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Ask LH: How Can I Improve My Mobile Typing Skills?

Dear Lifehacker, I type like a pro when I’m at a keyboard, but my skills on my smartphone and tablet lag far behind. I know I will never be able to type as quickly on a touchscreen, but I would like to at least feel competent. How can I improve my skills? Sincerely, Slow Poke Typer

Pictures: Dan Zen/Flickr and Pat (Cletch) Williams/Flickr

Dear SPT,

Typing on a touchscreen is a very different experience. My dad, who types with remarkable sluggishness on a keyboard, can easily boost his typing skills by switching to his iPad. Because the experience changes the way we input information, we have to take a different approach. That means learning a different approach to typing, finding our strengths with these new methods, and upgrading our virtual “keyboards” to add typing shortcuts that speed up the process regardless of our basic talent.

Find Your Strengths and Places of Comfort

You can’t type with all your fingers on a mobile phone, so you need to figure out where your strengths lie: typing with one finger or two thumbs. The same goes for many tablets, unless you have a 10-inch version that allows enough room for both hands and all fingers (even if it is a little cramped).

Personally, I can type fastest on my smartphone with my index finger. I can move around the keyboard quickly, autocorrect catches any mistakes I make, I have optimal precision because my finger isn’t angled, and I can see all the keys as I type. Single-finger typing works best when your phone is in portrait mode, because you don’t have to move your finger as far. This also means the keyboard takes up much less space so you can see content and not feel like the content above it is cramped.

Some people find themselves comfortable with two-thumb typing. By default, using two fingers should provide more speed since you can cover more ground at a faster pace. Because you will have to grip your phone from both sides, typing with your thumbs also provides a little more stability and feels more natural.

Typing in landscape mode can make life easier, of course, as the keyboard is bigger. The downside is that your thumbs take up a lot of space and you will have a harder time seeing the keys. If you don’t feel the need to look at the keyboard, however, this won’t be a problem. One method may come naturally to you, but try both for a period of time and see which is more productive for you.

In addition to knowing your optimal approach to touchscreen typing, you need to find your most comfortable position. When we’re typing at a desk or on a laptop, our position doesn’t really change too much. Our hands are forward and rest on the keyboard. We’re not in constant movement. If we carried around our laptops and tried typing while walking or on the bus, our accuracy and speed would all but die.

Similarly, you have to look at typing on your mobile’s touchscreen and find the most comfortable position(s) for you. Perhaps you just need to sit down or stand still while avoiding any jarring movements (like a bumpy bus ride), but chances are you’ll find that the position of your arms makes a difference.

Typing on a laptop works well because you can rest your arms comfortably and concentrate on moving your fingers. We usually type on our smartphones while holding our arms up in front of us. While it doesn’t require much effort, we have to expend additional energy in order to keep our devices stable. It won’t make much of a difference at first, but as your arms start to fatigue, your typing speed and accuracy will decrease. It helps to know what position works best outright so you can default to it before composing a long email on your mobile. Find the one that works for you, and you will have an easier time typing well.

Re-Learn to Type on a Touchscreen

You may know how to type on a keyboard, but you’re reading this post because you’ve realised that touchscreen typing is a different animal. For this reason, it helps to learn how to type from scratch. On iOS, TapTyping ($4.49) will help you improve. TypingWeb is a free web-based alternative designed for iOS, but it should work just fine on Android as well. My Typing Tutor (free) and Type It! (free) are two Android apps that offer interesting game-like methods of improving your touchscreen typing skills, but we’re not sure how much they will really help in the long run. Typing Practice (free), however, offers a more straightforward method of honing your skills.

Typing apps can help because they can tell you where you’ve made mistakes. If you don’t want to use an app, however, you can just do this yourself by taking time to practise typing blocks of text. Copy an article or a page from a book. Input a paragraph or two from memory. Disable autocorrect (instructions for Android and iOS) so you can see your mistakes and find your weak spots. Figure out where you falter and you can improve at a more rapid pace.

Get a Better “Keyboard”

The digital keyboard that comes with your iPhone or Android isn’t bad, but that doesn’t mean it can’t get better. While iOS limits the alteration of your keyboard, Android offers many alternative options. You may want to survey a few and figure out which one is right for you, but SwiftKey has risen to the top as a favourite keyboard upgrade on Android. A new keyboard can provide better predictive text features, gesture typing that allows you to form words without lifting your finger and more. Android 4.2 added some of these features, but few devices have that update.

While iPhone users will need to jailbreak and install Swype in order to get extra keyboard features, some apps exist to solely for the purpose of faster text input. Those apps will let you type your text quickly and then send it to whatever other app you desire. While this isn’t ideal, it may save some time for some. Fleksy (free) is one of the best, as it offers a standard keyboard layout with some pretty incredible predictive text features. Basically, you can type every letter in a word wrong and it will usually know what you meant.

Use Text Expansion

You can only type so fast on a touchscreen, so don’t make your life any harder than it has to be. Text expansion (or typing shortcuts), the typing miracle that allows you to input a short amount of text and have it expand into a longer block of text, saves hours of typing in the long run. We love it on the desktop, and it’s even more useful on mobile devices. On Android, Textspansion is our top pick for an app that can add this functionality system-wide. As usual, iOS doesn’t allow apps to alter the system, but Apple actually added text expansion to iOS 5 (and up). Setting up a few typing shortcuts can save you a lot of time typing phone numbers, your address, common emails, common phrases and more. If you’re not sure where to start, check out this post for some ideas.

Typing on a touchscreen will never offer the same speed and precision of a good hardware keyboard, but you can improve if you practise and employ a few tricks. If you’re still typing slow, don’t despair. Just take the time to figure out what works for you, and you will boost your speed and accuracy before you know it.

Cheers
Lifehacker

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