards get a bad rap. A lot of power-users rarely use them and install another over them pretty quickly. However over the last couple of years, they really have been improving. Samsung’s most recent version is basically a pimped up SwiftKey with an iPhone-ish theme. That is NOT a criticism. It looks great, works well, has some cool extra functionality and for most users I can imagine they’d never see the need to change. In fact, on getting my S7 Edge, it actually took me a few weeks before I switched over to Swype. Their tablet implementation is worthy of mentioning. Samsung has been trying to push the productivity side of their tablets for a few years. On the Tab S and later, they have CTRL and SYM keys like a normal laptop keyboard. This enables shortcuts like CTRL-C and CTRL-V for cut-and-paste. I personally have found this very useful. Theming is a bit of a pain as you have to change the whole launcher theme through their theme-engine.
Sonys Xperia Keyboard is also a nice implementation. It is also a keyboard that is minimalist, swipe, and predictive features are available and its stock theme integrates well with the Xperia UI. It’s been a bit stagnant now for the last year or two, probably due to the problems at the company, so needs a bit of modernising. The same can be said of HTC keyboard. It really helped promote Android but really needs to move with the times. Interestingly, it was powered initially by Swype, but has now moved onto TouchPal.
What do you think? What’s your favourite? Sound off in the comments below