So you couldn't wait to download Android 2.3 (codenamed Gingerbread) on your device and get your hands on that sleek new on-screen keyboard (OSK)? You're not alone. While talking with various friends and colleagues who, like me, are part of Google's Android army, it seems the new and improved keyboard was one of the most anticipated features in the Gingerbread release. Unfortunately, Google failed to deliver the goods.
The keyboard looks slick and is more accurate than earlier stock keyboards, but it has a tendency to lag, lock up, and quit working. Sometimes the keyboard can be revived via a good swift kick to the "force close" button; however, other times, nothing short of a complete reboot of your phone will enable you to finish typing that all important text message.
Gingerbread was released for the Nexus S back in December 2010 and then eventually for the Nexus One; now Android 2.3 builds are popping up on a number of handsets — the latest graphs I've seen from Google suggest close to 9% of all Android phones have made the jump to Gingerbread. After six months to address this nagging issue, you'd think the Gingerbread keyboard would be rock solid by now. It's not.
On my Nexus One, I can't get 24 hours of use out of my phone without the stock keyboard dying. My Nexus S is slightly better — it only requires me to reboot the phone to correct this annoying issue every 72 hours. In Google's rush to bring new features to the platform, sometimes it feels like the company forgets Android is a phone platform first, and everything else second.
You can read more about the Gingerbread keyboard bug here: http://code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?id=15311. The bug report does not include a fix or a decent work-around. For now, the best advice I can give anyone experiencing this issue is to download a third-party keyboard from the Android Market. (I know, boo hiss.)
I resisted replacing the OSK because I thought doing so would be a headache, and that I'd have to jump through hoops to go back to the stock keyboard if I wasn't satisfied with the replacement, and that a third-party keyboard would perform the same or worse than the one provided by Google. I was wrong on all accounts.
I've been using Smart Keyboard Pro on my Nexus One and Nexus S for several weeks, and I couldn't be happier. Finding a quality third-party app available for several dollars ($2.97) reminded me that it's the openness of the Android OS that gives it serious raw power and makes it the right platform for me.
If you've been thinking about trying an alternate keyboard for your Android phone, this simple tutorial shows how you can be texting in nine easy steps.
1. Download an alternate keyboard from the Android Market.2. If your keyboard requires a separate language pack, download that from the Android Market as well.
3. From the Home screen, press the Menu key and then choose Settings.
4. From the Settings screen, choose Language & Keyboard.
5. From the Language & Keyboard Settings screen, scroll down until you find your keyboard in the list and put a check in the box to enable it.
6. Directly beneath the keyboard you selected there should be a Settings option. Choose the Settings item to begin configuring your replacement soft keyboard.7. Each flavor of keyboard will have a slightly different Settings page. Regardless of which type of keyboard you choose, a good one should allow you to select a skin and do an initial calibration.
8. Exit the Calibration menu and choose any application with a text box. I went to the stock SMS app. Long click on the text field, and you will get a context menu. Select Input Method.
9. Select the keyboard you installed as the new input method.
Now you can enjoy typing on your new keyboard. If you ever want to change back, it's as simple as long clicking on any text field and switching back to the stock input method.
I know readers will argue that I shouldn't have to replace the stock keyboard on the latest and greatest version of the Android OS, and I agree. But as a developer, I know that software isn't always perfect, and I like it when I don't have to wait on Google to fix an issue with my phone. The architecture of Android allows me to take the wheel whenever I want to drive. If you ask me, that's pretty cool.
William J Francis began programming computers at age eleven. Specializing in embedded and mobile platforms, he has more than 20 years of professional software engineering under his belt, including a four year stint in the US Army's Military Intelligence Corps. Throughout his career William has published numerous technical articles, as well as the occasional short story.