There’s something about typing on a touchscreen that really brings out developers’ creativity. After all, they are no longer bound by the rigid constraints of plastic: Buttons become a recommendation, rather than a must. Suddenly you can swipe, slide, and glide, or dictate to your phone. Heck, some keyboards will even correct your grammar. Minuum is a new keyboard for Android that does away with the traditional notion of, well, a keyboard. As the thinking goes, your phone’s screen is first and foremost just that: A display. Minuum does everything it can to occupy the least amount of space possible while still remaining usable, leaving lots and lots of room for your text. Here’s what it looks like, next to SwiftKey:
Minuum is basically half as tall. This isn’t even an accurate comparison, since my phone has some custom DPI settings (courtesy of PAC ROM), but you can see what I mean: Minuum takes a fraction of the vertical space SwiftKey does (one of the best keyboards for Android). It does this by completely eliminating rows: Calling itself a “one-dimensional keyboard,” Minuum is basically just a horizontal bar you tap on. Obviously, with such tiny slivers for buttons, you’re not going to be able to tap the correct letters — the best you can do is just tap approximately what you’re trying to type. Minuum is built for this, and its algorithm will figure out what you’re trying to type. It’s surprisingly effective.
Layouts and Customizations
Minuum allows for a generous level of customization. First, let’s take a closer look at the keyboard itself:
This is it — I didn’t remove anything from that screenshot, that’s all you get. Note the conspicuous absence of a spacebar: To tap space, you have to swipe right. Swiping takes time, so if you want, you can sacrifice a bit of vertical space and add on a space bar:
This screenshot also shows what happens when you long-press a key: A beautiful pop-up shows up, letting you comfortably swipe left and right to pick letters and special characters. This is important when typing names and other words Minuum isn’t familiar with.
Apart from swiping right to enter a space, there are three more gestures:
You can swipe top-left to trigger voice typing, top-right to start a new line, and bottom-left to press backspace.
There is also a dedicated numbers mode, which is basically just the numbers row of a keyboard on its own:
Finally, if you want, you can also make Minuum into a full-sized keyboard, thereby completely missing the point of this app:
The keyboard looks a bit weird (note the odd padding issues of all of the special symbols — that emoticon looks really squished on the M key). Worse, it doesn’t support sliding/swiping input — you have to tap to type. It’s safe to say that the full layout is definitely not Minuum’s strength, but then again, it was never meant to be.
In Actual Use
Tapping along with Minuum is a fun experience. If you touch-type with QWERTY, it’s basically second nature: You just have to “forget” raising and lowering your fingers, and pretend the entire keyboard is in a single row. I was able to type a few lines pretty easily, with the auto correction never missing a beat:
Except for that bqcwuaglx there in the end, of course: That happened when I missed the space key. It was supposed to end up like this:
Since Minuum is so tiny, there is nothing to look at while typing: Your thumbs virtually cover the whole keyboard. This meant I quickly found myself touch-typing, with my eyes on the text I’m composing rather than the keyboard. Speaking of thumbs, while Minuum is interesting to use in portrait mode, it’s virtually impossible to use it single-handed, at least on my 5″ phone. But there’s a mode in which most of us hold the phone two-handed, anyway: Landscape. That’s an orientation in which Minuum really shines:
When it has the full landscape width to sprawl on, Minuum’s buttons suddenly become much roomier. This keyboard is practically built for thumbs-only typing, and when held in landscape orientation, it truly offers a better experience than traditional sliding keyboards, at least on my Sony Xperia Z.
So, A Gimmick or a Breakthrough?
That depends. Two years ago, I would have been all over Minuum. Since then, devices have grown to the point many of us carry around 5″ slates with 1080p screens. In other words, screen space is becoming less and less of an issue. In parallel, processors are getting beefier and speedier all the time, making swiping keyboards ever more accurate and fast. So, if you use a powerful Android device with a 5″ HD screen, and do most of your typing in portrait mode — Minuum is not really for you. Then again, if you have a smaller screen and really do need the vertical space, or if you enjoy typing in landscape mode, Minuum is a keyboard you should definitely try.
What’s your mobile keyboard of choice? And what do you think — is this a gimmick, or is Minuum on to something?