Change Your Android Soft Keyboard System

by Brent on March 29, 2010 · 11 comments

by Brent on March 29, 2010 · 11 comments

Android Virtual Keyboard Options

I fear that there are many who don’t understand that you are not locked into the soft keyboard that comes default with your Android device. It is actually very easy to change out, or even have loaded simultaneously several different engines and switch between them at need. The method for doing this is very straightforward and you can have a lot of fun experimenting and find what works best for YOU. Let me step you through the process and introduce you to just a few of the many optional keyboard engines available in the Android Market. On a side note, some new keyborads have databases that can be stored on a SD Card. So here is a great one to use.

Enabling Keyboard Applications

1-2 Keyboard Options.jpg

After you have gone to the Android Market and downloaded and installed your alternate keyboard application(s), all you need to do is to open Settings. The easiest way to do this is to long-press the Menu key and then choose Settings. Scroll down to “Language & keyboard” and press to open. Each of your keyboard applications installed will show in this list. As you can see from the screenshot above, I have the default Android Keyboard, the KeyPro Bluetooth Keyboard driver, and the Better Keyboard applications loaded. You enable or disable by pressing for the check-mark by the application. Below each item is a configuration option. Press this and you will see all the options available with each keyboard set. I have shown just the first screen (of perhaps 10) for the Better Keyboard application. You can go through each of these and tune the behavior to your exact need.

Using the Keyboard Apps

3-4 Keyboard Selection.jpg

Once you have done this, the only other thing you have to do to put one of these options into effect is long-press any field that is looking for text entry. In the example, I opened Gmail and chose Compose. I then long-pressed the To field and was shown the Edit Text: Input Method. Press Input Method and you will see the available keyboards that you enabled in the Settings menu.

5-6 Compare.jpg

Moving from the default Android Keyboard to the Better Keyboard is just as simple as choosing that keyboard in the Input Method. This keyboard will now become the default keyboard until I change it to something else. And I can do that from any text input field with the long-press. Now, let me introduce you to just a few of the many alternative keyboards available in the Market.

Better Keyboard

7-8-13 Compare.jpg

What can I say about Better Keyboard? Is is the grand-daddy of all the replacement keyboards and it shows. At version 5.7 now, it has it all. It supports multi-touch on the keyboard and you can swipe left to bring up a compact qwerty keyboard. You can add user defined words to the dictionary and they receive higher priority than the built in dictionary. The normal keyboard correction understands the proximity of keys, so even if the actual spelling is WAY off, it is likely to guess the correct word. The keyboard has an amazing ability to switch layouts and key positions on the fly and also supports auto punctuation. Like most of the later keyboard replacements, it also supports speech input without any problem at all. On of the things I really LOVE about this product is that you can turn on word suggestions while using the physical keyboard as well. This keyboard also supports an arrow pad/number keyboard, although I have not tested it extensively (see the graphic above). And did I mention that there are over 150 keyboard skins available in the Market for this keyboard? Just about any color, layout, theme, or scheme you can imagine is available. You can also add font packs and a variety of languages with dictionaries. Knock yourself out. This is the one I keep coming back to.

Smart Keyboard Pro

9-12 Alternate.jpg

Smart Keyboard Pro is very similar to the stock keyboard, but has a couple of very interesting twists. If you are running Android 2.0+, then this keyboard will support multi-touch. That means that you can press multiple keys simultaneously and with just a little practice, should lead to much quicker typing. It also supports input in multiple languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Russian and more. Additionally, it automatically switches to a numeric keypad mode when you are entering in numeric fields. And one additional gem: this is the only keyboard that I have seen that also support cursor keys. Look at the graphic above for an idea of what this means. If the lack of directional keys has been driving you crazy, then this may be the keyboard for you. This app also supports skins, so you can really customize the look and feel of the keyboard.

Thick Buttons

10-11 ThickButton.jpg

Thick Buttons is very much identical to the stock Android keyboard, that is, until you start typing. The difference is that Thick Buttons tries to predict the next letter you want to type by highlighting and making the selected keys bigger so they will be easier for you to hit. In the short time that I used Thick Buttons, it was very good at predicting what letters I was likely to want next, and therein lies the rub. I found it a bit difficult to figure out where the next key was because it kept shifting places, requiring constant readjustment. Obviously, with more space, the keyboard works much better in landscape mode, but nevertheless, I found it tiring on my eyes and I found that I constantly had to watch the keyboard, rather than the entry field. That being said, I gave it a whole 10 minutes of a go. I don’t believe that is a valid amount of time to figure out if it really works. I love the concept, but am personally not willing to pay the price to see if it really works long term.

Swype

I did not reload Swype for the purposes of this post. And, yes, I am one of the lucky few who received a beta invite to test Swype on the Android platform. I have played with this concept on other devices and I really believe that if you are willing to buckle down and LEARN the process, it can be very quick indeed. The implementation on Android is very nice (although still a beta product!), but once again, I am not in a place where I am willing to invest the time to really learn this and make it work. I am hoping some one of you out there has and can give us some good feedback, based on a real valid test of this product.

I hope that you will take a look at these replacement keyboards, as well as many of the others that are now available or will be in the future. This is one of the best ways you can tune your Android device to YOU and truly make it your own. Wring the best advantage you can by making text entry less of a chore. Don’t forget to get a good SD Card for your phone.

Enjoy!

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  • Alan1

    I’ve used Swype on a few devices and its very annoying. Its another of these cases where we all have to suffer because of the general dumbing down and sloppiness of the population nowadays. You shouldn’t have to need to ‘learn’ it, but they’ve messed it up, so you do. I will explain.

    First of all, there’s an option in Swype to show the full path. So turn that on, then you can see exactly what path you traced.

    Next, ask yourself, what is it that defines ‘selection’ of a key? Is it a pause in time on that key? Is it an angular turn on that key? Is it that it is on the cusp of 2 arcs?

    For example, if you go from Q straight to T, does that select QWERTY or just QY? Clearly then, you have to define what action it is that selects a key,when there is such scope for ambiguity. For example, if you wanted to select QEY, you could do that unambiguously by describing 2 gentle arcs between those 3 points.

    Sadly, the morons have done none of this. They instead just resolve ambiguity by using a dictionary to find matching words then picking the first one. So you can carefully trace out a rare word like “muse”, see that you really have traced out “muse”, but the thing will still give you the word “must”, because really, who uses a word like “muse” nowadays?

    And yes, I know you can select the word you traced and re-train the system to interpret it correctly, but I shouldn’t have to, because I DID draw it correctly, and if I’m going re-teach this dumb thing all the rare words in the dictionary, then its just not worth the trouble.

    Morons.

    • http://www.simplemobilereview.com Rod

      Well said. I got annoyed with Swype for similar reasons. I moved to SwiftKey with has a much better concept. It learns what you frequently type and tries to predict the next work. I love that concept and it actually helps to have a system the learns how you talk.

      Now that said they all cannot beat speech-to-text which is built into Android 2.1 and higher I believe.

  • http://www.freedominput.com Paul Bowles – Freedom Input

    Nice article, I haven’t tried most of these yet but planning on getting myself a Galaxy S for my personal phone soon so will give them all a go then.

    I actually really like Swype but that’s probably because its on our test devices so I never really use it intensively. It is the first one I plan to use on my personal Android devices though when I pick it up as when I have played with it I can get pretty close to normal typing speeds (though that did take some practice).

  • Clay

    When editing documents a keyboard with cursor keys is a must. I’ve settled for Arrows Keyboard, because they’re one of a few apps that have cursor keys in the layout (unlike Smart keyboard which irritatingly has you pressing a key to display cursor keys). Thumb Keyboard has them, but as I like to use one thumb on my 5″ Tablet I find Arrows is slightly easier to use.

    Why all these keyboard apps don’t have a cursor keys layout option is a mystery… and bloody ridiculous.

  • Matt

    Swype is fun on my galaxy s but gets old because you pretty much can only use one thumb while typing a word since you have to hold your finger down and when you pick it up the word is entered. So the advantage of typing with two thumbs is mostly out the door unless you alternate for words which is a bit quicker but is still pretty slow.. Then again I tried the Android keyboard on my galaxy s and there are plenty of errors, it could be that I’m new to typing on a touch screen, but I’ve used the iPhone before to type and I havn’t had as many errors as I have on this phone. Also the Android keyboard’s dictionary for auto-correction is horrible. I can’t type ok without it turning into OK, and it’s enormous list of two letter words that no one ever EVER uses is such a hassle! Honestly I have been jumping between Swype and the regular keyboard when I get frustrated with one or the other.

  • Soff

    Hi! Can someone please tell me how to go back to the default keyboard :(?

    • http://www.simplemobilereview.com Rod

      The same place you switched you to other keyboard
      Home Screen | Menu | Settings | Language & Keyboard | ….

      You should see checkboxes for all the keyboards check the one you desire and uncheck the others. Also remember the way you selected the keyboard in the text edit screen you can switch back. Please watch the video on How to change the Android Keyboard.

  • Cville1326372

    i just downloaded better keyboard. I love it however i dont know how on earth to get it to quit vibrating.  I have turned off the haptic feedback and vibrate when touching the screen already.  Do i need to purchase the key in order to turn of the infuriating vibrations?

  • Peterkonki

    i want to have my own font on this keyboard keys ,how to do that ?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_73PBKEI5TGBVVEUQYHBAAHL4MI Adam

    COOL. thanks for the help