August 11, 2011 Leave a comment
In this week’s Battle of the Apps, we’re taking a look at a few alternative keyboards that you can install to your Android device. The stock keyboard that comes pre-installed on your device may work just great (HTC’s stock keyboard is pretty great), but many developers have created alternatives that provide users with more features than the stock keyboard, such as better word prediction, or complete elimination of needing to “type,” but “swipe” instead. We’re going to look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of four different keyboards–Swiftkey X, Swype, 8pen, and Thumbs Keyboard, and determine which of the them is putting on your device.
SwiftKey X is great. It’s a keyboard that has a heavy emphasis on word prediction, and bases what you’re going to type next based on your typing history. It allows you to analyze your typing history (specifically through text messages) and determine your typing pattern, which then allows you to type faster right from the get go. The word prediction bar that you typically see in several other keyboards gets larger with SwiftKey X, with the word that you will most likely use in the center of the screen to make it easier to select.
There’s one disadvantage to SwiftKey compared to the other keyboards that I’m going to look at today, and that is the size of the different keys. They’re quite small, which might make it harder to use in comparison to keyboards with larger keys. For those with big fingers, you may not be able to use it, which is unfortunate, because it truly has amazing features.
Swype seems to be everyone’s favorite thing these days. It’s starting to show up pre-installed on many devices, but for those who do not have it pre-installed, you can sign up for the beta at the developer’s website. Swype gets rid of the need to type, and replaces that input with swiping. You swipe your finger to each letter that you want to type, and let go when you finish typing your word. If Swype doesn’t recognize the word you’re trying to swipe, just type it out and add it to the dictonary, and you shouldn’t have a problem with it being recognized in the future.
Swype could be considered the perfect keyboard, yet has a couple of flaws that might turn you away. The skin on the keyboard isn’t the most attractive. I like my keyboard to be themed neutrally, so that it matches everything and gives the phone more aesthetic value. Hopefully, Swype will provide theming support in the future to give users more variety.
8pen is a tricky one, and not something that should be tried by anyone with little or no patience. It takes the entire traditional QUERTY keyboard concept and gets rid of it, completely. With 8pen, all of your letters, numbers, and symbols are on 8 different quadrants of an X. To get to each letter, you start in the middle of the screen, swipe to the quadrant that contains your letter, and then swipe around the “keyboard area” until your letter lights up, and then return to the center. The developer states that once users are used to it, they should be typing letters much faster and more accurately than with a traditional keyboard.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. 8pen seems like more of a failed experiment than anything else. I can’t say that I would recommend using this keyboard unless you’re extremely bored and looking to try something different. In my opinion, it takes much longer to type even one letter than it would on a traditional keyboard. Typing full sentences are quite difficult to, and by the time you’ve finished typing what you need to type, your arm will likely be hurting. If you’re looking to try something different, its kinda fun at first to learn–and then it just becomes annoying.
Thumbs Keyboard is one of the newest alternative keyboards out there, and is getting a remarkable response from users. The app allows you to adjust the size of your keys, to make them work better for you. They also have several different skins to customize your keyboard even further. It has a pretty good word prediction system. In essence, Thumbs Keyboard is everything that users want in a keyboard to make typing easier.
And it works well, too. I noticed a little bit of lag when I was using it for the first time, and at first, even with larger keys, it took some time to adjust to. This one, however, will clearly be a fan favorite, just because of the full customization options.
All of the keyboards have their advantages and disadvantages. The one that I had the most fun using, however, was SwiftKey X, despite the smaller keys. The keyboard makes it much easier to send out your texts and emails faster and more accurately. If I had to put an order to which keyboards are the best, from first to last, that order would be:
1. SwiftKey X
2. Thumbs Keyboard