Finding the perfect Android keyboard is no easy task — there are so many to choose from. This week, we're looking at five of the best, based on your nominations.
SwiftKey has come a really long way, even since the last time we asked for your favourite Android keyboards. Back then, its predictive text engine was its biggest strength — the fact that it was one of the first keyboards to actively learn from the way you typed and offer better word and spelling suggestions as a result. SwiftKey still does that really well, and if you enable the option, can learn from your emails, social networks, text messages to auto-fill your friends names, addresses and favourite words. SwiftKey supports multiple keyboard layouts on screen, multiple keyboard sizes, phone and tablet friendly layouts that you can move around the screen, themes and personalisation options, and cloud syncing for your custom dictionary and saved text, so you don't start from scratch on a new device.
It also supports gesture typing and swipe-to-type, including its "Flow through Space" feature, which lets you type entire sentences without lifting up your finger. Handily, the once premium keyboard is now free over at Google Play? SwiftKey is no stranger to Lifehacker or Lifehacker readers. You can see our previous coverage here.
Swype was the original swipe-to-type/gesture-typing keyboard, and is still supplied on a number of Android handsets as the default option. Over time, Swype has perfected its swipe-to-type engine, improved its predictive text engine and added crowdsourced dictionaries, given users customisation options, and emerged from beta onto Google Play, sporting Dragon Dictation text-to-speech, thanks to its new parent company, Nuance. Swype now offers has split-keyboard options and tablet-friendly layouts, great speech recognition, smooth typing, and easy language switching.
Swype makes it easy to add punctuation, and copy and paste text via swiping key-shortcuts. If you're interested, now that it's out of beta you'll have to pay $4.50 to get it at Google Play.
Android's default keyboard has come a long way. Google has taken some of the best features from third-party keyboards and rolled them into its own, which is available for free at Google Play. The stock Kit Kat Google Keyboard offers gesture typing, a learning dictionary that saves words you introduce to it, built-in text expansion, personalised predictive text based on your typing habits, and speech-to-text features. It's remarkably powerful, and offers features for free that used to be only available in premium keyboards. It works just as well on tablets as it does on phones, and while it isn't brimming with customisation or personalisation options, or special features like auto-capitalisation of "I" or copy/paste shortcuts, it's solid enough that many people stick with it instead of dealing with another keyboard.
Fleksy's minimalist look on-screen conceals a lot of power under the hood. The keyboard's real focus is on speed and extremely high accuracy. Where the keyboard shines is that when you start typing, the layout of the keyboard changes to make sure the letters you need next are right there next to your finger. In fact, when it landed as a note-taking app on iOS, we noted it was so good someone with impaired vision could use it. We cheered when it arrived on Android, bringing its exceptional autocorrection engine, invisible keyboards, auto-punctuation, and multiple themes along for the ride.
Once you have a feel for where to put your fingers, Fleksy lets you type words and entire sentences without even looking at the keyboard, which is very impressive. One thing to note though — Fleksy is designed for tap-typists, not people who love or are used to gesture-typing. If that's you, it's definitely worth a try. You can pick it up for $4.32 at Google Play, or grab the free version first to get familiar with its features.
Minuum started life as an IndieGoGo project, and hoping to build a better Android keyboard. Its claim to fame is that it's tiny, but easy to use even if you have large fingers. We wrote about it when it was first released, and again when it left beta. The entire keyboard takes up a small bar at the bottom of the screen, and stays out of the way of your other work. Each QWERTY row is staggered, and Minuum relies heavily on text prediction to make typing fast and easy.
While there's certainly a learning curve to using it, it helps if you're a thumb typer who likes to keep the screen clear and you only really need a little space for the keyboard. If you're a big tap-typist, or you love swipe-to-type, this may not be the keyboard for you. If you're interested in trying it, you can grab it for $3.99 at Google Play, or pick up the free version to try out its features first.
This week's honourable mention goes to the Hodor Keyboard. Because Hodor.
Beyond that, some other great keyboards just missed the cut. TouchPal X is a keyboard we've highlighted before, and was one of the first to have whole sentence gesture typing. It's extremely customisable, lets you change the keyboard layout and size, switch between 70+ languages and text inputs, and it supports predictive text. Its predictive text engine learns from your SMS messages, Twitter account, contact names, and other apps, much like SwiftKey does. If you're looking for an alternative to SwiftKey that has many of the same features, TouchPal is worth a look.
Dextr is a non-QWERTY keyboard that's well-loved by its users, and presents a unique and interesting take on speeding up your mobile typing. The keys are spaced in a way to make them easy to hit even with large fingers, and it incoporates predictive text and autocorrect that actually works well. For those of you used to or who prefer the standard QWERTY layout though, you'll have to climb the learning curve with this one. Once you do — according to its users — you're in for a treat.
Want to make the case for your own favourite Android keyboard? Tell us about it in the comments.