The Android tablet is an amazing mobile device, allowing users to work, interact, and just be connected no matter where they are. But some users have issue with entering text. Tapping out text on a virtual keyboard is as unnatural as painting with your feet. And since you can't hold the devices as easily as a smart phone, the one-handed hunt-and-peck approach isn't always an option.
This issue isn't unique to Android tablets — it happens with any tablet sharing the same form factor. Luckily, all it takes to resolve this issue is changing out the keyboard. There are plenty of keyboards to choose from —but which are the best? I've rounded up five of them for you, one of which will certainly be a pleaser.
Note: This article is also available as a photo gallery.
1: Thumb KeyboardThumb Keyboard is the best of the best. Like many of the keyboards in this list, it splits the keyboard in two, so you can hold the tablet in either landscape or portrait and still reach all keys with only your thumbs. You can adjust the size of the keyboard (according to tablet or smartphone display size). You can also theme the keyboard and even use your own background (Figure A). What sets this keyboard apart from the rest is the key layout. With many of the other replacement keyboards, I found myself accidentally hitting the "." or the "/" key instead of the spacebar. With Thumb Keyboard, typing was faster and less prone to mistakes. The cost is $2.29 USD.
2: Tablet Keyboard FreeTablet Keyboard Free (Figure B) is laid out similarly to the Thumb Keyboard with just a few minor differences. There are no options (you can't adjust the size of the keyboard, nor can you theme the keyboard), but the default split layout works really well. What I like most about this alternative keyboard (outside of the slit, thumb-friendly layout) is how easy it is to get to some of the alternate keys. The only drawback to this keyboard is that its height makes it easy to mistakenly tap keys other than the spacebar. Outside of that small issue, Tablet Keyboard is definitely worth installing. You will also find a standard layout, which you can switch to by simply tapping the Tablet button between the spacebars. Cost: Free.
3: SwiftKey Tablet X FreeSwiftKey Tablet X Free (Figure C) is quite an amazing keyboard replacement. It would top the list if the keys were a tiny bit larger. As it is, they tend to get in the way of larger fingers, causing accidental mistypings. SwiftKey Tablet X offers one of the finest predictive text engines of any keyboard, period. Now the predictive typing is only available for 30 days on the free version. I highly recommend you try the free version first. Then, should the predictive typing be a feature you must have, you can purchase the full version (at $3.99 USD). When you first run this keyboard, you must walk through a simple wizard that will download the proper language and set the keyboard up to fit your needs.
4: SlideIT Soft KeyboardSlideIT Soft Keyboard (Figure D) doesn't split the keyboard like the above entries. Instead, it removes the need for tapping and allows you to draw your text on the keypad, helping to erase mistakes. This input method is similar to that of the Swype input found in most Samsung devices. It works quite well. The only downside is that you must hold your tablet with one hand (or place it on a surface, like a lap or table) to free up your swiping finger. I have to admit, using SlideIT will increase your typing speed — dramatically. The free version is limited to a 15-day trial, plenty of time for you to determine whether this keyboard is for you. The paid version is $5.99 USD.
5: Super Keyboard - FreeSuper Keyboard - Free (Figure E) is a serious contender for the top spot. With this unique keyboard, you can toggle between two layouts (standard and split). You can also define which layout is the default and which is the alternative. The key layout on the split design is incredibly well done and the key size is almost perfect. There are tons of configuration options for this take on the tablet keyboard — and even more, if you pony up for the Pro version (which will set you back $3.99 USD). [Edit: Thanks to AnsuGisalas for this catch. From the developers:"This is a FULL FEATURED public Beta of the Super Keyboard. We will release a Pro version soon, when its polished and meets our quality standard. When the Pro version is released, some features in this free version will be locked. In the mean time, ALL FEATURES are available for free."]
Worth a look
Each of these outstanding replacements for the built-in Android keyboard can make typing on a tablet exponentially easier. Take them for a test drive, and I'm positive you will find one that will become your go-to keyboard on your go-to device.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.