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Finding the right keyboard for your Android device

by Larry Sullivan

One of the great things about Android devices is the ability to personalize them. We can change home screens, wallpapers, widgets, and ringtones, but probably one of the most popular items to customize is the keyboard. There are many, many different styles of keyboards available for Android devices. Below are the keyboards I have tried and find work well.

SwiftKey Keyboard Free (Free, $3.99 for full versions)

SwiftKey is probably one of the more popular keyboards. The keyboard comes in two versions, one for phones and one for tablets, each with a demo and paid edition. So if you want the pro version on each device, this could get a bit expensive. The main draw for SwiftKey is the word prediction. The app has been updated frequently and their word prediction works very well. Predictions are determined from a number of sources you can define.

The keyboard works well in both portrait and landscape mode. The virtual keys are nicely spaced out and I found typing easy. The app provides voice input and gives you three choices when selecting what you said. Finally you can see your “statistics” such as your typing heatmap, efficiency and keystrokes saved. There are a couple of themes you can use but nothing super exciting. Overall SwiftKey is a very good keyboard.

Thumb Keyboard ($1.22)

Thumb Keyboard is an excellent keyboard and comes in one version for all Android devices. This is the only keyboard that does not have a demo edition. The main draw for Thumb Keyboard is the split keyboard feature, which allows easy typing with your thumbs. This is a great option when using an Android tablet.

In addition to being just one app, the keyboard comes with lots of options, such as 25+ themes and various layouts. Initially, I found the keys a bit small (hard to select), but that was easily fixed as you can modify the keyboard appearance based on device and screen size. This works well to maximize your keyboard layout. The voice input works OK and will directly put the text in your document. If you prefer to type in landscape mode and/or on a tablet, this is a great keyboard at a reasonable price.

SlideIT free Keyboard (Free, $3.99 for full version)

SlideIT Keyboard is a keyboard for those that like to slide or swipe to “type.” It comes with one version for both phone and tablets, with a demo and paid edition. This is the most expensive of the keyboards tested. With the tutorial movie, setup was easy. Being able to slide your finger around the keyboard, instead of traditional typing, is fun and very effective.

The keyboard has many of the standard options, such as voice input (which provides choices of the text), a couple of skins, dictionaries, but it is the slide feature which is paramount. Instead of typing you can slide your finger across the keyboard and the word you want will appear above. If the system is not sure what you typed, there is a word prediction window available. The slide feature works great in both portrait and landscape mode. The app has a convenient button to turn the slide function on and off. This is not a fancy looking keyboard with lots of themes but the slide-to-type feature work really well.

Smart Keyboard Trial (Free, $2.69 for full version)

Smart Keyboard is a very nice, simple keyboard. It comes with one version for both phone and tablets, with a demo and paid edition. This keyboard will not wow you like some of the others listed here, but it will provide you with a solid typing experience.

This keyboard provides word prediction and voice input. When using voice input it will give you choices from which to pick. You can set up gestures to use on the keyboard and enable/disable the arrow keys. It even has a smiley editor. In either portrait or landscape mode, the app provides a clean, easy to type on keyboard. It is definitely an upgrade to the stock keyboard, with the number of options and settings the user can customize.

TouchPal X Keyboard (Free)

The TouchPal keyboard has one advantage over all the keyboards presented here, it is totally free. There is one version for phones and one for tablets. The keyboard options include word prediction, spell check, language and dictionary management, to name just a few. TouchPal is very similar to SlideIT, where you can slide your finger across the keyboard instead of traditional typing.

On the keyboard layout, there is a small switch where you can turn word prediction on and off. Also there is a handy bar which has a set of buttons for input settings, general settings, arrow keys menu and voice input. This bar makes it very easy to change settings. The slide feature works fine in both portrait and landscape mode. I did find the keys a bit cramped in portrait mode though. TouchPal Keyboard is a nice option for those who do not want to spend anything on a keyboard.

So many keyboards and so many options, which do you choose? With all of these keyboards (and probably many others), you have the option to download a free demo before making any commitment. Do that. Try them out, see which style, layout and options work best for your typing style. No matter which you choose, all represent a noticeable upgrade to the stock keyboard. Let us know which keyboard(s) you have on your Android device.