The standard virtual keyboard that’s built into Android phones is free and functional, but it’s as basic as basic can be: It’s pretty much just an onscreen representation of a traditional keyboard.
Need more features? Don’t despair. A bevy of robust keyboard replacement apps are available to boost your productivity. Here are six of the best choices, most of which have free trial versions available, so you can test which one feels the most comfortable under your thumbs.
- Smart Keyboard PRO ($2.65; free trial available) — If you don’t mind the stock Android keyboard, but wish you could change a few things, give Smart Keyboard (pictured) a whirl. The keyboard itself feels great. It features a pull-up nine-button numerical keypad, and letting your finger linger on a letter types the symbol associated with it (e.g., hold down 4 to get $). Smart Keyboard also includes numerous customization options: You can change colors, alter key sizes, and even add shortcuts for frequently used words.
- Swype Beta (free) — Many people consider Swype to be the premier Android keyboard app, because its innovative interface makes hunting and pecking a thing of the past. Drag your finger across the screen, from letter to letter, and Swype recognizes what you’re spelling; you never have to lift your thumb off the phone. It’s accurate and much faster than traditional typing. Voice-to-text dictation is handled by the same engine that powers Dragon NaturallySpeaking, but you need to be connected to the internet to use it. Many phones come with Swype pre-installed, but if yours doesn’t, you can register with Nuance to receive an email link to a download site. Note: The app isn’t available from the Google Play store, so you’ll need to enable app installations from unknown sources on your phone to install it.
- SlideIT Keyboard ($5.99; free trial available) — This is similar to Swype, but available in the Google Play store. A wide variety of free “skins” let you change the look of the keyboard, and you can draw numbers and symbols onscreen rather than typing them.
- SwiftKey X Keyboard ($2.99; tablet version and free trial available) — SwiftKey X doesn’t bother with all the swiping action; instead, it uses a combination of superb auto-correct abilities and a scarily accurate word-prediction engine to anticipate what you’re going to type. It’s seriously impressive. The keyboard learns your voice as you use it to make even more accurate predictions, and you can have it skim your text messages, RSS feed, and social media accounts to bring SwiftKey up to speed even faster. Plus, it offers the same long-press symbols and numerical keypad support as Smart Keyboard. Very highly recommended.
- WritePad ($9.99) — Why even bother typing at all? WritePad lets you scribble words into a field, then converts your handwriting into text. On the downside, it’s relatively expensive, and there isn’t a free trial. (For more on WritePad check out our “5 Handwriting Apps for Taking Notes on Your Tablet or Smartphone” post.)
- FlexT9 Speak-Trace-Write-Tap ($4.99) — This app, also from the makers of Dragon NaturallySpeaking, is a jack-of-all-trades: It supports hunt-and-peck typing, swipe-style typing, handwriting-to-text, and voice-to-text. All of the modes are highly accurate, and there’s a numerical keypad, too. The only major issue users have is that it’s kind of ugly, and there isn’t any way to change FlexT9’s look to alleviate the “problem.” There’s no free trial available, either.
What’s your favorite keyboard replacement app? Share your tips in the Comments field below.