If there’s one reason to pick Android over any other type of smartphone, it would be customizability. Whether you’re looking for different kinds of apps, themes, or ROMs, you’re always just one click away from changing the way your phone operates. Did you know that you can also change the keyboard of your phone to something new?
There are different Android keyboard apps that you can install that will change layouts, languages, and even add special features that the default keyboard doesn’t have. Some keyboards will cost you money, but there are a number of awesome ones that you can get free of charge. If the default Android keyboard doesn’t cut it for you, maybe one of these will.
Note: Our very own Erez recently wrote a similar article comparing and contrasting various Android keyboards. The goal of this article is somewhat different from his; he looks at a number of keyboards from a technical and usability standpoint (benchmarking) while I compare them on the basis of being a whole package (aesthetics, features, general points of interest). For best results, consult both articles to arrive at the best conclusion for your needs.
Features of Android Keyboards
Before we venture out in search of a specific keyboard that will best fit your needs, we need to determine what your needs are. The best way to do this is to have a look at all of the main feature types across the keyboards and decide which ones you absolutely need:
- Predictive typing. This is a big feature for rapid typists who just want to hit button after button and have the phone decipher their typos and mistakes. If you’re very careful about hitting the right keys and if you manually hit backspace a lot, you may not need this feature.
- Swipe typing. Instead of tapping, swiping allows you to slide your finger from key to key and the keyboard will decipher which word you meant to type. Very useful when combined with predictive typing since it’s much faster.
- Customization. Switching around keyboard layouts, using multiple languages, changing color themes and fonts, being able to toggle different features. Customization is one of the main points of Android, so having a customizable keyboard is often important.
- Aesthetics. Some people just can’t type on a keyboard that’s ugly. I’m one of those people. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a keyboard that’s beautiful, especially since you’ll be looking at it day-in and day-out.
So now that you know what you’re looking for, let’s take a look at some of the best free keyboard apps that implement these features quite well.
SwiftKey Flow [Broken URL Removed]
In the past I wasn’t a big fan of SwiftKey, mostly because my phone is an older model and it required a good deal of resources (read: it made my phone lag). Recently, though, SwiftKey has come out with a new version of their app called SwiftKey Flow. It’s currently in beta, which means free access, though it may turn pay-to-use when it leaves beta. Use it while you can!
SwiftKey Flow has almost everything you’d ever want from an Android keyboard: swipe typing (which is the newest feature), predictive typing (which is pretty accurate), some degree of customization, and a nice clean interface. Even though it’s a beta, I’m extremely impressed by it.
It even has a text analyzer that looks through your texts and emails (only with your permission, of course) and studies the way you type and the words you frequently use. This improves the predictive typing algorithm and makes it more accurate.
Swype is the original swipe typing keyboard app. It may even be bundled with your phone by default. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, it’s not available in the Play Store like most Android apps, so if you don’t have it you’ll need to go to their website and follow their instructions for installation. No worries, though. It’s pretty simple.
Swype will always hold a spot in my heart as the app that introduced me to the beauty and elegance of swipe typing. It runs smoothly even on older phones and it has some of the same great features as SwiftKey Flow, namely “learning” your typing patterns based on texts and emails.
A few extras that set Swype apart from its competition: handwriting recognition (not useful to me but maybe to you) and speech recognition. Some people complain about Swype’s poor voice recognition algorithm, but I didn’t have much problem with it. Your mileage may vary. For more information, check out Erez’s review of Swype.
If you’ve been searching through Android apps for any period of time, you’ve likely come across the GO suite of apps. The GO team produces a ton of apps ranging from theme changers to lock screens to home screen launchers and more. They’re very popular and if you use a lot of GO apps, you can expect a similar level of quality here.
GO is known for their impressive array of apps and for their multinational support, which means that their keyboard rightfully supports dozens of languages. Their predictive typing feature works across multiple languages and keyboard layouts. Plus, there’s a good degree of customization with themes, Emojis, and quick layout changes just by swiping your finger.
Other features in GO Keyboard: tablet support, contacts import, swipe gesture support, and multiple language layouts. As far as I know, there’s no swipe typing here. That’s a real bummer.
Smart Keyboard [No Longer Available]
Despite the name, Smart Keyboard doesn’t have many high-tech features. No swipe typing, no gestures, no predictive typing. It’s just a normal, regular, mundane keyboard where you need to tap keys individually. So what makes it “smart”? It’s sleek, it’s clean, and it’s highly customizable.
One great thing about Smart Keyboard is that you can switch out keyboard layouts very easily. It uses an open-source keyboard formatting system, which means you can customize your keyboard’s layout to your own liking. Additionally, Smart Keyboard has the option to alter your keyboard key sizes using sliders, which allows for real personalization to your finger size.
The one downside to Smart Keyboard is that the free version has a nag screen. It’s just another tap that you need to get through, so it’s not as annoying as advertisements, but if it bothers you, you can upgrade to Smart Keyboard Pro for just $2.64 on the Play Store.
Adaptxt [No Longer Available]
Adaptxt is a unique keyboard in the realm of Android keyboard apps. Many people consider it to be the most aesthetically-pleasing keyboard and I wouldn’t disagree. The keys are large, the graphic design is nice on the eyes, and it feels very responsive and fast. These small differences can make a big impact in daily use, though, so try it out for a few days at least before deciding if you like it or not.
As for features, Adaptxt supports over 60 languages. That’s a massive library of languages and it’s impressive that it can track that many different dictionaries within one app. Adaptxt can post your typed messages straight to social media if you’re into that. If you ever need quick Wikipedia access, you can type a word and instantly go to its Wikipedia page. And, of course, it has predictive typing and error correction.
It works on phones and tablets, so that’s a big plus. It’s not for everyone though, particularly because of the little features here and there that might seem insignificant or inconsequential depending on your needs. However, it’s getting good ratings on the Play Store, so it’s definitely worth a try.
Whether you’re looking for predictive typing, swipe typing, customizability, aesthetics, or even anything else, one of the above should fulfill your need pretty well. Of course, there are other free keyboards out there that I couldn’t include (this article is getting pretty long as it is) so if none of these are good for you, keep looking!
Along those same lines, if there are other Android keyboards out there that you feel belongs on this list, please feel free to share them in the comments!
Image Credit: Digital Keyboard Via Shutterstock