Better Android keyboards get even betterer

If you don't like Android's default keyboard, you can do better. Much, much better, as of this week.

SwiftKey 3

One of Android’s greatest strengths is that improvements to core phone functions don’t have to come from one particular office building. If a Microsoft software engineer has an idea of what makes for a better browser, he and a few teammates can go ahead and build Dolphin. When “DVD Jon” feels that the non-Apple world needs a better music library and device syncing tool, he can make doubleTwist. And when more than one person complains about the Android keyboard, well, there’s more than one person with a great solution.

Enter two of the main third-party keyboards for Android, which have upped their offerings this week. Swype, about which I’ve sung the praises of its understated greatness, continues to shave micro-seconds off the space between thinking and text input. As shown in their product video, Swype is focused on improving not just its trademark letter-to-letter “drawing” system, but input from typing, speaking, and even handwriting. Swype will learn the words you use most often as you type or say them, and start predicting them for you. Swype can also now pull from your Facebook, Twitter, your Google account, and your text message history to learn names of friends, organizations, and other nouns and phrases you use so as to not fight against them when you’re typing. The whole app looks a bit nicer, too, with fuller letters on the keys, subtle fading when drawing or switching app functions, and a less cramped feel to the keyboard. Even if your phone came with a version of Swype installed, you can grab the newest beta for testing purposes.

If you’re more into typing than swiping, check out what SwiftKey has built with SwiftKey 3. SwiftKey is all about predicting what you’re going to type next, and what you typed wrong. If you jam out a whole bunch of words and phrases and miss a few spaces, SwiftKey goes back and inserts spaces between fairly obvious words. It watches what you type over time and predicts what’s coming next. If you’re often texting “Meet you at the office,” you can then enter just “Meet,” hit the space bar a few times, and SwiftKey fills out the rest. The developers have also brought their app’s looks up to date with Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) standards, and offer custom themes for those who like to tweak.

What Android keyboard replaces the standard keys for you? Are you using voice input so much that it barely matters?

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