The best Android keyboards apps? That’s right: if you’re an iPhone user, BlackBerry addict or Windows Phone 7 fan, you may not know that Android lets you change what keyboard you use to type with. Don’t like the one your Sony Ericsson comes with? Go get another.
It’s a tremendously useful option to have, but with so many different keyboards available on the Android Market, it can be hard to know which to pick. That’s where we come in: we’ve tested every single one to find out which is best, whichever Android phone you use, and whatever your WPM count is. Read on for our verdict.
Below, you’ll see our findings on every Android keyboard we’ve tried, in alphabetical order. The ones that really stood out are marked with Editors’ Choice badges, but have a browse through: we’ve flagged up others that have advantages in certain scenarios.
Now, a few things to clarify. It’s surprisingly tricky to hunt down the precise number of keyboards on the Android Market, because they don’t get their own category. But we believe we’ve found every English language Android keyboard app that’s had more than 10,000 installs according to Market and AndroLib estimates – if we’ve missed any don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments.
We also know that something as personal as how you write is an emotional decision as much as a practical one, so try a few out: from our perspective, we were looking for keyboards that allow you to type quickly, but with correct punctuation and capitalisation, since we’re used to sending lots of work emails by mobile.
To install any Android keybaord app you see here, simply click through to the Market to download them, then activate them in Settings>Language & Keyboard. You can then switch to them anytime you choose by holding down on a text field, and selecting Input Method.
Damien McFerran contributed to this report
Best Android keyboard app for: Frying your mind
If you seek simplicity from your keyboard replacement then avoid 8pen like the plague. Rather than use a standard keyboard, this app instead uses a unique ‘dial’ configuration. Letters are assigned to sections of the dial, and by drawing a circle in a particular direction, you can spell out words. In theory it’s undeniably clever, but in practice it requires you to learn an entirely new way of text input. If you’re willing to stick with it then you may find it’s to your tastes, but when there are excellent alternatives such as Swype and Swiftkey X on the market, we’d wager that few will persevere.
Best Android keyboard app for: Multi-lingual types
AnySoftKeyBoard feels like a slightly spruced up Android 2.1 keyboard, with the same tall grey buttons. It’s a bit more responsive, but also a great deal more customisable, letting you assign various actions to different swiping gestures. That said, most of these actions are simply cursor movements, and text selection has been greatly improved in Android 2.3 so don’t bother unless your Android phone is on Froyo or below. Grammar sticklers will also miss the row of punctuation marks that appears on the top of many other Android keyboard apps. But its extensive languae support and easy switching between boards mean that you if you type in more than one language, it’s worth a butchers’.
Better Keyboard 8
Free (£1.84 to unlock settings/themes)
Best Android keyboard app for: Pimping out however you like
Better Keyboard is an Android keyboard app stalwart, now on version eight and still going strong. And it deserves to: this iteration appears to have nailed one of the long running issues (That it’s all too easy to ttype douuble lettters) and is incredibly responsive and accurate, with great punctuation correction for contractions. Its big feature though, which you’ll have to pay for, is the option to use all sorts of skins and plug-ins, to customise it to your heart’s content. If you’re one of those rare souls actually willing to pay money for an app on the Android Market, it’s a must.
Big Buttons Keyboard
Best Android keyboard app for: Those with large digits
As the title suggests, Big Buttons is all about giving your soft keyboard a more impressive, er, girth. Each key is made larger, making text input easier because you’re less likely to tap the wrong key. To be honest, we didn’t notice a massive improvement – most modern Android keyboards have error correction that cleverly looks at the keys you’ve pressed and guesses if you’ve touched the wrong one by mistake. Still, Big Buttons will find favour with those of you that possess sausage-like fingers that would have made Andre the Giant green with envy.
Best Android keyboard app for: Arabic users
It’s simply the old, not very good Android 2.1 keyboard for English users, but tap the bottom left button and you can switch to Arabic immediately. Very handy for a select audience, and we certainly can’t complain about the price.
Best Android keyboard app for: Finding what other keyboard types you like
Rather than offer one mode of input, FlexT9 allows you to toggle between tracing (like Swype), tapping, physically writing letters and speaking. The upshot is the fact that it covers practically every text entry preference, but the downside is that it comes across as a jack of all trades, master of none. For example, the text prediction is very iffy at times, with some suggestions making about as much sense as a chocolate teapot. Still, while Swype remains in beta form, FlexT9 offers a decent trace-to-type alternative.
Graffiti for Android
Best Android keyboard app for: 90s nostalgia
Graffiti will be familiar to anyone who owned a Palm OS PDA in the years before touchscreen smartphones appeared. It allows you to input text by drawing simple gestures which relate to each letter. While former fans may feel at home, the fact that you’re not using a stylus (as was the case with Palm-powered PDAs) can make things awkward, especially on mobiles with small screens. Also, we can’t help but feel that tapping or tracing is much faster method of writing. Possibly best left for those who yearn for the good old days when Palm dominated the portable arena.
Best Android keyboard app for: Er, pass
You might know Handcent better for its superb SMS messaging app, and judging from this, it’s master of only one trade. This 0-9 keyboard is confusing (Letters don’t appear in the text field until a whole word is complete, so it’s not always clear how many characters you need to delete) and seems convinced that you’re trying to write out long strings of numbers all the time rather than common words. There are very few Android phones where an old school 0-9 keyboard will be preferable (Maybe an X10 Mini), but even then, these come with better T9 keyboards than this. Don’t bother.
Best Android keyboard app for: Low resolution phones
HexBoard takes rectangular conventions and slaps some more sides on them, with hexagonal buttons – and in portrait mode, a layout that is anything but QWERTY. It’s actually surprisingly quick to pick up, but the delete button in the bottom left hand corner is too hard to get at, and the app has clearly not been updated for phones above 480×320 resolution, so on larger screens it looks blurry. Pity.
iPhone Keyboard Emulator
Best Android keyboard app for: iOS converts
Apple’s iPhone keyboard is one of the best, and this Android keyboard app from Sixgreen Labs does its best to rip it off, as the name suggests. It’s remarkably responsive and registered all the right presses, with almost identical iOS layout save for an emoticon key in place of the return button – and augmented with Android’s auto punctuation and word prediction bar. Admittedly, the fonts don’t look all that like Apple’s, but it’s the closest thing you’re going to get on a Google phone. (Oh, and one issue we’ve only just realised we had with the iPhone keyboard: the letters don’t change from upper to lower case contextually. They don’t here either. Lame).
Keyboard from Android 2.3
Approx 60p (free version available)
Best Android keyboard app for: Anyone with or without a Nexus S
Google’s 2.3 keyboard is without a shadow of a doubt one of the finest ‘standard’ variants currently available for Android. The trouble is, it only ships on the Nexus S – many manufacturers such as HTC are choosing to remove it from the devices they crank out. Thankfully you can download this handy replacement to score yourself some sweet Gingerbread goodness. It boasts great auto-correct and an intelligent punctuation bar just above the keyboard itself. Although it looks a bit squashed on 960×540 pixel resolution phones like the Motorola Atrix, it’s still the best there is if you want instant results, and properly formatted emails.
Best Android keyboard app for: Boggle obsessives
MessagEase can trace its roots all the way back to the days when Palm OS ruled the roost, and Windows Mobile was still called Pocket PC. It’s still worth your time in 2011 however, especially if you’re a coffee-in-one-hand, phone-in-the-other sort of texter. Nine buttons sport the most commonly used letters, and sub-letter within them which you must slide across to access. It takes some practice, and punctuation is a pain, but you can pick up quite the clip with just one hand this way. In truth, Swype has surpassed MessagEase, but it’s still fun (there’s even an accompanying game to help you learn) if you’re looking for something different.
Best Android keyboard app for: qHD screens phones
Perfect Keyboard might just be what it says on the tin. It’s a smart QWERTY with most of the features of the 2.3 Gingerbread keyboard, but the ability to customise everything from the theme to the colour, height of keys and width between them – plus what dictionary words are auto-suggested from. Not only that, but you can use gestures to delete words with a swipe, and even bring up a row of cursor keys for easier text selection. As such, this is the perfect keyboard for larger Android smartphones, especially those with 960×540 resolution screens that render other keyboards squat. If you’ve got a Dell Streak or Samsung Galaxy Tab, it’s also well worth the price of admission, since you can customise the key size to your heart’s content.
Best Android keyboard app for: Erm. People who like stroking things alot and not actually sending anything.
This might be worth a shot with a puny sized phone such as the HTC Tattoo, but we’ve been trying to get used to it for some time and we’re still not digging it. Like some of the Android keyboard apps listed here, it stuff several letters in to 0-9 buttons, and the direction you swipe on each determines the letter. In practive, having to smudge the screen for each individual charcter rather than tapping once, or dragging across like Swype, becomes very annoying, and we struggled to write anything coherent.
Smart Keyboard Pro
Best Android keyboard app for: Sound effects
One of the first keyboards to feature support for multi-touch back in the early days of Android, Smart Keyboard Pro has quickly been caught up by its rivals. However, as far as bog-standard T9 keyboards go, it remains reasonably impressive. It’s perfect for quick typers who like to use both thumbs during text input, and those of you that have warmed to Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 will love the copycat button click. It’s debatable if Smart Keyboard Pro has what it takes to beat the 2.3 Gingerbread Keyboard, but the vast array of supported languages (everything from Afrikaans to Macedonian is supported) helps it stand out from the crowd.
Best Android keyboard app for: SMS obsessives
While most keyboard applications offer predictive text and error correction, few can match SwiftKey’s supernatural efficiency. By watching the manner in which you type and looking at your SMS archive for typing patterns, SwiftKey is able to accurately predict your next word before you’ve even started to type it. It boasts enhanced algorithms for text prediction and error correction, making it one of the most blisteringly fast keyboard replacements on the Android Market. It’s worth noting that Swiftkey X Beta is now available for free, but at the moment it’s in the testing phase. Existing Swiftkey purchasers will be able to upgrade to the new version when it’s declared final and stable.
Best Android keyboard app for: SMS and email obsessives
This advanced edition of the excellent SwiftKey is currently in beta form, but even at this early stage it’s blindingly impressive. The general premise hasn’t changed – SwiftKey X uses clever programming to guess your next word – but this time around the app has a more impressive armoury to choose from. You can link it with your Twitter, Facebook, SMS and Gmail accounts so that it can ‘learn’ the way you type. By doing this, SwiftKey X looks for patterns in your messages and for well-worn phrases you can literally write the entire passage using complete words. It’s impressive stuff, and saves a lot of time to boot.
Best Android keyboard app for: One handed uses, resistive screens
Arguably the most famous trace-to-type keyboard available, Swype is still currently in beta but ships on many handsets as standard – including many of Samsung’s Android devices. Although it’s still technically in testing, Swype is an absolutely joy to use. You won’t believe how quickly you can compose an email or reply to a text message using this application, and the error-correction software is better than that seen on most rival trace-to-type keyboards. The only thing we don’t like is the prediction window, which pops up over the text input area rather than in a small bar at the top of the keyboard – it can occasionally obscure the sentence you’re writing. It’s also a revelation on an Android phone with a cheapo resistive touchscreen – if you’ve got a HTC Tattoo or a Samsung Galaxy Europa, you must try it out.
Tap Tap Keyboard
Best Android keyboard app for: Avoid
There’s a nugget of a kernel of a glimmer of a good idea buried within Tap Tap Keyboard: the notion that actually, we really don’t use some letter very often. As such, you’ll find the highest scoring Scrabble letters buried in the middle, with a re-arranged letters prioritising your E, S and other common characters. In practice however, it fails for several reasons. While you can type surprisingly quickly, the lack of sensible auto-punctuation and the simple fact that the letters in the middle are still the same size, just a different colour, makes it fairly pointless. Add to that the repeat force closes, and you’ve got an Android keyboard app on your hands to avoid.
Best Android keyboard app for: Avoid
A nice idea poorly executed. The premise is that the buttons, which look like the old Android 1.x keyboard, expand in size the more likely you are to press them next. Smart, but when there’s no text correction there’s a problem. Can you tell what we were trying to write here? “”The quivk btown foc jumps over the lazy dogf.”” The algorithms don’t really seem up to scratch either: for some reason, this Android keyboard app thinks you’re as likely to follow DO with H as you are G. Too much Simpsons, perhaps?
Best Android keyboard app for: Big screen mobiles
There’s no denying that the average touch screen keyboard is a little on the cramped side, and the chaps behind Thumb Keyboard have cooked up a solution. The keyboard itself is divided into sections, making it easier and more intuitive to type with your thumbs. This app also has an impressive level of customisation, and has been optimised for use on large-screen tablet devices. The only drawback is that it occupies more of the screen than the stock keyboard, but this is mitigated by the impressive speed at which you can input text when using both hands.
Best Android keyboard app for: Tiny screen phones
CooTek’s TouchPal Input is an absolute no-brainer for any Chinese Android users, but it’s worth considering if you only speak “British innit” too. Although its auto-punctuation is non-existent, it’s very responsive and accurate – in fact, even more so than the stock Android 2.3 keyboard on mobiles with really tiny screens. You can choose from full QWERTY, 12 key and 0-9 pads in both portrait and landscape, but testing the Vodafone Smart recently, we had no problems using it in full QWERTY mode. If you own another tiny rival, such as the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini, you must try this out.
Best Android keyboard app for: Texters with patience. Is that a thing?
Bear with us, this is an English language Android keyboard, honest. W10 takes the Latin alphabet and turns it on its head: instead of 26 individual characters, you have just 10 core ones. Dragging across two creates another secondary letter – two Us for instance make a W. If you’re willing to put in a lot of practice, it really is very fast for texting – we prefer more instant gratifcation however.
What Android keyboard app do you use? Have we missed any? Shout up with your thoughts in the comments below!