Android: 8pen is a brand new gesture-based keyboard for Android phones that looks totally different than other keyboards, feels totally different than other keyboards and is surprisingly speedy and fun to use.
Most mobile keyboards try to improve upon the traditional QWERTY format with enhanced word prediction and swipe-to-type gestures. 8pen takes a totally different approach, noting that if we invented the keyboard in 2010 for mobile devices we sure wouldn’t make a tiny little keyboard designed to be pecked at with our finger tips.
8pen arranges the most used letters and characters in 4 sectors around a central ring. To “type” you place your finger on the centre ring and draw loops through the sectors. The starting sector and the number of sectors you pass through determine the character that you produce. To draw a W for example you would start with your finger on the centre ring, pass your finger through the yellow sector line from right to left, and then draw it around in a loop through the green and blue lines before resting it in the centre again. Additional letters are drawn in the same fashion, lifting your finger inserts a space. Check out the video above to see the keyboard in action via animation or check out the video below to see it under real world condition — in this case a video is worth significantly more than a thousand words.
At first glance it looks a tad ridiculous but after only 20 minutes or so of playing with the interface I was already writing sentences — complete with capital letter and punctuation — easily. I wouldn’t consider it stretch to say that after a day of heavy keyboard use I’ll be as fast with 8pen as the default Android keyboard. Your mileage, and desire to learn to type by drawing crazy figure eights everywhere, may vary.
8pen will set you back about $1.60. If you’re curious to try it out but unsure if you’ll want to keep it, the Android Market has a generous return policy (uninstall it in 24 hours for a full refund) so you can test it out for free. Search the Android Market for “8pen” or scan the QR code at right to download it to your phone. For more gesture-based (and traditional looking) keyboards, check out previously reviewed Swype and SlideIT.