Mobile keyboards are like neighborhood coffee places: You sometimes need to try each and every one, just to be sure you found the perfect one. Kii is a keyboard that supports almost any feature you could imagine, including swiping, multiple layouts (including one dedicated to emoji), and more. But it’s definitely an acquired taste, sort of like that hippie place down the street that sells green coffee.
Settings, Settings, And Some More Settings
We usually cover settings near the end of any review, but when it comes to Kii, they make sense as a starting point. There are just so many of them:
Top left, you can see the main settings menu. The layout is sensible, and the language used to describe the settings is clear (not always a given). To the right you can see the language submenu – note the Premium banners denoting the Blacklist and Long Press features. As you might guess, these are paid features, but Kii takes an interesting tack: You actually can enable paid features even with the free version of Kii – they simply reset after one hour of use. This is another example of an Android app creatively playing with the traditional business model – a bit like the social-payment model we’ve looked at with wallpaper app Freshbacks.
Running through all settings menus would make for a really boring post, but here are just two more, to give you a sense for the scope and granularity here:
“General” is the vaguest category of settings, and it is indeed a bit of a mishmash, putting usability features (being able to move your cursor with the volume keys) next to gimmicky fun features (writing in “Alien Text”). The Sound & Vibration menu is noteworthy mainly because you’ll need to use it to disable the annoying key clicking sounds, which are on by default.
The Typing Experience
Once you finish fiddling with the settings, you’ll spend most of your time typing. Here’s a bit of what that looks like:
To the left, you can see the quick access menu to the settings (yes, those settings again). To the right you can see one possible configuration: This is standard QWERTY, but with the option to highlight the left and right key-blocks. These simple visual cues help you figure out which thumb to use for which key when thumb-typing, and were actually surprisingly useful as I don’t usually thumb-type. This is a feature I haven’t seen on any other keyboard.
Swipe input works too (once you switch it on) and looks just like the one used by the native Google keyboard:
As you swipe across the keyboard, the predicted word shows up above your finger and follows your motion. This was accurate and responsive in my testing. Not all layouts support swiping, though:
The Compact mode, top left, is basically T9. You get large keys, and it’s not all that different from TouchPal’s T9 mode. It works, but has one glaring issue: The easily accessible XT9 button (right above the Shift key). I kept hitting it by mistake, turning off the predictive text feature and ending up typing a bunch of garbled text before I realized what happened. Very annoying.
To the right you can see a far crazier layout. This layout is meant to be used in landscape mode, but, true to the call of absolute customization, Kii lets you use it in portrait mode if you insist. Take a moment to look at it: This has to be one of the weirdest layouts I’ve seen on a mobile keyboard yet. It’s basically QWERTY, split down the middle, with the right side pushed all the way to the bottom of the screen.
Here’s the full list of layouts, as well as the included emoji mode:
The emoji mode is one of the coolest input modes on this keyboard, and I can’t recall seeing such a full complement of emoji on any other keyboard. What can I say but (^_^).
Bottom line on the actual typing experience is that it works, and that’s the main reason I’ve decided to review this keyboard.
Aesthetic Woes: It’s Not a Pretty Sight
You may have noticed something in the screenshots so far: Kii is not exactly a sight to behold, to put it kindly. It comes with a bunch of different built-in layouts, all of which are plain-looking, or worse. Rather than get a designer on the job, it appears that the Kii team tried to solve this using an engineering approach:
Top left, you can see the list of built-in themes you can choose from. Top-right is the theme download feature, which is, frankly, quite terrible. It’s an interesting combination: On the one hand, Kii is very powerful in that it can work with theme formats for a number of keyboards (Go Keyboard and friends). On the other hand, downloading those themes is a painful experience. You get ten random themes every time, not sorted according to anything. Preview images are tiny thumbnails; you need to go to Google Play to actually look at the theme and download it, and then go back to the keyboard itself. Swype got this right by bundling just a handful of very good themes along with the app.
Another bit of engineering sophistication went into letting you swap out the fonts used on the keyboard: Kii is able to scan all of your installed apps for any embedded fonts, and lets you use those on your keyboard:
Once again, this is a feature I haven’t seen on any other Android keyboard.
For Users Who Value Customization Over Polish
Kii is a strange beast: I can’t endorse it as enthusiastically as I recommended Multiling. Its core typing mechanics are solid and work well, which is the most important thing. The added features are the interesting part: Some of which are very cool and effective, while others just feel like relics from Gingerbread days.
The second most important thing about Kii is its friendly business model which lets you try out all premium features to get a feel for the app. So, there’s nothing to lose: Try Kii out and share your thoughts in the comments. Is it good enough to become your everyday keyboard? Feel free to respond using nothing but emoji.