Typing on touchscreen devices’ virtual keyboards has always frustrated me. To be sure, it was far better than the T9 tap, tap, tap method using a phone’s numeric keyboard. However, ever since my first tablet (the original iPad), I’ve found that the productivity advantages offered by the larger screen were largely offset by the inability to type accurately.
Typing On a Tablet
Because the standard QWERTY-style keypad is shrunken, it’s nearly impossible to “touch type” on any tablet. Even if you can adapt to the key spacing, you have to place the tablet on your lap or on a table in order to do so. If you try to type otherwise, you must cradle it in your arm and hunt-and-peck with your free hand. Neither method is conducive to accuracy or speed. Plus, many common keys that aid in typing, such as the cursor, punctuation and number keys, are simply not there.
The significant problems with accuracy are then exacerbated by automated attempts to correct the typos, which is a maddening experience. Consequently, the typing systems on phones and tablets have built-in enhancers such as auto correct, misspelled word suggestions, predictive typing and auto first cap. I find that for the most part that these enhancements create a new set of problems such as inadvertently inserting crazy misspellings or first caps after an abbreviation. As I write/type for sustenance, all it takes is one mistakenly inserted predictive or auto-corrective spelling in a serious post in order for me to disable most typing “enhancements” altogether.
So, typing on a tablet is bound to produce far more typos than typing on anything that does not have a near-standard tactile keyboard. This means that you have to be sure to take the extra time and go back and correct your text. I found that simply locating the cursor on the insertion/deletion point was particularly annoying with both iOS and Android devices, especially in Web forms. Moving the cursor around on the touch screen in order to make corrections, or cut and paste. was an annoying hit-or-miss operation. In fact, one of the main reasons that I ditched my iPad was related to the poor performance of the hideous “keyslab.”
When I purchased my first Android device (an HTC EVO 4G smartphone), I was pleased as pink to discover the presence of cursor keys. This made it much easier to accurately move the cursor to the proper location within the text. That sealed the deal and I sold the iPad, purchased an Android tablet and never looked back. While cursor location control was greatly improved, initial speed and accuracy was not.
The standard Android (Honeycomb) keyboard. Nice, but it is impossible to use for touch-typing on a 7″ tablet. Your only option is hunt-and-peck.
In further search of a solution, I found that you can choose from and install a wide variety of keyboards that are available from the Google Play Store. Backtracking a bit, I also learned that you cannot install keyboards to any iOS device because Apple has pre-determined what is best for you, and does not trust that you’re capable of fooling around with anything other than iTunes downloads. Yes, I know that Apple included a thumb keyboard with the advent of iOS 5, but I tried it and the keys were too small and split so wide that you had to swivel your head from side-to-side while typing in order to view either side of the split keyboard. Plus, you cannot adjust the size or spacing of the keys, and cursor keys (among many others) were still missing.
Split keyboard introduced with Apple iOS 5.
The Android Keyboard Apps
I tried every single one of the replacements for the standard keyboard and experienced the same two problems with each: 1) fast and accurate touch typing was virtually impossible; and 2) all of the typing enhancements, particularly misspelled word suggestions and predictive typing, caused more problems than they solved. At this point, I decided to try my hand at a split “thumb keyboard” because it may provide a solution for typing accuracy. I tried all of the split keyboards and eventually settled on Beansoft’s Thumb Keyboard.
Thumb Keyboard shown on my 7″ HTC EVO View 4G and customized the way I like it. Note the numeric keypad, cursor keys, “.com” (long press for “.org,” “.edu,” etc.) and tab key (eat your hearts out iOS fanboys!). The inclusion of these keys alone greatly enhances speed and accuracy while the split arrangement and thumb typing significantly enhances typing speed over hunt-and-peck typing (I admit that it takes practice). With a split keyboard, you don’t need a place to put your tablet down in order to type with two hands. You grip it with both hands and flail away with your thumbs. A long press enters the gray secondary characters. A long press on the “/” key activates the setup menu. A long press on the “123″ key activates voice text-entry.
If you find yourself at a desk and longing for a traditional QWERTY-style keyboard, a long press on the “/” key brings up this dialog and you can change the layout “on the fly.” If you can’t find a layout that suits you and your device from this selection, read no further. Note the row of gray keys along the top. If you long-press one of them, you’re prompted to add a function or assign special characters. This row of function keys can be hidden in order to provide additional screen space.
As stated, you can access the setup menu with a long press of the “/” key. There, you can tailor all of your settings on the fly. This means that you don’t need to stop what you’re doing and enter the main device configuration menu in order to do so.
Want a little pizzazz? Choose one of the 29 included themes.
In addition to those shown above, other configuration options include:
- Font size
- Keyboard size
- Colored key blocks
- Swipe gestures
- Suppress full-screen windows
- (Change) Secondary symbols
- One handed (thumb operation – smaller portrait keyboard for phones with large screen)
- Show cursor key row (in portrait mode for layouts without cursor keys)
- Show/hide settings key
- Show/hide voice input key
- Hide right shift key
- Alternative/international keyboards
- (Adjust time of) Long press delay
- (Remove pop-up display for) Long press for numbers or symbols
- Delete word before cursor
- Input languages
- Quick (spelling) fixes
- Show suggestions
- Bigram suggestions (use previous word to improve suggestion–uses dictionary, defined word pairs or learned word pairs)
- Use contacts (database for suggestions)
- Touch to correct words
- Auto complete
- Select auto-completion spacebar (right or left spacebar in split mode)
- Insert space (after manually selecting a prediction)
- User dictionary editor
As you’ve learned, Thumb Keyboard is a powerful and highly customizeable tool that we highly recommend as a replacement keyboard on any Android device. Simply head on over to the Google Play Store, buy Thumb Keyboard once and install it on all of your Android devices. Customize it on the fly for virtually any device or situation that you find yourself in. Plus, Beansoft is always tweaking it around the edges and regularly releases incremental updates. It will be the best $2.49 you have ever spent.
teh the typing begin!