The Wonderful World of Keyboards

Ok, not everything I blog about Android will be sexy for everyone. I find the use of inputting text extremely sexy, since I primarily use my phone for sending emails (work and personal). I occasionally text message, but I kind of suck at it, because I refuse to use “4” for “for” or other basic abbreviations. I’m old. Not old school. Old. My current phone is the first one I’ve ever had that didn’t have it’s own, physical keyboard. Seriously.

Also, I’m back. Did you miss me? Husband and I had a fabulous anniversary in Maui. We had a tsunami on our anniversary night. No, seriously. Also, it was not our fault. We were not in British Columbia where, off the coast, the earthquake occurred that created the fast moving wave. That’s our story and we’re sticking to it. I’m now a little sunburned (but not water logged–evacuation for this sort of thing is old hat to Hawaiians), and happy to be back in Washington state.

Keyboards. I was talking about the sexiness of keyboards. Stock Android comes with a keyboard, I’m sure. I know very little about it. I have a Samsung Galaxy S3 (named Grace), and she has the TouchWiz interface from Samsung, which includes a “customized” keyboard that looks a ton like the stock version of the keyboard from Android (per the pictures), but apparently isn’t.

The Ice Cream Sandwich Samsung keyboard will get the job done. So will blood and a knife for writing a grocery list. It’s substantially less painful, though, to look at additional applications that specialize in keyboards (unlike Samsung).

The two most popular keyboards amongst my friends (which I hear about a lot) are Swiftkey and Swype. While the default Samsung Touchwiz Ice Cream Sandwich keyboard has the swype functionality–where the device tracks your finger across letters as you drag it, lifting it when a word is complete–it leaves a lot to be desired compared to the deluxe options available in Swype. Swype is more accurate, has better word prediction, and allows for easy creation/updates of custom dictionaries (for example, if your name is “Scheherazahd” it will learn over time to prompt that as your first word prediction when you start Swyping “Sch”).

I am, at least among my friends, in the minority because I adore Swiftkey. Prior to a recent release, Swiftkey involved clicking the letters and selecting from word prediction. Recently, they upgraded with a “swype-like” additional option (which I have not yet downloaded; old AND lazy, people). I adore their word prediction. Some folks hate it, because it interrupts the flow of their typing. In either case, both options give you custom dictionaries, WAY better word prediction than the stock or Samsung Touchwiz interface, and the people who develop them have keyboards as their main focus and interest…unlike Android and Samsung, that have a variety of features to maintain.

The base Android keyboard doesn’t do swype at all (yet). Which leads us to the preview of Android 4.2’s keyboard. It’s “gesture” functionality is effectively what Swype does and what the next version of Swiftkey will do. Playing the video on the link will show you the word prediction which works much like Swiftkey and Swype in appearance, but no current information on it’s learning abilities–if any–or if it supports custom dictionaries.

I’m still waiting for the upgrade for Grace to Jellybean (4.1), let alone 4.2…I am desperate to try out the new voice recognition software which looks like it is heft competition for the iPhone’s Siri. However, that’s a post for another day.

If you want to implement a different keyboard, other than the default installed on your phone, you’re going to have to do the steps mentioned in the previous post (on Halloween) so that you can install apps from other places besides the Google Play store (such as for Swype).

After you’ve installed the keyboard of your choice (or both to try them out), you’ll need to go to “Language and Input” on your phone. On Grace (running Samsung’s version of ICS), this is Settings -> Language and Input. Typically it’s under “Settings” in whatever version of Android you are using. You’ll then check the check mark next to the applications you want to allow to be your keyboard; note, Android will warn you that people can steal your personal info by turning this function over to the non-stock keyboard…and they totally could. So stick with well-reviewed keyboard applications (and not just my reviews, check with a lot of folks) before you select them as your input option.

Note, if you have more than one option selected, the next time that you do something to conjure the keyboard (such as make a note, send a text, or respond to an email), you’ll be asked which program you want to be the default. For sake of not having to do that, I recommend unchecking all the other options besides the one you want to try out.

Then, open up the note function, SMemo, a text, a browser, and go to town trying out the new keyboard. You can always return to Language and Input to change your selection later.

Normally, I’d do screenshots showing every step, but the joy of the 4.2 video is that it includes the installation instructions in video form…so you don’t have to just imagine what you’re clicking/doing. He does the extra step of selecting the program after it’s installed (you may or may not have to do that).

While keyboards are not the sexiest thing about Android, the difference between an excellent one and a crappy one can influence at least half of what you do on your phone (or more if you are an obsessed texter).

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