If you are a 'native is best' type of person, you will undoubtedly use whatever your mobile phone gives you to play with. That's not a bad idea really - it saves memory, often saves money, and always saves a lot of time and effort setting things up. But if you are like me, the wonder of a mobile phone is flexibility. You can sometimes hit an app which is just perfect for your requirements and does everything like it would if you had designed it yourself. Unfortunately, finding that perfect app can become and ends it itself and totally negate the time an app was originally designed to save. Such is the case with the keyboard apps.
The native keyboard that comes with your Android phone is perfectly functional, but there is always that nagging doubt in the back of your mind as to whether it is the best one for you. To save you a bit of time, we have done a quick review of some of the different Android keyboards that are around. Beyond first and second place, they are in no particular order.
SwiftKey is akin to a virtual mentalist. It has a eerie quality of seeming to know what you are thinking and what word you need next. Often I can type entire messages just clicking on the words that SwiftKey predicts you may need as next. For instance, I typed "remember" on my handset screen as an email, and I was able to type "Remember to transfer $500 to Kate this afternoon" without making a single keystroke. (Kate is my wife incidentally and I often send myself messages as memos.)
How does SwiftKey does this? Whereas other keyboards "collect" your keystrokes as they go along, SwiftKey goes one better by scouring your Gmail, Facebook, and SMSs (and anything else you will allow it access to) and picking up your key sentence patterns. The result is very fluid indeed and the more you use it, the better it becomes because it learns more about the way you write.
SwiftKey costs $3.99 but a free trial version is available to take a look at. It comes with a Cloud account that stores your details and updates your sentence patterns. It also takes account of 'trending' sentences - so when someone invents a new word like "selfie" it will come up as an option. It allows you to "flow" through letters rather than picking them out one at a time - meaning your thumb just needs to move over letters to put them into words.
This apps has won major awards - including Google awards. It can be used on any device with any sized screen, with the "thumb keyboard layout" most appropriate for larger screens. It is also possible to move the keyboard elements around to best meet your needs, so it is flexible too. It also offers "Smart Space" which successfully predicts where spaces should go in your writing. So if you hit "D" instead of "S", SwiftKey comes up with options for words that begin with "S".
If prescriptive capability is your goal, this is the one for you.
However, if you are a power user and a perfect layout is more import to you, then Thumb Keyboard is for you. It costs $2.50 but you can try it out free of charge for 15 minutes, which is a nice touch. It is highly customizable, meaning you can get the keyboard exactly as you want it for the fastest typing possible.
The keyboard comes in a split format with buttons on either side of the screen. This is especially useful if you are using a tablet, but it is also pretty useful on a mobile phone. It also provides an option where one side of the screen is blank so you can hold your tablet with one hand and type with the other - a pretty unique option I think. It has a highly customizable look (colors, etc.).
Thumb Keyboard is not as prescriptive as SwiftKey, which is why I think SwiftKey is the better option, but certainly SwiftKey cannot be manipulated like Thumb Keyboard, and for many, that might make it a better option. Of course, the prescriptive elements are all there, but they are not quite as cutting edge as SwiftKey.
The ability to float across a keyboard rather than having to pick out individual letters is definitely the domain of Swype Keyboard. This was the app that started the concept of sliding across a screen, and as it was the first, it has had a long time to become the best. If that represents ease of use for you, then this is the app you should get, and a $3.99 it represents extremely good value.
Swype Keyboard offers laser accuracy when sliding across a screen, meaning messages are created in very short time indeed. Like Thumb Keyboard, the app is highly customizable, with the option to handwrite text. For tablets it offers a split screen for thumb operation . Whereas SwiftKey and Swype Keyboard utilize Google's native 'speak-to-text' capability, Swype uses another option which really isn't as good as the native option. Like SwiftKey it has a Cloud storage capability where everything is backed up should you ever have to reinstall.
This app is a definite boon to people who have to regularly send texts and emails, especially with one hand.
TouchPal offers most of the functions that SwiftKey, Thumb Keyboard and Swype Keyboard offer, but doesn't excel in any one. Its prescriptive capability is good - not great but very good, but of course, not as good as SwiftKey. It offers a pretty unique function that makes the keyboard operate in a similar fashion to a smaller phone, with 3 or 4 letters merged into 12 buttons, but beyond that it is certainly not as customizable as Thumb Keyboard. It provides a similar slide capability to that Swype offers, but it is not as elegant. It is a solid app, and if price is a concern, this is the app for you. It is free and as such represents ridiculously good value!
Like the TouchPal Keyboard, this is great value if price is what you are looking at - as you might imagine, Google Keyboard is another free app. It is standard on some Android phones (especially Samsung phones) but requires downloading and nominal configuration with other phones. It has very good predictive capability, almost as good as that provided by SwiftKey. It offers three words to choose from like SwiftKey, but those words often aren't as well predicted as those SwiftKey predicts. It also offers masses of emoticons to help you express yourself.
Google Keyboard works both on your phone and your tablet, and provides multiple languages. It does not though have any split keyboard options, which might be a big minus for some people. Google Keyboard doesn't seem to learn and mould itself to your writing as well as other apps do. An excellent app, but overshadowed by the opposition. However, like other Google options, expect Google Keyboard to get much better very quickly.