One of the great things about the Android platform is the ability to modify, customise and alter the appearance and functionality of your phone in a near infinite number of ways. So far we’ve looked at basic things like changing skins and launchers, choosing a music player as well as and tips/things to consider when designing wallpapers.
Swapping the default Android keyboard for one of the many available keyboards is a good idea. The basic Android keyboard is ok, boasting a sensible layout and offering simple text predictions. However there are some more interesting-looking and easier to use keyboards out there that will look a bit nicer and increase your typing/texting speeds.
Flext T9 Speak-Trace-Write-Tap
Brief History Lesson: Flext T9 is developed by Nuance, a company which owns Tegic, the Seattle-based company which famously developed T9, better known across the world as predictive text. So its fair to say that these guys know a think or two about how people put words together.
Flext T9’s full name is ‘Flext T9 Speak-Trace-Write-Tap’. Though a bit of a mouthful it pretty much sums up what this keyboard is about in a nutshell. Voice dictation makes up the ‘Speak’ part of Flext T9, and ‘Trace’ mode allows you to make up words on the Qwerty by joining the dots between letters on the pad with your finger.
As well as this, there’s a handwriting recognition mode, where you enter individual letters or words (‘Write’) and ‘Tap’ which offers you a dedicated hunt and peck style typing mode.
As well as working on Android phones, the same app is optimised for Honeycomb devices like the Xoom as well.
Swype 3.0 Beta
Swype, if you’ve not heard of it before, allows you to create words by drawing gestures and shapes across its Qwerty keypad. It’s very easy to pick up and get the hang of and once you’ve mastered it, it allows for faster typing and texting than ye olde method.
We’re currently waiting on version 3.0 to come out of beta hibernation and wow us once again.
It’s currently available to download as part of a beta program; head over here to sign up.
Optimised for both Android phones and tablets, Swype 3.0 Beta gives you the same consistent experience between your Android devices. The tablet version of Swype also features a shrink mode, where you can reduce the footprint of the keyboard on the screen and have it aligned to the left, right or centre of the screen.
SwiftKey X is a long-standing favourite at Recombu. Recently featured alongside Swype in our Android Productivity Apps round up, SwiftKey X accelerates your typing speed by offering incredibly accurate next-word predictions as you type.
The best thing about SwiftKey X is that it adapts to and learns not only your slang and favourite words, but it also learns how you type as well. So the more you use it the more relevant and accurate its predictions become.
As well as this, SwiftKey X supports a number of non-English languages and foreign alphabets making it useful if you’re learning a language or are fluent in many; you change the settings to allow for predictions in up to three languages at once.
SwiftKey X is optimised for Android phones, whereas Swift Tablet X is the Honeycomb-friendly version.
SlideIT offers similar functionality to Swype; you get a gesture-driven text input method that sees you writing by connecting letters on the Qwerty pad as if you were playing a very unorthodox game of Boggle.
There’s also a toggle option to switch to more standard ‘hunt and peck’ style typing, and next-word predictions are offered alongside all of this, as you’d expect.
SlideIT differs from Swype in the sense that you get a number of extra colourful skins and themes that can be downloaded from the Market, if you’re bored of the standard slate great/metallic look. There’s also optional multi-language support as well. Ideal if you’ve installed a custom theme and you want a smart, gesture-tastic input method to go with it.
Smart Keyboard Pro
Another Android keyboard we featured in our fairly recent productivity round-up was Smart Keyboard Pro. No relation to the folding iPhone 4 concept accessory we saw earlier today, Smart Keyboard Pro is instead an Android virtual Qwerty that comes with support for a vast array of non-English languages and non-Latin alphabets.
It’s the polyglot’s Android keyboard of choice by a long shot and a solid (if a little basic) keyboard for everyone else.
Another long-standing Recombu favourite is ThickButtons. This takes the basic grey Android keyboard and enlarges the letters it thinks that you’ll want to use next, shrinking the ones that it thinks that you won’t.
You get full next-word predictions scrolling across the top of the keyboard as well, allowing for faster texting and emailing.
As a result of it taking the design cues from the default keypad, it looks a little basic. But it’s effective nonetheless; nippy and responsive. It’s also oddly fun watching the keyboard trying to guess which letter you’ll use next.
Android 2.3 Gingerbread
If you’ve already got a phone that runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread then this won’t be of any interest to you.
However the chances are if you’re reading this, your Android phone is running on Android 2.2 Froyo. According to the last lot of figures from Google, it’s 2.2 that’s still the dominant version of the OS, being used on over 50 per cent of phones.
In this case, you might want to check out the Gingerbread keyboard, to make your phone look and feel a little more, ahem, up to date.
Though you won’t benefit from the cut and paste tool (that’s a feature of the OS, not the keyboard), you get the same, sharp black and orange layout, predictions/suggestions and shortcuts things like voice actions. You could use it, along with a few other things, to fool your less tech-savvy friends into thinking you’ve got the Gingerbread update.
Then again your less tech-savvy friends are likely to say “Gingerbread? What’s Gingerbread?”
Flit Keyboard is a curious beast. Its layout is similar to a numeric 12-key pad but you form words using a series of flicks and gestures instead of tap tap tapping away. Like the bold yet bamboozling 8pen, you create words by flicking away from the centre of a square to select individual letters, punctuation marks and other symbols.
You get next-word predictions, the ability to customise layouts with accents, non-English characters and additional colour schemes.
But for dashing out quick text messages and emails we found Flit Keyboard to be fun and intuitive and a welcome break from the Qwerty way of doing things.
Better Keyboard 8
If you’ve customised the appearance of your Android phone with a bunch of skins and custom widgets, chances are you’ll want to give the keyboard a respray as well.
Better Keyboard 8 is a fairly straightforwards Qwerty in its own right, pretty good but not truly amazing. It really comes in to its own though when you start messing around with the multitude of free skins available from the Market.
There’s enough combinations and themes here to suit just about everyone, should you wish to breathe a bit of colour in your keyboard’s cheeks. There’s also fun plug ins like Crazy Text which Better Keyboard 8 prompts you to download. This allows you to type and send texts in fake Cyrillic or fake Japanese should you wish to.
Recently, developer Better Android Apps’ account was block by Google, meaning that to get hold of Better Keyboard 8 you’ll need to sign up for a Slide Me account to download it.
It’s also available to download from the Amazon AppStore, which is currently only available if you’re in the US.
(Even Better) Number Pad Keyboard
For those who managed to get the hang of predictive text back in the day and don’t care for these newfangled, widdly fiddly Qwerty keyboards and what not, there’s (Even Better) Number Pad Keyboard.
This is everything you’d expect it to be; a virtual 12-key numeric pad that allows you to text in the way that we all grew up learning to do, one letter at a time or faster if you were among the elite few to earn a predictive text black belt.
As well as providing old-school thrills for those who need them the (Even Better) Number Pad Keyboard adds a twist of modernity in the shape of next-word suggestions that, the developer says, get more accurate with time as it learns your lingo.