Trace, tap, type, talk
Keyboards are important. Really important. Without a good keyboard, communicating on a smartphone can go from heavenly bliss straight back to teeth-pulling torture. Keyboards are also one of the most important apps you select from a security standpoint, as they are by their very nature keyloggers. And while most users will never really need to worry about if their keyboard is stealing their emails and passwords as they type it in, it is something that you should keep in mind if you're checking out a keyboard that you know absolutely nothing about.
There are a number of great keyboards out there, each with its own features, flaws, and followings. There are utterly simplistic keyboards and bleeding-edge keyboards with a longer list of features than some smartphones. Finding a keyboard that fits you and your lifestyle can be a bit daunting.
Whatever your style may be, these are the five keyboards that we think stand above the rest, and may be worthy of composing your LOLs and WTFs.
If you had to ask us to pick one keyboard as our ultimate top choice for Android, SwiftKey would be it.
For years, SwiftKey soared above Google's included keyboard, and it did — and still does — come preinstalled on many a phone and tablet. SwiftKey's prediction methods, called the "fluency engine," has made it the keyboard that many users and editors alike keep coming back to. SwiftKey has been pre-loaded on millions of devices over the years, including on flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S4.
While SwiftKey used to be a paid app, the keyboard itself went free in 2014, instead having its users pay for themes — such as their Frozen theme pack. SwiftKey has led the keyboard pack for a while, but it has plenty of competition to keep it on its toes. .
Swype is to SwiftKey as GM is to Ford. Both are established, respected, feature-rich keyboards. Swype allows you to swipe out words or whole sentences, and Swype supports typing in two languages at once, for bilingual users. Swype offers a free version, but the full version is a dollar, and themes are an additional two dollars apiece. For those uninterested in having Elsa on they keyboard, Swype offers sports themes, including Major League Soccer themes.
Swype ties into Android's Accessibility features for TalkBack and Explore By Touch, which make Swype a keyboard vision-impaired users can learn more easily on their own. Copy/Cut/Paste functions are embedded as gestures in Swype's keyboard, too. Swype all the things!
3. Google Keyboard
While years ago, Google's built-in android keyboard was considered a bit of a slouch, it's built to compete today. The Google Keyboard is completely free, supports gesture typing for both individual words and entire sentences, a bounty of languages, a modest choice of themes, and it was the first keyboard to feature the full library of Kit Kat emoji last year. That may not sound like much, but after years of mediocre or downright dreadful emoji from the OEMs and keyboard manufacturers, Kit Kat system emoji was a welcome change and drew in quite a few users before third-party keyboards began to integrate it.
The Google Keyboard employs Google's own text-to-speech engine for voice dictation, and the many advancements in voice recognition made for Google Now and Android Wear over the last few years have benefitted this keyboard greatly. Google's keyboard still has a little ways to go on the text prediction, but it does learn from your typed data across Google's apps and services.
Fleksy is a keyboard that exudes class with its minimalist styling and its artfully done themes — if you want a Frozen keyboard theme that actually looks good, go get the Fleksy one. Now, make no mistake, Fleksy is not a cheap keyboard, though they do offer a 30-day trial to decide if it's worth the $1.99. After paying for the keyboard, most premium themes are also paid, including licensed themes like Frozen and The Hunger Games.
Beyond more traditional customization options like a fifth row for numbers and support for more layouts than your standard QWERTY and DVORAK, Fleksy's keyboard has extensions, allowing it to send things like gifs or work while becoming invisible. Another interesting addition to Fleksy is are the badges and rewards system that encourages users to master the keyboard and its features.
TouchPal is one of the lesser-recognized keyboards out there, but a few useful features have helped it stand out and get over 10 million installs. TouchPal's keyboard held the freemium model of an always-free keyboard with a paid theme store and paid cloud syncing before SwiftKey and the rest of the field headed that direction. However, while you can pay for premium themes, you also have the option to simply upload your own background image and make your own for free.
What has stood out about TouchPal for me, and made it my primary keyboard for the last year now are three things: the dialogue between the developers and the beta community, swiping from the backspace to delete the last word, and swiping the space bar up to access the emoji drawer, which supports system emoji and now emoji art and emoticons.
Which keyboard do you use?
So, which keyboard graces your device? Do you prefer a more simplistic keyboard or a model with more bells and whistles? Chime in below in the comments section with your keyboard setup.
Article updated November 2015