As I recently blogged, I have become a major Android fan over the last three months and one of my favorite features of the platform is its flexibility. Nowhere was this more evident than in my recent search for a new Android keyboard.
The keyboard that came with my Motorola Atrix (running Android v2.2) was adequate; however, I had some significant challenges. The biggest problem was the positioning of the period key. For whatever reason, it is located next to the space bar and I inevitably hit it mistakenly when typing fast and trying to add a space. This creates all kinds of weird spacing and capitalization issues, and is supremely annoying. Additionally, the relatively small keys on the keyboard often caused typing error which were not always auto-corrected. My goal was to find a keyboard that could address these challenges and I was fortunate that Android has many options to choose from. Here is a review of the ones I tried out:
My Motorola Atrix came with Swype embedded and it was the first one I tried. My initial experience was uncertain because the keys were relatively small and difficult to type. It was only after further research that I realized that Swype incorporates a completely different typing paradigm. The idea is that you trace the word by dragging your finger over the various letters. Many people swear by this approach, but I never became comfortable with it. Perhaps I would have liked if I dedicated more time, but my goal was to find a keyboard that would better fit with my typing style rather than changing my typing style to meet the needs of the keyboard. Thus, Swype was disqualified.
After doing substantial research, this option seemed to be top rated and indeed, I liked it. The size and spacing of the keys is better than the stock keyboard and so in general typing was improved. However, it still has the annoying period problem. I particularly liked the ability to delete a word by swiping across the keyboard. In general, this keyboard was much improved over the stock unit. However, I still found another option that I liked better.
Gingerbread is the next major release of Android and includes a new keyboard. An intrepid developer ported that keyboard to earlier versions of Android and provided additional customization options. My immediate impression of this keyboard was mixed until I reviewed the customization features which truly differentiated it. This keyboard offers unique customizations including the ability to remove the period and microphone buttons which results in a larger space bar and is exactly what I wanted. Furthermore, it also offered the ability to change key size and spacing to further optimize the keyboard. My custom configuration included the removal of the voice and period key and increased key size. These seemingly minor enhancements made a massive difference and this keyboard is currently my favorite and is highly recommended.
SwiftKey X Beta
After the initial test of SwiftKey, the company released an all new beta version of the keyboard. This one is dramatically different from the previously reviewed model. I like the new layout and increased key size. However, it still lacks the customization options of the Gingerbread keyboard and so while it looks promising, I still favor the Gingerbread keyboard. On the bright side, the beta software is free and so I recommend experimenting with it. I Tweeted about my desire for further customization and the developers indicated that they were working on adding this feature. (Kudos to the SwiftKey team for responding via Twitter!)
Clearly a benefit of the Android is flexibility and the many keyboard options are a great example. Each of the keyboards provide a good typing experience, but in my opinion the Gingerbread keyboard is the best of the bunch. However, honorable mention goes to SwiftKey X Beta since the product is still under development and the final product may include additional customization options to meet my requirements.