As any Android user knows, the most touted feature of the mobile operating system is customization. The extent to which users can modify their devices, even by simply installing applications, demonstrates the extent to which customization is possible even with minimal tinkering. One of the easiest tweaks users can make on their Android phones or tablets, especially those still waiting on upgrades to Jelly Bean and its enhanced keyboard, is the installation of an alternate, third-party keyboard.
“But I like my keyboard the way it is!”
I used to feel that way too. I thought, “Why would I want to change keyboards from the stock version to a different one when the stock one works well enough?” Soon after, I received my answer. A while ago, I started browsing various Android forums online, especially /r/Android on reddit, and many users recommended trying a third-party keyboard for benefits like better word prediction, faster, more intuitive typing, and gesture-based typing that lets you slide from character to character. I finally came around to installing one and this particular keyboard has become the first app I install on any new device. To learn about my keyboard of choice and other quality keyboards, read on!
Despite not being readily available in the Play Store for download by end users, Swype is a well known, even somewhat popular keyboard famous for its aforementioned gesture-based typing feature. Instead of offering its app as a product aimed at consumers, developer Nuance actually prefers to partner with original equipment manufacturers to package Swype in with the operating system so that it ships with devices. Available for other operating systems like MeeGo and Symbian, Swype, as its name implies, allows users to “swipe” from character to character without lifting a finger, creating words and phrases without tapping on keys in the traditional way. Providing a unique take on typing, Swype is one of the preferred alternate Android keyboards because it allows users comfortable with the method to type more quickly and efficiently. Download the beta on the official website to try it yourself!
For a consumer-targeted Swype-esque keyboard available for download on the Play Store, SlideIT is the one. The primary feature of the app is again the ability to slide from key to key instead of entering each character the way our ancestors did with one keystroke at a time. If you want a finished, post-beta product that you can try for free or purchase immediately, you should try SlideIT.
Android 4.2 stock keyboard
I know, I know…I said “third-party” keyboards. But many people have yet to upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich, let alone Jelly Bean, so I thought I would plug the Android 4.2 stock keyboard and note Google’s attempt to move into the future with, you guessed it, gesture-based typing. I used the stock keyboard for a bit to try it out before moving back over to my keyboard of choice and the final one on our list. The Android team has improved the quality of the keyboard dramatically, especially if you happen to be upgrading from Gingerbread or, dare I say, an even earlier Android version than that…Anyway, know that if you upgrade to a Jelly Bean device or at least a device projected to receive the update to the aforementioned candy treat, you will be in for a better keyboard.
Swiftkey is undoubtedly one of the, if not the, best alternate keyboards available on Android. Renowned for its overall quality, the most notable feature of the app is its prediction-based typing. Swiftkey 3, a free version of which you can download on the Play Store, has the ability to learn your writing style based on whatever you allow the app to access, including your text messages, blogging style, your email, and your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Once the app finishes learning from your written words, you will start to notice wildly accurate predictions based on the last word you typed. Swiftkey becomes so accurate after a while that you can begin typing entire sentences just by hitting the space bar, which, depending on your settings, auto-completes the next word for you. I have even witnessed people having conversations using only the space bar, at which point hilarity ensues.
Despite being best known for its prediction features, Swiftkey is venturing into the gesture-based typing game too. A version of the product called Swiftkey Flow is now in beta and you can download it for your phone or tablet right on the website. Ultimately Swiftkey 3 will become Flow anyway, so if you purchase a license for the app now, then you will have access to the full Flow update as soon as it is released. In the meantime, check out the beta and see for yourself the unparalleled combination of sliding from character to character and having your next words predicted magically.
And that does it for our post on alternate keyboards for Android. As always, if you have any other categories you would like us to tackle, any apps you would like us to review, or any lessons about Android you would like to learn, please let us know in the comments. Thank you for reading!
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