Android Central's Keyboard Roundup

Hey everybody! Grab a seat and settle in as we take a look at some of the cool replacement keyboards for our phones. One of the best things about Android is flexibility. Don’t like the way something’s done? Well then replace it!

Since we spend so much time and effort typing out mail and messages on our phones, the keyboard is a great place to start customization. Join us after the break as we compare the different ways to get your message across.

Many of us are using phones with no physical keyboard, or prefer it to the hard keyboard.  I fall into both categories.  I’ve spent the last few weeks testing and trying out various software keyboards available for Android, and am here to share all that I’ve found.

The good news – Everything I tested turned out to be a great piece of software, so you won’t go wrong with any of them.  Have a read, then try them out for yourself and I think you’ll be pleased with what Android has to offer in the keyboard department.

Let’s start with the keyboards everyone already has. Whether it’s the stock Android keyboard, or HTC’s flavor, your phone probably has one of these already installed.

Stock Keyboard

stock Android keyboard stock Android keyboard - symbolsstock Android keyboard - voice input

The stock Android keyboard

For something that comes standard, the stock Android keyboard is a really nice piece of software.  Add in the voice input option that comes with the newer versions of the OS and you have a great all around solution. I found it to be really responsive, and I couldn't complain if there were no other keyboards to choose from.  The best thing about it - it's built in and very easy to use.  Oh and the voice input is icing on the cake.  My biggest gripe is the way it handles symbols and special characters.  Stopping to press the "alt" key seems to stop the flow, especially in a long message.

Pros:
  • Voice input (2.x or higher)
  • No extra application installed
  • Can add words to custom dictionary easily
  • Very small learning curve

Cons:
  • No calibration routine
  • Not very smart in terms of word prediction
  • Special characters are difficult to enter

HTC Keyboard

 HTC Sense keyboard HTC Sense keyboard - symbols HTC Sense keyboard - special character entry

HTC's Sense UI keyboard

The HTC Sense keyboard feels a lot like a good user mod of the stock Android keyboard.  It builds on the great base with a few nice little features.  Things like calibration and the nice pop-up with your word choices make this an excellent choice as well.  My favorite thing about it?  Check out the third shot above – entering special characters is a breeze. The thing about it that I don't care for is the way it can lag behind, especially with haptic feedback enabled.

Pros:
  • Calibration makes press area more accurate
  • Good word prediction
  • Excellent way to enter special characters
  • Very small learning curve

Cons:
  • Can be laggy, especially if feedback is enabled
  • Only available on HTC Sense phones, or rooted phones
  • Haptic feedback duration is too long

Now we get into the fun stuff.  The rest of the keyboards on our list are third-party solutions, and they each bring some great functionality to Android.

Swype

Swype keyboard Swype keyboard - symbols Swype keyboard in action

Swype keyboard for Android

 


Everyone loves Swype.  (Watch our interview with them.) And why not?  It’s fast, it’s new, and it has a coolness factor that’s hard to match.  Spend the time needed to get used to it, and you’ll be flying through messages and emails.  Swype is currently in a semi-closed beta, head here for more info: Swype Inc.  I really like the "wow" factor of tracing lines to enter text, but I'll admit it takes a while to get used to not being able to see the keys under my thumbs.

Swype comes pre-installed on T-Mobile Android phones (Cliq XT and MT3G) and as mentioned above, they have an invite only beta going on pending the release of the app.  If you're still using one of the leaked beta builds, you really have no idea what you're missing.  Swype for Android has been improved in the current beta build, but unfortunately it's not available in the market. Instead, Swype's business model is for carriers and manufacturers to include the keyboard.

Pros:
  • Fast text entry
  • Innovative display of predicted words
  • Coolness factor
  • Long press for special characters

  • Ability to add words

Cons:

  • Learning curve
  • Lack of haptic feedback
  • Can't purchase from the Market.

SwiftKey

SwiftKey keyboard SwiftKey keyboard - symbols SwiftKey keyboard - word prediction

SwiftKey keyboard


SwiftKey is like an English professor is alive and working inside your phone.  It’s still in beta, but it’s already an amazing little application.  What makes SwiftKey different is its ability to predict the next word in your sentence.  Predicting the current word is so 2009!  Of course everyone loves things that make our lives easier - things like correctly guessing what word comes next.  My only issue (and it's a small one) is that you can't enter words that aren't in the dictionary by pressing the spacebar and moving on.  You have to actually tap the word to get SwiftKey to enter it.

To sign up and check out the SwiftKey beta head over to SwiftKey.net.  It's really polished for a beta, and to be honest I'm planning on using it as is until they release a new version.  At the moment SwiftKey is English only, but the developers say that they plan to include support for all the Latin based languages in the near future.  No word on availability and pricing of the final version, but by the look and feel of the application, it shouldn't be too far off.  Keep an eye on their site for details, and be sure to let me know if you see it slip into the Market before I do!


Pros:

  • Amazing full word prediction
  • Easy to add to custom dictionary
  • Also predicts punctuation
  • Special characters are easily entered by long pressing

Cons:
  • Learning curve
  • Can be laggy when first starting up
  • Will always pick the word it thinks is correct, so be careful with the spacebar 

Better Keyboard

Better Keyboard Better Keyboard - symbols Better Keyboard - skinned!

Better Keyboard


Better keyboard lives up to its name.  Imagine the best parts of the stock keyboard combined with the best bits from HTC’s keyboard, then mash it all up with a million customizable user settings.  Top it all off with skins (see above – sorry KU fans ).  Better keyboard is available in the Market for $2.99 (USD), as are a wealth of free skins and dictionaries. 

Right off the bat, everything is customizable.  Switching between modes (ABC, Symbol, and Compact) is a breeze, and there's even voice input.  There was a point in time that Better Keyboard had some lag issues.  Not anymore.  If anything, it's too fast for old geezers like me to keep up.  If you're a power texter who spends a lot of time tickling the keys, this is probably the keyboard for you.  My favorite feature is the settings.  I'm serious, you can set this thing up to act just the way you like it.  My biggest complaint is the speed when backspacing.  I always end up going too far :) [

Market link]

Pros:
  • Themes
  • Small learning curve
  • Most customizable
  • Voice input

Cons:
  • Text deletion wildy fast, careful you don’t backspace right over your message
  • Added cost
  • Needs a separate .apk for its dictionary if using anything but stock Android

ThickButtons

ThickButtons keyboard ThickButtons keyboard - symbolsThickButtons - in action!

ThickButtons keyboard


Thick Buttons is a relative newcomer with an interesting twist to text entry.  The buttons actually change shape based on prediction, so that they get larger and easier to hit.  This leads to faster and more accurate text input.  I’ll admit I have a hard time with it, but I blame it on me and not the app itself.  The way the keys morph can be a bit unsettling at first, but I imagine once you get past that and are more used to the way the keyboard works with you, the experience would be great.  Also the developers seem to be on top of things, since I started testing keyboards this has already had two updates.

If you always end up hitting the wrong key, this might be the solution.  It's really innovative and a one of a kind experience on the keys.  As mentioned above, I can't seem to adapt to it.  Don't let that stop you, this really is one of those things you need to try for yourself. [Market link]

Pros:
  • Good for “fat fingers”
  • Easy to add custom words
  • Responsive developers
  • Cool factor

Cons:
  • Big learning curve
  • Laggy at times
  • Special characters difficult to enter

Test parameters and results

To test all these keyboards, I used a nice and simple phrase that many of us would SMS to our significant other:

Hey honey on your way home from work can you stop and pick up a loaf of bread

The text was entered and not corrected in any way.  All the words were typed out and I let word correction take care of the details.  Remember, I’ve been using these for a while now so don’t be discouraged if at first you don’t get the best results.  And yes, I understand that this is far from a true "scientific" test.  That's because I'm not a scientist.  I'm a guy who often sends mail and messages from his phone, so I figure this is as good a way as any to test things out.

A note on the speed of the tests -

I’m not the speediest texter, I consider myself “average”.  I can type about 40 WPM on my OSK, but I like to use real words and make sure everything is spelled correctly before I send it off.  It stands to reason that if you're a demon on the keys, you'll make more mistakes.  

Below are the results of typing out the above message with each of the keyboards featured in our roundup.


Stock 2.1 Keyboard (using voice input)

Voice input test 

This was undoubtedly the easiest way to enter text among any of our tests.  The text was correctly parsed and exactly what was spoken appeared on the screen.  (According to my wife and kids, the phone was correct when it displayed "a" instead of "hey" and I just talk funny.  Go figure.) Granted, not very many people will use voice input but when you need it, it works pretty well.

Stock 2.1 Keyboard

stock Android keyboard test

Not too bad.  I’m a little disappointed that a simple word like “home” wasn’t chosen instead of “Hoke”, because i checked and Hoke isn't in my dictionary.  Where does Hoke come from anyway?  If this text was sent as-is, my wife would certainly know what I meant, so there really isn’t a problem here.

 

HTC Keyboard

HTC Sense keyboard test

Again, not too bad.  I can forgive the application picking a word like puck instead of pick, especially since I very well could have typed puck :).  My wife would chuckle and ask me if I was planning on playing some hockey with the bread, but she would know exactly what I meant, so this too is passes my simple test.

 

Swype

Swype keyboard test

Flawless for the most part.  I can't fault the app for using the word Her instead of Hey, and bonus points for capitalizing the word in the first place.  With Swype, once you get past the learning curve of swiping your finger, you won’t have many problems typing out understandable sentences.  And you’ll be able to do it quickly as well.


SwiftKey

SwiftKey keyboard test

Couldn’t ask for anything better.  Even capitalized the first word correctly.  Also I could have typed this in less than half the keystrokes had I used the built in next word prediction.  For the way I type, this is my favorite.


Better Keyboard

Better Keyboard test

Another success.  Better Keyboard is turning out to be a real jewel compared to some of its earlier versions.  It feels faster than the stock offerings (from both Android and HTC) and in this test at least performs better than both.

 

ThickButtons

ThickButtons keyboard test

Again it’s concerning that it enters words that don’t exist rather than correct the word with one that is in the dictionary.   But the good news – even this is more than usable.  ThickButtons is relatively new, and the developer seems on the ball, so this is one to keep an eye on.

Conclusion

After playing (yeah, it was fun!) with these I’ve decided that I need two keyboards to fill my needs – Better keyboard for voice input and its great way to input special characters, and SwiftKey for it’s amazing word prediction features for normal use.  Check them all out and let us know your favorites in the comments!

 

Reader comments

Android Central's Keyboard Roundup

63 Comments

Oh yeah. Just downloaded this keyboard last night. It easily beats Better Keyboard to me. I love the layout and voice text is the truth! Great job dev! Also I didn't know that you can just go to a website and download this app without being rooted. Is this what is commonly referred to as an "apk"? Please enlighten me on what apk actually is someone.

Thanks!

APK is an installer file. Like an MSI in Windows. You can install them as long as you have enabled installation of non-market apps in your applications settings menu.

Tried thickbuttons, it's too laggy, it even FC'd on me. I'm keeping it installed in hopes that it gets a good update though!

This was the first I've heard of ThickButtons. I'm glad someone has decided to take that approach. If I'm not mistaken, I believe that is how the iPhone keyboard operates: by changing the size of the key landing area (except it doesn't change it visually)

Go WVU, beat Duke!

I absolutely hated the stock Android Keyboard. I still do. I downloaded Better Keyboard a couple nights ago along with the iPhone skin. Even though the skin doesn't look as sharp as an actual iPhone the functionality is the same as my old iPhone. I am incredibly happy with my Droid again. I haven't had to touch the physical keyboard.

I kind of want to try BetterKeyboard just for the skins, but my HTC keyboard is good for now. :D Oh, and I saw a commercial for the Omnia II(WinMo 6.5) using Swype, so yeah. I dunno.

The black is universal for all stock Android? Eh, I thought it was Droid only, I can't imagine that on some of the lighter phones, like the Moment...bit off putting.

The latest HTC keyboard has voice input, even for Android 2.0. Also, I did not have to root my Droid to install it.

I have Better Keyboard as well as ShapeWriter - going to try out SwiftKey and ThickButtons now. I personally like ShapeWriter which is free and available in the Market unlike Swype which is in closed beta. I can't directly compare the two, but from the comments it seems like it has gained favorable reviews.

I got into the swype beta and have never looked back, this is the future for touch screen keyboards

HTC IME is not only available to root users and has resolved all of the major issues with it in the current XDA updated versions. Plus no more lag on input, especially on a Nexus One. And it has the voice input.

Thanks for the great review, I've been looking for a review of keyboards for a while now.

I was using the HTC keyboard for about a year, but switched to the Android one when Voice came out. I find voice amazing, and use it frequently. I do have the official swype beta, but had problems with it force closing. It wasn't bad, but I still mostly alternate between my G1 keyboard and voice. Nothing can even come close to the G1 physical keyboard in my opinion, not even the ones on the Motorolas, and it doesn't cover up half the screen.

I have wanted to try better keyboard, but had never seen it. I may try the HTC keyboard again, now that it has voice, (the Android one is more difficult to use), and I will probably purchase Better Keyboard at some point if I don't feel as happy with the HTC with voice one.

You need to update the HTC_IME section of this article. The HTC keyboard is not only for rooted devices. It never has only been for rooted devices, there's been an apk for it since forever.

The hacked and unreleased builds of the HTC keyboard were not reviewed, just like the hacked and unreleased versions of Swype and Better Keyboard, or the hacked Hanyu Pinyin versions of some of these.

This was done for a reason - is it fair for a developer if you review a version of his/her product that someone else has tampered with? If you want to use the official build of the HTC Sense keyboard, you must be rooted and include the HTC framework on your phone. While you may not agree with my reasons, now you know them :)

Great review! I don't see the voice button on the HTC keyboard and am running the 2.1 leak on the eris. That said, better keyboard is great, but frustrates me it doesn't select special characters the same way the HTC keyboard does. If there is only 1 special character it selects it with a long press, but if there are multiple special character options it doesn't seem to work. Anyone else have that issue and know a solution?

Excellent writeup. Two things to correct, though.

First, the stock keyboard's voice input is available in 2.1+, not 2.x+. 2.x would include 2.0 and 2.0.1 and it is not available in non-rooted versions of those.

Second, the HTC keyboard is available on non-rooted phones. i am running it on my stock, non-rooted 2.1 Droid right now. You simply need to install the apk for the keyboard and the apk for the calibration routine and then select them in your keyboard settings. No rooting necessary.

I am using Swiftkey and I think it's the best keyboard around.

About the con "Will always pick the word it thinks is correct, so be careful with the spacebar"

You can turn it off by:
- going to settings
- Input Settings
- Turn off AutoComplete

Awesome review! I really like to way you approached the testing and am slightly surprised with the way ThickButtons chose non-words. Keep up the good work!

Yeah I really can't believe you left Smart Keyboard Pro out of the roundup. I recently did my own testing and that's what I settled on. Better Keyboard's dictionary was wayyyyyy too small (though Smart Keyboard's could use some improvement). I don't understand why no one can use the built-in dictionary but I'm not a programmer. Smart Keyboard's voice recognition also seems to be better than Better Keyboard's. And Smart Keyboard is more customizable.

I really liked Swype. Hope to get it back.
In the meantime I'm using SlideIT Lite.
I think the "swiping/sliding" method with good predictive capabilities is the best and fastest.
Thinking about trying thickbuttons but I don't think it's available for ver 1.5.

Smart Keyboard Pro is great! Thanks for that suggestion!

Also to try, for those of us not fortunate-enough to have Swype, is SlideIt keyboard. Same idea as Swype, but looks a bit less polished. There is a free demo version you can try before you buy. I had to reinstall it twice (first time, keyboard wouldn't come up for some reason).

What about SlideIT by Dasur? It's an awesome sliding keyboard app available on 1.5. You can't get Swype on the Eris, so I would highly recomment SlideIT. One major flaw, though, is the total inability to type two capital letters in a row....

Android_fan: I have the Droid Incredible, and my speech to text on the stock keyboard does that. I can say, "hey exclamation point how are you question mark" and it writes, "hey! How are you?"

The only thing I don't like is that it doesn't capitalize the first letter of the first word, but it does it for the word after the punctuation.

Oops, That should have been in reply to the person below me

Can any of these keyboards do Voice Input with PUNCTUATION RECOGNITION? Like where I can say "Open Quote", "Close Quote", "Comma", "Colon" and it knows what I mean instead of just typing out the words I said?

Nope. They are like a parrot - they only repeat what you slowly say to them, word for word. I don't know when, if ever dictation style STT will come around.

If anyone reading this has the new beta of Vlingo for Android, can you let us know if Vlingo will do voice-input with punctuation? I used to have a program for my old Treo 700p called JOTT that would do Voice-Input Email and Texts with punctuation. JOTT was pretty quick but it wasn't instantaneous. It took a few minutes because they used human transcribers who I'm pretty sure were paid in Rupees!

"Big Buttons Keyboard" uses a patented modified QWERTY matrix, resulting in a fast, comfortable keyboard with buttons twice as large as other keyboards, with practically no learning curve.

Available on Android Market for Android 1.6 phones and above.

Really, why didn't you include Smart Keyboard Pro in the review ??? It's just the best rated keyboard on the market !

I downloaded smart keyboard pro last night and so far i am enjoying it. Id like to see the swype keyboard come to the market so we can all enjoy it. is that gonna happen?

I'd like to try swiftkey as well but a week after sending the request I still have no response. :(

I'll keep using Swype in the mean time.

Thanks for this awesome write-up. If you do a part 2, would you try to include TouchPal by cootek? I would like some other opinions on that keyboard for Android because I loved it on Windows Mobile and am curious if it performs on Android just as well.

Jerry,

Thanks for the nice roundup!

We just launched our product and we are going to polish it with the help of our users so we are really appreciate any kind of feedback from users.

We are about to release version that will work perfectly for the fast typist.

Another feature we are working on is voice-to-text button so stay tuned for the updates and feel free to share your ideas on how we can improve our keyboard.

What note taking app is being used here? Is it a native android feature that I have missed completely? It seems very useful.

Hey all

New to the android world. Switched from the blackberry world and my question is on my new incredible to get skins for my keyboard i would have to first download "better keyboard"?

Thanx

Nobody has said anything about Slide Keyboard which is a totally different class of keyboards. This is a gesture based keyboard which almost allows you to type without looking at the screen since it uses fewer and larger buttons. Basically each button maps to 5 letters so you can tap for one, or tap and drag up,down,left,right for each of the other 4 letters. There are two styles, one with 8 buttons and one with 12 (you get extras in landscape mode). With the 8 button mode you get 40 effective buttons which is more than all the other keyboards, but the 12 button setup has incomplete gesture utilization but a more intuitive qwerty setup so doesn't have as much of a learning curve. I've been using this in the 12 button qwerty layout for a while after trying a bunch of others. The thing I didn't like about Swype is that my non-transparent fingers keep getting in the way. It may not be any faster, but requires less accuracy in finger placement than most others. I guess some people have trouble getting it to work so it only has 3.5 stars, but its free and I recommend trying it.

I tried several and bought the Smart Keyboard Pro after the trial for my Droid X. I have found it a pleasure to use and I am much faster typing with it.

I thought I'd throw my app out there.

SlydeBoard is my offering.

I've tried many of the others. Maybe my fingers are just too big (or the buttons are designed for the Keebler Elves), but they just don't work like I want. I've come to loathe auto-correction because it's almost never what I want, and I spend a lot of time going back and re-typing. I got hooked on talking to my phone for a while, but that turned out to be a novelty too, with just too many errors to go back and fix.

I'm still working on the documentation and a demonstration video. Hopefully they'll be ready tomorrow night, but here's a quick rundown.

My keyboard is just 9 buttons! You use a combination of tap, slide, and swoosh to get all 5 keys that you would touch with that finger and that row on a QWERTY keyboard.

Basically, the buttons are:

Left Hand:

1 2 3 4 5
q w e r t
a s d f g
z x c v b

Right Hand:

6 7 8 9 0
y u i o p
h j k l ;
n m , . /

Either Hand: (Space bar extends across the entire bottom.)

shift SPACE shift

My keys are big enough, I can use two thumbs and basically touch-type on my cel-phone.

Slide up (on any key!) to backspace, slide down to hit 'Enter'.

You can type all of the keys on a standard keyboard. A few of the uncommon keys require diagonal slides, but the app will show you where to find them if you just hold your finger down on the button for that area of the keyboard.

I've tested the app on HTC and Android phones. I've tested it with connect bot in combination with emacs, vi and telnet. (CTRL + ]) There was nothing I couldn't do. You can even use arrow keys to scroll around text boxes without deleting text.

It takes just a little bit of practice to get used to.

I'm asking $1.99, but of course there's a 24 hour money back policy if it doesn't work for you.

Happy texting!

Searching for the fastest Android keyboard, I've tested about a dozen or so with the help of myTextSpeed (Android app). Especially interesting keyboards were SlideIt, Ultra Keyboard, SwiftKey and MessagEase, but results vary depending of the use.

For example, SlideIt keyboard, similar to Swype, has been the best for me to write extensive notes on many different topics. The tracing option of Ultra Keyboard was also good, but sometimes a little buggy.

I'm using SlideIt to write Word documents on Mobile Systems' OfficeSuite Pro, Android text editor with good select/cut/copy/paste and text reflow/wrap. It's possible that I will change from Word to write OneNote notes on MobileNoter (Android editor with OneNote sync) some months later, when its editing will improve. Also with SlideIt keyboard, of course.

Another use case is SMS and email messages, if you usually write the same phrases. For this, the phrase prediction of SwiftKey keyboard is excellent.

And, in the case of unusual words, lists of names, many special characters, computer programming languages, etc., MessagEase keyboard seems the way to go. Some also find it very fast for any text, but I think SlideIt is faster for normal text.

NO ONE HAS ADDRESSED THE CURSOR PLACEMENT ISSUE! Do any of these "keyboards" allow you to roll your finger to place the cursor between letters (like is possible on the iPhone!)???
I am SO tired of having to tap the screen 10-15 times until the cursor is where I need it to be!!!!!
HELP!!!!!!!!

Some keyboards have solutions for cursor placement. For example, SlideIT keyboard has four arrows on one of the secondary screens for special characters. Ultra Keyboard has four optional arrow keys on the main screen, which is more convenient. This also happens with the default keyboard on my HTC Desire HD. In a similar way, with MessagEase keyboard you can move the cursor left/right with a movement on the space key.

Apart from those keyboards, OfficeSuite Pro is an editor that allows precise adjustment of the start and end of text selections with just the finger. Also, pinch to zoom can make cursor placement easier.

I've just moved to Android for the first time. The keyboard was naff, as all TS keyboards are (for my fat fingers).

I liked the idea of swype, but was dubious. I'm too old to learn new trick. I tried it, and the first attempt I got the 'lazy dog' sentence with only two word selections. for the very fist attempt from a 'bible method' (seek and ye shall find) typist, I was pretty impressed. It lets me look for the next letter while going for each, and does not mind the odd digression from the true path.

I am an instant fan, especially as the hunt & peck still works, and the voice recognition seems better than the built-in (does it use a different engine?). I hope the relationship will last beyond the honeymoon, and I also hope they release it as a stand-alone product.