The best Android keyboard apps for on-the-go productivity

Quick: When was the last time you thought about the keyboard app on your phone?

If you’re anything like most people, the answer is probably somewhere between “a ridiculously long time ago” and “never.” And it’s no wonder: Keyboard apps are easy to forget! You install one — or stick with whatever came loaded on your phone by default — and then use it to input text when you need to. It’s just there, and unless you’re a weirdo who spends hours trying out different keyboards to see how they compare (and then trying ’em all out again months later to see how they’ve evolved and what other options have come along), you’re never gonna know what you’re missing.

Well, good news, my friend: I am that weirdo. Somehow, it’s my job. (Crazy, right?) And I’ve just finished assessing all of the significant Android keyboard apps in their current incarnations to see what they have to offer in 2019 and how they stack up.

Lemme tell ya: These once-unassuming typing tools have come a long way. The top Android keyboard apps now offer almost absurdly polished and refined text input experiences — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Android keyboards today are overflowing with all sorts of advanced functions that go way beyond their original purposes. And that means it’s more important than ever to find the right setup for your personal productivity needs.

So let’s get into it, shall we? These are the best Android keyboard apps around, broken down by where they excel and for whom they make the most sense.

The best all-around Android keyboard app for most people

Gboard (free)

If you just want a solid, thoughtfully designed keyboard that works well and is pleasant to use, Google’s own Gboard is tough to beat. Gboard is great for accurate swipe-based typing — where you slide your finger from one letter to the next without lifting it — and it does a decent job at tap-oriented typing, too, with its built-in typo correction and next-word prediction capabilities.

android keyboard apps gboard translateJR Raphael/IDG

On-the-fly language translation is one of Gboard’s handy advanced features.

Beyond the basics, Gboard supports a variety of potentially useful advanced productivity features. For instance, you can search Google right from the keyboard and then paste in results — things like directions to a business or a link to a web page — directly into the text field, wherever you are. You can also activate an integrated Google Translate mode that’ll translate anything you type from one language to another on the fly.

Other noteworthy elements include a handwriting mode, which transforms your on-screen scribbles into regular text as you write; a floating keyboard option, which makes it easier to access the keyboard on a large-screened device; a variety of themes to make the keyboard look any way you like; and a series of hidden shortcuts for extra-speedy text input.

Whether you take advantage of all those possibilities or not, though, Gboard is a well-rounded keyboard that lets you type quickly, accurately, and with minimal hassle on your Android phone. If you don’t have any special requirements and just want a commendable all-around keyboard that gets the job done, Gboard is the app for you.

The best Android keyboard app for tap-based typing and predictive text

SwiftKey (free)

Find yourself typing mostly by tapping out words? The now-Microsoft-owned SwiftKey is the Android keyboard app you want. SwiftKey is in a league of its own when it comes to ease and accuracy of tap-based typing, and its next-word prediction is second to none. (The app can handle swipe-based typing as well but is less exceptional in that domain.)

android keyboard apps swiftkeyJR Raphael/IDG

SwiftKey has plenty of bells and whistles, too, including a feature that lets you share your exact location (or any location around you) with a couple quick taps; an option to connect the keyboard to your calendar and then browse through your agenda and share details about an event or time slot into any text field; and an integrated web search system that makes it possible to view entire web pages in an overlay window and even capture and share screenshots without ever switching away from your current app.

android keyboard apps swiftkey calendarJR Raphael/IDG

SwiftKey makes it simple to browse through your calendar and then paste details about any event or time slot into any text field where you’re typing.

All in all, SwiftKey is a polished and viable alternative to Gboard. If you tend to type mostly by tapping, it’s well worth giving a whirl.

The best Android keyboard app for power-user extras

Chrooma (free with optional $5 upgrade for premium features)

Maybe you want a keyboard that packs even more productivity-boosting possibilities and interesting extras into those cozy QWERTY quarters. If so, Chrooma could be the Android typing upgrade you need. The app is like a supercharged version of Gboard, with the same basic foundation but plenty of added zest for the power-user crowd.

Some of Chrooma’s flourishes are purely cosmetic — like the way the keyboard automatically adjusts its color based on the app you’re using (a red motif in Gmail, blue in Chrome, bright yellow in Google Keep, and so on). Others are both cosmetic and functional, like the app’s nifty night mode option — which uses the time of day or your phone’s light sensor to tone down its hues for an easier-on-the-eyes appearance in dimmer environments.

android keyboard apps chroomaJR Raphael/IDG

Chrooma adapts its color scheme to whatever app you’re using (left) and can automatically switch into a dimmer night mode (right) when you enter a dark room.

Other potentially worthwhile additions include Chrooma’s low-bezel mode, which lets you add a customizable amount of padding to the keyboard’s sides to make it more comfortable to use on phones with minimal side bezels (a silly sort of adjustment to need, of course, but hey — this is our current reality); the app’s optional “action row,” which lets you add a row atop your keyboard with your own custom combination of on-demand commands, characters, and even words; and its expanded set of gestures, which make it incredibly easy to accomplish tasks like deleting characters or entire sentences as well as moving your on-screen cursor and selecting text right from the keyboard itself.

If you opt for the one-time in-app upgrade to Chrooma’s premium version, you’ll also get advanced features like an integrated encryption option — which protects anything you type with a numerical passcode and then requires the recipient to open a web link and enter the passcode before your message becomes visible. It may not give you the same level of security that an encryption-first messaging service like Signal would provide, but it could be a useful way to add a layer of protection to your text and be able to send it in any app, without having to think about what services your recipient is or isn’t using.

android keyboard apps chrooma encryptionJR Raphael/IDG

Chrooma allows you to encrypt text and then send it as a password-protected link to anyone, in any app.

Chrooma’s premium version also includes the ability to create a calendar event on the fly and both add it to your agenda and send a fully functional invite link to anyone else, in any app or service. And it has a built-in spelling- and grammar-checking tool, in case you want to give your words a once-over before sending (regardless of where you’re typing).

All combined, it makes for a powerful package — and combined with Chrooma’s commendable accuracy at both swipe-based and tap-oriented typing, it makes this Android keyboard app an excellent option for anyone who wants a more robust typing environment.

The best Android keyboard app for privacy and simplicity

Simple Keyboard (free)

On the flip side to Chrooma is the bare-bones, basic-as-can-be Simple Keyboard — an app whose name tells you much of what you need to know about the experience it provides.

Whereas Chrooma feels like a beefed-up version of Gboard, Simple Keyboard is the stripped-down version of Google’s keyboard framework. The app gives you a simple keyboard with support for tap-based typing — and that’s pretty much it: There’s no text correction system, no next-word prediction, and no support for swipe-oriented input. There’s not even access to Google’s system-level voice-to-text system, which every other app in this list provides. Heck, aside from a humble set of simple options, Simple Keyboard has no bells and whistles whatsoever. It is, quite simply, a keyboard. And that’s all it aspires to be.

android keyboard apps simple keyboardJR Raphael/IDG

The aptly named Simple Keyboard has a limited range of options — which in and of itself is essentially the app’s defining feature.

So why would you want such a frills-free typing experience when so many rich, feature-laden alternatives exist? Well, you might not want any of those added elements, for one, and might be content to have something that just lets you tap in words as needed. But perhaps more prominently, Simple Keyboard’s lack of lofty ambitions gives it one powerful feature no other keyboard can match: privacy — built in at its core, with a ground-level assurance that nothing you type could ever be transmitted off your device by the keyboard itself.

Pretty much every other Android keyboard app, y’see, requires perpetual network access in order to operate. And while most of the major players say they’ll never do anything nefarious with your data, there’s no denying that they do at the very least have the ability to observe and transmit it. (The need for internet access can be explained in a variety of perfectly legitimate ways, including the ambitious options those apps have for performing internet searches and even just learning your typing habits over time in order to provide better predictions — but still, if maximum privacy is a top concern of yours, that may not be enough to make it acceptable.)

Simple Keyboard, in contrast, requests no level of network access. In fact, the only permission it requires is the ability to control your device’s vibration motor. (You can see this for yourself by opening the “View details” link under the “Permissions” header on the app’s Play Store page. On Android, an app is only allowed to access system functions and types of data that it explicitly requests and that you explicitly authorize at some point along the way.) That means there’s no realistic way the app can log what you’re typing and then transfer that data off of your device — for any reason. The program’s code is even completely open source, if you’re tech-savvy and want to confirm exactly what it’s doing.

Most people will prefer the added creature comforts offered by the other apps in this list, but for the privacy-conscious and simplicity-seeking among us, Simple Keyboard is a valuable and unusual contender that plays an important role in this keyboard collection.

Source link