I don’t know about you, but the standard Android keyboard is not always the most efficient tool in the toolbox. This is especially true when using any type of secure shell tool where special commands and key combinations are necessary. And for anyone who prefers a standard QWERTY keyboard (complete with arrow keys, function keys, and number pad), the built-in tool just isn’t enough.
Fear not, oh noble power user, because there’s a free app out there to replace the less-than-power-user friendly keyboard. The application is called Hacker’s Keyboard — but don’t worry, it won’t hijack your phone or turn you into Kevin Mitnik. What it will do is enable you to work more efficiently (and fully) with secure shell and other command line tools. But it’s not just for power users. This keyboard makes everything that requires typing on the Android platform a bit easier.
Let’s take a look at how to install, enable, and use the Hacker’s Keyboard.
The basic installation for Hacker’s Keyboard is simple. Do the following:
- Open the Market app
- Search for “keyboard” (no quotes)
- Tap the Download button to install
Once installed, there are a couple of steps that must be taken care of before the keyboard will be accessible. The “First Run” screen (see Figure A) outlines the instructions.
This screen offers clear instructions on how to enable the new keyboard.
Enabling the keyboard
In case you miss the “First Run” screen, here’s how to enable the Hacker’s Keyboard. The first step is to set the input method. By default, Android only permits certainly methods of input. This is done for security reasons. Since we trust Hacker’s Keyboard, we are going to allow this input method. To do so, follow these steps:
- Tap the Menu button
- Tap the Settings button
- Tap Locale and text
- Tap the entry for Hacker’s Keyboard (see Figure B) to enable
- OK the warning (if given)
From this screen, you can select which keyboard you want to use.
Now, to select the Hacker’s Keyboard to be used for all input methods, tap the Select Input Method button and select Hacker’s Keyboard from the list (see Figure C).
Not every Android device will have these options (especially Swype).
Once the keyboard has been enabled and selected, it’s time to try it out!
Using Hacker’s Keyboard
Open up a tool that requires the use of a keyboard and — surprise — the Hacker’s Keyboard will appear (see Figure D). In Portrait mode, the improvements aren’t nearly as obvious as they are in Landscape mode.
Now, that’s a keyboard!
As with all good applications, Hacker’s Keyboard comes with plenty of options to work with. In fact, some of these will become “must haves” for certain users. The options include:
- Keyboard height (portrait and landscape modes)
- Suggestions (hide/unhide)
- Labeled alternate keys
- Key label scaling
- ConnectBot tab key mode
- Vibrate on keypress
- Vibrate duration
- Sound on keypress
- Popup on keypress
- Touch to correct words
- Voice input
- Input languages
- Word suggestion settings (quick fixes, show suggestions, etc.)
Using this keyboard will feel like second nature. It’s quite simple and, once you start using it, you probably won’t ever go back to the built-in keyboard … it’s truly that good. Not only is Hacker’s Keyboard easier to use, but the addition of the arrow keys alone will make this application essential for a lot of users.
To get to one of the best features of the Hacker’s Keyboard, tap the Fn key to reveal the keypads. Here, you’ll find the cursor keypads, number keypads, and function keys (see Figure E).
These features only show up in Landscape mode.
The big conclusion
As you might expect, I’m pretty smitten with the Hacker’s Keyboard, and I fully believe this app will wind up your top 10 soon enough. Hacker’s Keyboard won’t make your phone run faster, make your battery have longer life, or connect you to your company’s Exchange server or VPN, but it will help you type faster and better on your smartphone, which is definitely a huge plus for power users.