One of the biggest advantages of Android over iOS is the ability for developers to make replacements for core OS features like the music player and the keyboard. While the stock Android touch keyboard gets the job done for the most part, there are a wealth of alternatives designed to make typing quicker and easier — the only question is how to decide between them! We’re going to take a look at the most popular keyboard alternatives on the Market to make your decision a little bit easier. Pick one that you like (or even try a few and decide), and you’ll be typing faster in no time!
Better Keyboard is a more “traditional” keyboard replacement. Some of the other keyboards we’ll be talking about have fancy gimmicks and advanced prediction engines, but Better Keyboard keeps things simple and is still a big improvement over the stock keyboard. With support for multiple key layouts like DVORAK and Colemak, bigger buttons and support for skins, Better Keyboard will make your typing experience that much better.
Another feature that Better Keyboard brings to the table is multi-touch, which is suspiciously missing from the stock keyboard. That means if you’re typing fast you won’t have to lift up your finger from the previous tap before the keyboard will register the next tap — this leads to a fairly sizable speed increase and makes the keyboard feel more responsive and accurate.
Better Keyboard will be a good option for you if you are looking for a no-frills, basic keyboard that doesn’t require learning a new style of typing or have any kind of learning curve. It will just give you a similar keyboard to what you already have, but better. It looks nice, is more responsive, and definitely more customizable than the stock offering. Better Keyboard is available on the Market for $2.
Swype is one of a few contenders in the “let’s rethink text entry altogether” camp, aiming at entirely changing the way you enter text on a touchscreen device in an effort to make it more efficient. Swype’s method is perhaps the easiest to learn of the bunch: instead of tapping each letter individually, you “swype” your finger in one motion, past the letters that you’d like to type. After this, Swype’s prediction engine kicks in and lets you pick from a list of words it thinks you just said.
While the prediction engine does work, Swype has a little learning curve where it both learns your speech patterns and you learn the most efficient way to swipe the letters you want. It can be tricky at times, especially if you are typing things that aren’t necessarily dictionary words, like URLs.
After some practice, however, Swype can turn you into a lightning fast texting machine. Once you’ve been swiping your words in your phone for a few weeks, you’ll wonder why you spent so long tapping before. Swype isn’t currently in the Market, but it’s bundled with a lot of modern Android devices and can be found floating around the internet if you know where to look.
8Pen takes the basics of Swype and takes them to the next level, removing the familiarity of the keyboard layout altogether. The makers of 8Pen realized that when keyboards are the same size as our hands they work great, but once you shrink them down to only a few inches across they become cumbersome and error-prone.
8Pen aims at creating a text entry system that is something completely different. It’s similar to Swype in the sense that you’re not lifting your fingers up from the letters aside from at the end of the word, but the difference is that the traditional keyboard is gone entirely. 8Pen’s layout is designed specifically for the purpose of typing on a touchscreen, and it works well once you get used to it.
Watch the video above for a primer on why 8Pen was created and how to use it to see if you think it will appeal to you. 8Pen is available on the Market for free.
SwiftKey also takes a unique look at the problems with onscreen keyboards. Traditional touch keyboards have included error correction, but SwiftKey takes it a bit further with its correction and prediction engine. SwiftKey learns your writing style, words that you type often, and even your usual phrasing of common messages, and utilizes that information by giving you suggestions as you type.
As soon as you start typing, SwiftKey starts trying to figure out what word you are typing. Sometimes it will only take one or two letters before the correct word shows up in the suggestions, and a quick tap on the word or the spacebar is all that it takes to accept the word and start with the next one. Sometimes you don’t need to type any letters at all–messages like “Hi, how are you?” can be entered in a few seconds.
SwiftKey has the lowest learning curve by far of all of these advanced keyboards, and users can achieve faster typing without having to learn a new system entirely. SwiftKey will even analyze your existing text messages on first load, so it will know how you speak before you even start using it. SwiftKey is available on the Market for $4 (or $2 on Black Friday).