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
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
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.