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Android devices have come such a long way that they’ve all but replaced the laptop and desktop for everyday tasks like taking notes. But even after all this time, with improvement after improvement, they still lack in one critical area: typing.

Believe me, I’ve tried all kinds of alternative keyboards for Android. My favorite is Gboard with gestures (around 50 WPM), but even at my best, it’s still significantly slower than the speed and comfort of an actual keyboard (around 140 WPM). When you need speed, “thumb typing” isn’t enough.

Fortunately, you have options. Bluetooth and NFC keyboards Turn an Android Device Into a Laptop With Four Keyboard Technologies Turn an Android Device Into a Laptop With Four Keyboard Technologies Quite frankly, software keyboards just don't cut it for hardcore productivity. You should get a hardware keyboard -- and we'll help you decide which kind is right for you. Read More are convenient and easy to set up, but did you know that USB keyboards are viable too? All you need is one accessory that you can buy off of Amazon for under $5.

You Need USB OTG

Keen readers will note how Android devices are thinner than the connection bit of a USB cord. So how does one actually connect the keyboard to the device? With an adapter! In particular, one that adapts USB to Micro-USB (the same port used by most Android devices for charging 5 Sturdy and Long Micro USB Cables to Charge Androids and Other Devices 5 Sturdy and Long Micro USB Cables to Charge Androids and Other Devices Looking for sturdy and long Micro-USB cables? Moe Long covers the five most durable, and long, cables on the market. There's nylon sheath, kevlar sheath, fabric, and more! Read More , except for newer Type-C devices What Is USB Type-C? What Is USB Type-C? Ah, the USB plug. It is as ubiquitous now as it is notorious for never being able to be plugged in right the first time. Read More ).

This adapter is called USB On-the-Go (OTG) and comes in several different shapes and sizes. The one I have is similar to the UGREEN 6-inch USB OTG Cable (UK), but if I could do it over again, I’d probably get the Ksmile Cordless USB OTG Adapter (UK) instead. If you prefer a cable, you might also consider the Cable Matters 6-inch L-Shaped USB OTG.

UGREEN Micro USB to USB, Micro USB 2.0 OTG Cable 2 Pack On The Go Adapter Micro USB Male to USB Female for Samsung S7 S6 Edge S4 S3 Android etc 6 Inch Black UGREEN Micro USB to USB, Micro USB 2.0 OTG Cable 2 Pack On The Go Adapter Micro USB Male to USB Female for Samsung S7 S6 Edge S4 S3 Android etc 6 Inch Black The most practical&necessary on the go micro usb cable: Enabled android or windows micro usb phones or tablets work as PC host by connect female usb connector devices such as keyboard,game controller,flash drives,SD/TF card reader,wireless mice,external hard drives with an external power and more Buy Now At Amazon $6.99 Ksmile® 2 Pack USB 2.0 Micro USB Male to USB Female Host OTG Adapter for Adroid / SamSung S7 S6 S4 S3 i9100 i9300 Note 2./ Google Nexus HTC LG Sony mobile phones or smart tablets Ksmile® 2 Pack USB 2.0 Micro USB Male to USB Female Host OTG Adapter for Adroid / SamSung S7 S6 S4 S3 i9100 i9300 Note 2./ Google Nexus HTC LG Sony mobile phones or smart tablets Connect your USB On-the-Go capable tablet computer or Smartphone to USB 2.0 devices (thumb drives / USB mouse / keyboard... etc.) Buy Now At Amazon $4.99 Cable Matters Micro-USB 2.0 On-The-Go (OTG) Adapter 6-Inch, Black, Pack of 2 Cable Matters Micro-USB 2.0 On-The-Go (OTG) Adapter 6-Inch, Black, Pack of 2 2-Pack USB On-The-Go (OTG) adapters transform USB OTG enabled Android or Windows smartphones and tablets with Micro USB port into a host for connecting USB peripherals such as keyboards, mice, flash drives, external hard drives, USB card readers, game controllers and more Buy Now At Amazon $4.50

Regardless of which kind you get, they all operate the same way: plug the Micro-USB side into your Android device, then plug your keyboard into the USB side. Connection established! You can also play around with other USB-related uses, like tethering a DSLR camera 6 Creative Uses for Your Android Tablet 6 Creative Uses for Your Android Tablet Have an Android tablet? You'll enjoy these creative uses for it! Read More .

Setting Up Your External Keyboard

Once your keyboard is connected, you should take two minutes to set it up properly. It will work right out of the box, so this step isn’t strictly necessary, but it won’t take long — and you might as well tweak it to your liking from the start.

How to Connect a USB Keyboard to Your Android Phone android external keyboard settings

  1. Pull down the notification drawer.
  2. You’ll see a new item called Select keyboard layout. Tap on it.
  3. In the Choose keyboard layout prompt, you can keep it as Default, but I recommend tapping on Set up keyboard layouts to see what else is available.
  4. Scroll through the list and select the layouts you think you’ll use. If you type in non-English languages, be sure to select them. For me, I just disabled the traditional English QWERTY layout in favor of English (US) Colemak style. (Why do I use Colemak? One Simple Change Can Boost Your Typing Speed by 50% One Simple Change Can Boost Your Typing Speed by 50% Your keyboard could be slowing down your typing speed, so here's a simple change you can make to unlock your true typing speed. Read More )

Don’t see the notice in your notification drawer? Just go to Settings > Personal > Language & Input > Keyboard & Input Methods and you can change it all there.

How to Connect a USB Keyboard to Your Android Phone android external keyboard interface

Things may look different depending on your device model, manufacturer, and Android version, but the general steps should be similar. For example, on my Samsung Galaxy Tab S, the notification drawer items and settings pages are different but the functionality is all the same.

Now open any app and start typing. It should work. Congrats!

A Few Tips You Should Know

One thing I found surprising is that Android actually supports most of the special keys on a keyboard. Seeing as how touchscreen keyboard apps aren’t one-to-one replications, I didn’t think this would be true. But it is.

For example, the Home, End, Page Up, Page Down, and Delete keys work just fine. This is so useful when typing longform, such as when recording notes or writing up a paper. The Enter key also works as expected, inserting new lines or submitting forms as appropriate to the context.

Print Screen also works, which triggers the screenshot action at the operating system level. Since taking screenshots on Android can be a pain 6 Ways To Take Screenshots On Android 6 Ways To Take Screenshots On Android This is how to take a screenshot on Android -- no matter what version you're running. Read More , this is an amazingly simple workaround that’s peculiar yet convenient.

How to Connect a USB Keyboard to Your Android Phone android external keyboard features
Image Credit: OPOLJA via Shutterstock

The Windows key (if using a Windows keyboard) and the Command key (if using an Apple keyboard) will trigger special functionality depending on your version of Android. On my Moto E, the key brings up a simple Google search overlay. On my Samsung Galaxy Tab S, the key brings up Google Now on Tap.

Media keys are hit or miss. When I plug in my CM Storm QuickFire Rapid, the keys for volume control and playback control are functional. But when I plug in my Apple Magic Keyboard, none of the special keys register. That’s probably an Apple-only issue, and I fully expect most keyboard media keys to work fine.

I’ve only encountered two downsides: one, there’s no quick way to switch keyboard languages or layouts, and two, you lose access to things like emojis and special symbols that aren’t typable with a physical keyboard.

Why Not Just Use a Laptop?

Don’t get me wrong — I have a laptop that I love and use daily. But I can think of a few occasions when an Android device with a keyboard can prove a better fit than a proper laptop.

  • Android devices and keyboards can often be acquired for cheaper than the price of an entry-level laptop.
  • You have greater flexibility in that you can detach your keyboard at will and use the device on its own. (2-in-1 laptops exist but are expensive What Are 2-In-1 Laptops and How to Pick the Best One? What Are 2-In-1 Laptops and How to Pick the Best One? 2-in-1 laptops combine the portability of tablets with the ergonomics of a laptop, but are they any good? Is it better to get a tablet and a laptop separately? We explore. Read More .)
  • You can keep all of your work on the Android device instead of syncing it with a laptop. This is also useful if you like a certain Android app that isn’t available on your laptop.
  • Android devices have much longer battery life than laptops.

Once everything is setup and working, you can even take it a step further by mirroring your Android screen to a computer Mirror Your Android Screen to a PC or Mac Without Root Mirror Your Android Screen to a PC or Mac Without Root Looking to share your Android phone or tablet's screen to your desktop? It's easy, and your phone doesn't even need to be rooted. Let us show you how to do it. Read More . You probably won’t want to work like this 24/7, but if you occasionally need a bigger screen, try this method.

How do you like using an external keyboard on your Android device? Are there any other keyboard-related tips that we missed? Let us know in a comment below!

Originally written by Erez Zukerman on November 27th, 2012.

Image credit: bambambu via Shutterstock.com

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