Back in 2014, Apple “borrowed” one of Android’s greatest features: the ability to replace default system apps.
iOS 8 opened up the platform for keyboard developers, allowing users to have a choice of which keyboard they’d rather use. Of course, Android users have always been able to install their keyboard of choice, ranging from Swiftkey, to Swype, or even Minuum.
In late 2016, Google began including their own Gboard as the default keyboard, incorporating many of your favorite features from other keyboard apps. While it may be one of the best Android keyboards, it also has the potential to track everything you type. Google already knows a lot about you.
If you’d rather not hand that kind of data over to Google — or any other third party — then you may want to give these open source alternative keyboards a chance.
People often assume that choosing an open source alternative means forgoing some of the best features from proprietary software.
AnySoftKeyboard proves that isn’t the case, as it is one of the most feature-packed alternative Android keyboards available. Alongside support for over 30 languages, AnySoftKeyboard includes all the predictive features you’d expect from a modern keyboard, as well as custom dictionaries and voice input.
There are multiple themes for you to make the keyboard your own, and almost every part of the interface is customizable.
AnySoftKeyboard does ask for the “Read Contacts” and “Read/Write to External Storage” permissions. They are used to personalize the keyboard but are not required for it to function. Unlike Gboard, there is no requirement for internet access, so your data will stay safely on your device.
2. Hacker’s Keyboard
The last few years have seen the shift towards mobile become ever more present, with nearly all the apps and services we need in the palm of our hand.
However, most of us are still used to the layout of the traditional QWERTY keyboard, with all its modifier and function keys. Hacker’s Keyboard brings the familiar computer keyboard layout to your Android device, complete with multi-language layouts. There is even support for AnySoftKeyboard’s language packs for additional dictionaries.
Hacker’s Keyboard is based on the AOSP keyboard from Gingerbread (Android 2.3, released in 2010), so isn’t the most modern keyboard you’re likely to find. It is also infrequently updated, so the addition of new features is improbable. However, since Hacker’s Keyboard is open source, you could always fork the project and continue development yourself.
3. BeHe Keyboard
BeHe Keyboard also aims to bring the desktop keyboard experience to your Android device, but with a focus on programming.
Like Hacker’s Keyboard, BeHe features the QWERTY layout as standard, but also has two others: arrow keys and programming. The programming layout adds in keys for common characters you’d need when coding. This is particularly handy if you use apps to teach your kids how to code.
BeHe is a modern keyboard, with full Material design, and plenty of tweaks for you to customize the experience. There are multiple themes, including a dark theme to make the keyboard easier on your eyes. BeHe only requires one single permission: “control vibration.”
CompassKeyboard takes a different approach to the on-screen keyboard. Instead of multiple pages for different key types, every key is available in a single layout. Gestures and swipes allow you to toggle between special and accented characters. For example, a swipe from the top-left to bottom-right of the keyboard lets you change layouts between Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic. The app’s total size is only 242KB — great for saving on precious storage space.
The experience of using CompassKeyboard is quite different and takes some getting used to. However, its unique layout makes it easier for you to access special characters — particularly useful if you frequently type in multiple languages. Currently, the Google Play listing is at version 1.5, last updated in 2013. However, the F-Droid listing was updated in 2016 to version 1.6.
Which Will You Choose?
Customization has always been at the heart of what makes Android such a compelling operating system. By allowing developers to integrate their apps directly into the operating system, you have more control over how it operates — and what happens to your data.
What do you make of these open source Android keyboards? Does Google’s data collection worry you? Are there any you think we missed? Let us know in the comments!