Smartphones are intensely personal things — the contests that often occur online over which one is better is proof positive of that. Phones today are full mobile computers, and owners are creating more content on them than ever before. The content creation makes the keyboard very important, and with most of the top smartphones lacking a physical QWERTY model, the onscreen touch keyboard takes on a big role.
Owners of phones running the Android platform have a lot of options in this area, as developers have stepped up to the plate and produced good alternatives to the keyboard apps shipping on the phones. Here are the top five keyboard apps for the Android platform. These keyboard apps fall into two categories: typical “tap typing” apps and the “swiping” keyboards where words are entered by spelling them with a single stroke on the screen.
TouchPal. TouchPal is highly configurable, and makes use of a unique sliding keyboard motif. The app has QWERTY keyboards, number keypads and other layouts that can be switched by swiping left and right on the keyboard. It has language packs for more than 20 languages, and multiple packs can be installed for those who work in more than one language. TouchPal uses sophisticated text prediction that is quite good at guessing what word is being entered. A simple tap enters the word, eliminating the need to type it completely. Free (until September 30).
SwiftKey. This keyboard app is a standard QWERTY style that relies on text prediction to make entry faster by eliminating the need to enter all the characters for many words. It’s uncanny how accurately SwiftKey can guess what word is being entered. The user simply taps the word as soon as it appears on the screen, usually after typing just the first or second letter. The app utilizes gestures on the keyboard to execute common tasks, like deleting words entered incorrectly. SwiftKey is currently in beta and is free.
Better Keyboard. This app is a simple keyboard that is skinnable, making it possible to change the appearance of the QWERTY keyboard to match user preferences. The buttons are large and easier to type than those on many keyboards, and gestures are implemented to make operation easy. Long-pressing the 123 key pops up the settings menu for easy access to change operation of Better Keyboard. There are a variety of alternate skins available for free download in the Android Market. $2.99.
Swype. As the name of this app implies, it’s a QWERTY keyboard where words are entered by swiping them on the screen. Instead of typing letters, words are entered by moving the finger (swiping) from the first letter to the last in one clean stroke. The app determines the desired word from the swiping motion and enters it into the active text box. This method makes text entry faster than the tap typing method of other keyboards, and the app is quite accurate at determining the correct word even if the user doesn’t quite cover all the letters perfectly. It’s in closed beta, and the developer occasionally opens it up to new users. Swype is normally preinstalled on some Android phones, such as the Motorola Droid X.
SlideIT. This keyboard app is very similar to Swype, as words are entered via the same swiping motion. SlideIT supports multiple languages, enabled by downloading packs from the Android Market. The app accurately determines the desired word, even if the swiping doesn’t quite hit the correct letters. This keyboard is a good alternative to the Swype keyboard, and is readily available in the Android Market. There is a free demo version available, and a paid version (£5.99), but it’s not clear what features the paid version adds over the free version.
These keyboards are all great examples of the innovation that Android developers bring to the platform. As mentioned, the keyboard is an intensely personal app and no one style will appeal to everyone. If you have a favorite keyboard app not mentioned in the list, please share it in the comments.
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