One of the really great aspects of the Android operating system is the ability to change the default elements used to handle day-to-day aspects of the phone. This means you can change the default picture viewer, default camera app, default video player, default mapping software, and so on. However, of greater interest is the ability to replace much more fundamental aspects of the phone’s behavior, such as the keyboard.
Many people find themselves unhappy with the keyboard provided by the manufacturer of their smartphone and feel that it’s their lot in life to put up with it. Fortunately there are a whole host of third-party keyboards that offer truly innovative ways of entering text from a touchscreen. Even those that provide only the tap-the-letter-you-want approach can offer some great improvements over the stock keyboard, especially in terms of word prediction and auto-correct.
A number of years ago a new method of entry was developed in which the user swiped their fingers around the keyboard, passing over the letters they would have otherwise “typed”. They only lifted their fingers between words. Not surprisingly the first offering of this type went under the name Swype, though they didn’t remain the only purveyors of this input method for long. They were quickly followed by another big name in the third-party keyboard arena by the name of Swiftkey. Since then even Google has incorporated the idea into their stock Android keyboards, along with a further innovation. They optionally allow the user to swipe out multiple words by passing through the spacebar rather than lifting their finger.
Just recently a new concept took the idea one step further and reduced the size of the keyboard to just a small strip along the bottom of the screen. To use Minuum Keyboard the user moves...
their finger back and forth across the screen, stopping momentarily at each letter they need. This one takes more getting used to than the full keyboard with swiping option (as you can still touch-type on those if you want).
To install a new keyboard you just download it from the Play Store as you would any other app. However, just because you have a new keyboard on your phone, doesn’t mean it will automatically be the one you get when keyboard input is required. Some keyboards will give you the option to set them as the default as part of their installation procedure, but doing it this way isn’t necessary. You can switch the default keyboard at any time.
Go to the system settings for your phone, and then choose “Language and Input”. From this menu you can select which of your installed keyboards are available, and which one is the default. Once a default is selected, it will appear on your screen anytime input is required. However, you aren’t restricted to using just the default keyboard. Any time a keyboard is displayed you’ll see a small keyboard icon on the status bar at the top of your screen. Pull down the nightshade and choose “Select Input Method”. This allows you to change the current keyboard, even in the middle of typing. The keyboard will return to the default the next time it is needed.
So, no matter what type of keyboard you are a fan of, you can quickly and easily modify your copy of Android (regardless of manufacturer) to provide you with just what you want, as though it were built directly into operating system. In future articles I’ll discuss other major aspects of your Android phone that can be swapped out for a third-party solution.