Alternative typing solutions for Android tablets

Phil Cohen suggests some keyboard options for typing on an Android tablet.

Whether you already have the perfect tablet or you're looking to buy a new one, you may be wondering what you should do about typing. Since tablets are on the small side, though not quite as small as a cell phone, they can be difficult to type on. However, the tech industry has gone to considerable lengths to help alleviate this problem.

Laser keyboard

Did you know that you can now get a laser keyboard? This device may at first look like a simple box, but once you've connected it to your computer, the fun starts. You can project a full-size keyboard onto a flat surface (Figure A), and since it connects through Bluetooth, it doesn't matter what type of tablet you have. Small and portable, this keyboard is a great option for anyone looking for something both fun and functional. Figure A

Laser keyboard image via Flickr by Br3nda.

Wireless keyboard

Nearly any wireless keyboard can be used with virtually any tablet PC, such as Lenovo's ThinkPad Tablet 2. This is a great option for users on the go. Since you can get wireless keyboards that are specifically designed for travel, you don't have to worry about bulk. Whether you want a mini (Figure B) or full-size keyboard, finding a keyboard that fits your needs is simple. Figure B

Wireless keyboard image via Flickr by TAKA@P.P.R.S.

USB keyboard

Another option, if you prefer your devices to be wired in, is a USB keyboard. These keyboards are very similar to the wireless ones, with the obvious difference that they have a cord (Figure C). As with wireless keyboards, there are many options for USB keyboards. In fact, you can find a variety of USB keyboards, from ergonomic options to those with a smaller profile. Figure C

USB keyboard image via Flickr by Berto Garcia.

On-screen keyboard

Carrying around an extra piece of equipment may not be exactly what you had in mind. You should check out the variety of onscreen keyboards that are available (Figure D). These can be found in the app store on your tablet. There are both free and paid options, and they all have different features. Figure D

Screenshot of the Thumb Keyboard app with a theme and custom wallpaper.

Here are some on-screen keyboard options for Android tablets:

  • Thumb Keyboard: This app normally costs $2.29 (USD), but at the time of this writing, it's on sale for $1.29 (USD). The Thumb Keyboard is considered one of the best on-screen keyboards. It's separated into different parts; half of the QWERTY keyboard is on the right, half is on the left, and in the center, there's a number pad and special characters. This keyboard was created specifically to ensure that each letter can be quickly and easily reached by the thumbs, increasing typing speed and efficiency.
  • SwiftKey 3: With the SwiftKey 3, you can try the free app for 30 days, with full access to all of the features. However, if you'd like to continue using the app after that, you'll have to purchase the premium product for $3.99 (USD). SwiftKey 3 is great for anyone looking for a new keyboard app.
  • GO Keyboard: This free keyboard app gives you a lot of options. There's slide input available, as well as the traditional keytouch. Other features include predictive text and autocorrect. You can even customize how the keyboard looks with different skins.

Being able to quickly and easily type on your tablet is important. There are many options, no matter your input method of choice. When you find the right keyboard, your entire tablet experience will change. Which keyboard do you prefer on your tablet? Share you opinion in the discussion thread below.

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Lone voice from the Palm Pilot wastelands! Graffiti is still available and runs happily on all Android devices I've owned. It's free, is in the Play Store, runs just like you remember it and very accurate as long as you are. It's 'paid' as well, but the version number of the paid app is suspiciously less than the 'free' and garners more whinges than the 'free', too. Help is always available: it appears whenever your finger leaves the input area.


In my opinion the best on-screen keyboard for Android Tablets is teh Hacker's Keyboard - and it's free!


I've been using Swype beta on my Android 2.3 phone for over a year now, don't use anything else. I got a tablet for Christmas, and installed Swype beta on it also. The difference with the tablet version is interesting, you have four modes: 1) regular keyboard - full size that you could two-hand type on. Haven't used it much as you would require a case/stand to properly position the device for "touch" typing. It is also the same keyboard that you would 2) Swype, e.g. drag your finger between letters, which is much more efficient than one-finger poking. 3) Small mode, which is the Swype keyboard miniaturized to about your phone's size so you don't have to cover as much real estate while dragging your finger across the keys, and 4) split mode makes the keyboard smaller, splits it in two and drags it to the edges of the screen so that presumably you could hold the tablet with both hands and thumb type. As an aside, Skype beta initially refused to download for me, claiming that my tablet wasn't an Android device because of the default browser. Installing Firefox resolved the issue.


As a registered Swype user, you can now not only get the vanilla Swype on Samsung, but also the latest Swype beta. I never used beta products with Swype being the only exception. SwiftKey has now also brought out a "continuous" drawing equivalent capture method, but as Jim states, Swype is ahead of the pack, with regards to Swyping using the drawing technique at least. SwiftKey has the advantage on the dictionary side allowing multiple languages, which is handy for us bilingual folk. With the world record in speed texting has been held by both Swype and Swiftkey. My sense is this year Swiftkey's Continuous texting will mature, but until then though both are installed, Swype remains my preferred Android keyboard.

Jim Johnson
Jim Johnson

The default keyboard on the Nexus 7 is similar to an early version of Swype, but Swype is still evolving and ahead of the pack. Basically you just drag a trail over the keyboard and Swype will predict the word you want from the context. Is it wrong sometimes? sure. But it is eerily accurate almost all the time. Other than a full-sized physical keyboard (I'm a touch typist), for me, the only thing faster is speech recognition - oh, and it does that too using Dragon's engine.

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