5/10/2016: Updated to reflect recent improvements to Google Keyboard.
Android is awash in great keyboards. If you don’t like what comes as the default typing tool on your new phone, it’s easy to swap it out for one of the excellent keyboards from Google, SwiftKey, Swype, or others.
In fact, we’re probably at a high point when it comes to this particular genre of apps, as what was once a niche idea has attracted the attention of nearly all the major tech companies.
What defines the “best” keyboard is always going to be a very personal choice, as the most important factors differ amongst users. Keeping that in mind, I’ve sought to provide a general breakdown of the best options out there in case you are new to the world of Android keyboards or would like to branch out beyond your current favorite.
The best: Google Keyboard
The major revamp in version 5.0 of Google Keyboard put it over the top. With several smart new features and an excellent design, Google Keyboard is my current favorite and offers a best-in-class experience for typing.
I flirted with it before, but was always lured back by the predictive powers of SwiftKey. While SwiftKey is probably a tad ahead in language learning, I find Google Keyboard to be way more responsive and have enough extras to make up for the difference.
Among my favorite new features is a trick to tap and hold a prediction and slide it way into a trash can. This removes weird predictions and better trains Google about your typing preferences. There’s also a slick one-handed mode and dedicated number key, which is very handy for when you need to enter in financial information or bits of data.
Google also will use anonymized bits of your typing history to improve its word predictions. The app already offered to use information from your Google account for this purpose, and while it’s of course slightly creepy, it will probably lead to smarter predictions over time.
On the aesthetic side, I find the typing noise and design to be more pleasant than what others offer. Yes, you’re limited to two design choices when it comes to how the keyboard looks, but both themes are highlights of material design practices. In general I also find Google Keyboard to be the most stable keyboards with the least number of hang ups or crashes.
The most customizable: SwiftKey
For quite a while there was SwiftKey and a wide gap in quality over everyone else. But with the rise of Google Keyboard and other competitors, it’s a much more competitive space.
SwiftKey still has plenty of merits that earn it a top distinction. It’s still best in class at language learning, with the company pouring tons of research into the effort. The keyboard learns your preferences, shows you typing stats, and syncs up this information across both the Android and iOS versions. And if you can’t find a theme you like from SwiftKey’s massive theme vault, then it probably doesn’t exist.
However, after using it as my go-to keyboard for nearly three years I feel like some bugs have crept in. It can hiccup and hang at times, an issue I’ve experienced across a variety of Android devices. I can’t of course speak to the code or any internal metrics, but my anecdotal experience hasn’t been as smooth, which is why some of the others on this list look so attractive.
SwiftKey offers another advantage: you can live on the edge a bit with a beta build or SwiftKey Neural Alpha. It takes use of neural network learning, which shows tremendous promise for strengthening how machines understand human language. Some of the predictions are wicked smart, but it’s definitely a bumpy ride given the alpha status.
Also keep an eye on how SwiftKey will evolve after an acquisition by Microsoft. The company has pledged to continue development for now, but you never know if things could change, especially since Microsoft has another keyboard out there.
Swype: still the best at gesture typing
Swype has its dedicated fans, and with good reason. There isn’t a better keyboard out there if you want to type with gestures, even though this feature has been copied by many other keyboards.
I’ve never been a particular fan of this method. I still find myself having to correct words that Swype and other keyboards with this approach get wrong. But if you buy into this method and love the ability to slide your finger quickly through common words and phrases you’ll be able to text, email, or take notes amazingly fast.
Also, if you think Swype is solely about gesture typing, then give it another look. The app has partnered with Dragon for speech recognition, which means you can speak what you want to say and get some amazingly accurate results. I find Google’s voice capabilities to be better after some non-scientific testing, but Dragon is a big leader in language research so you’ll still be in good hands. Plus, Swype also offers many themes if you want to customize the look, including some Material Design options that look right at home in the world of Android.
Innovation and design: Fleksy
Even though it’s not my first choice, I do really like Fleksy. The design stands out, with huge letters and very bright colors that give a refreshing pop to your phone’s design if it’s too stodgy and business-like.
But the big claim to fame behind Fleksy is in how you can use swipe-gestures to do simple functions like correcting a word, going back, or spacing ahead. It’s a little weird at first, but if you get into a rhythm and like this method it can be a really fast way to type.
But Fleksy is also about fun. Want a keyboard that throws in GIFs or wacky images with ease? Then this is definitely your choice. The autocorrection is decent enough, but mastering the swipes makes this a super fast way to fire off a text message or email. The design isn’t totally to my taste, but I do recommend you give it a try and it’s a system that might really appeal to some people.
From left field: Go Keyboard
Sometimes you don’t care so much about all that serious productivity and you’d rather have a little fun or tap into your inner Snapchat user. If that’s the case, then check out Go Keyboard. It has the wackiest set of themes, sticker packs, and other animations that pair perfectly with a Snapchat session.
But the keyboard and auto correction also need to be good, which they are. It’s not quite SwiftKey level at churning out magical predictions, but it’s competent enough to get the job done. But the focus here is really on all the themes and emoji integration, so check it out and have some fun with it. I didn’t expect to enjoy using it, but there was a lot to like.
Besides, experimenting is the whole point when it comes to deciding on the best keyboard solution. There are plenty of others: ai.type, Flash Keyboard, and Microsoft’s new Hub keyboard that syncs up closely with Office content. So if you want to find the right keyboard for you, there’s a good chance it’s out there.
This story, "The best keyboards for Android" was originally published by Greenbot.