Android phones can be a joy to type with, but you might not know it out of the box. Too often, the software keyboards that come standard on Android phones are too cluttered, not customizable enough, or just plain ugly.
If you’ve become frustrated with your Android phone’s keyboard, perhaps it’s time for a third-party alternative. There are plenty to choose from in the Google Play Store; here are four of the best.
For those who’d rather avoid spending any money, the free Google Keyboard is a good starting point. Although this keyboard comes standard on Nexus phones, other phone makers such as HTC and Samsung tend not to include it by default. It’s not the fanciest option, but it has a clean, attractive layout with support for gesture typing, letting you enter words by dragging your finger across each letter. Google Keyboard also provides granular control over settings such as auto-correct aggressiveness, haptic feedback duration, and long-press duration for secondary characters. If you favor simplicity, it could be the only keyboard you need.
Users who really enjoy gesture typing should check out Swype, which remains the gold standard for this kind of keyboard input. Not only does it feel more accurate than some other gesture typing options, it also presents more alternative word suggestions above the keyboard. On the downside, Swype requires you to use its built-in Dragon software for voice dictation, so you’re out of luck if you prefer voice dictation from Google. The keyboard costs $1, but you can try the app out for free
Not totally into typing by swiping? SwiftKey places a bit more emphasis on traditional tap-based typing, with word prediction that learns as you type. As with Swype and Google Keyboard, you can still use gesture typing in SwiftKey, but there’s a subtle difference: After you enter a word, SwiftKey offers predictions for the next word in the sentence instead of alternatives to the word you just typed. You can save a lot of time when SwiftKey guesses correctly, but when gesture typing fails, you have to hit backspace to see alternative suggestions. SwiftKey is best for users who want to occasionally gesture type, but mostly prefer tapping. The keyboard costs $4 after a one-month free trial.
If you’re not afraid of clutter, the free TouchPal X Android keyboard offers a little bit of everything. Gesture typing is supported, and like Swype, it suggests alternative words after you finish swiping, though it doesn’t seem quite as accurate. The app also offers next word predictions—its choices float just above the first letter of the suggested word, kind of like Blackberry 10’s software keyboard. TouchPal X also has a bunch of other useful features, including an arrow key panel, copy/paste shortcuts, an undo button and a resizable layout. The inherent downside to all these features is that the interface isn’t as clean as other software keyboards. At least it’s free.