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Here are the best keyboards for Android

When I first discovered Android, one of the things that blew me away was the idea that you could install a third-party keyboard. I wasn’t stuck with the one that came on the phone, which in those early days was usually something quite dreadful.

Fast forward to today, and Android is awash in so many great keyboard options that you can truly find one that fits your typing style and learns your preferences quite well. Many of them are also cross-platform and can sync up your preferences with iOS if you like to dabble with the Dark Side.

Keyboards are a very personal choice, so my number one may not be yours. But if you’re not sure where to go then let this lineup be your guide to a much better typing experience. 

The winner: SwiftKey

I expected this to be a lot closer than it actually was. For quite a while there was SwiftKey and and a wide gap in quality over everyone else. But that space has narrowed, and while I may prefer SwiftKey over the others, there are plenty of valid reasons why you might want to go with another keyboard instead.

SwiftKey generates a ton of data and insight into your typing style. 

SwiftKey still has plenty of merits that earn it the top distinction. It’s still best in class at language learning, with the company pouring tons of research into the effort. The keyboard learns your preferences, shows you typing stats, and syncs up this information across both the Android and iOS versions. And if you can’t find a theme you like from SwiftKey’s massive theme vault, then it probably doesn’t exist.

However, after using it as my go-to keyboard for nearly three years I feel like some bugs have crept in. It can hiccup and hang at times, an issue I've experienced across a variety of Android devices. I can’t of course speak to the code or any internal metrics, but my anecdotal experience hasn’t been as smooth, which is why some of the others on this list look so attractive.

SwiftKey offers another advantage: you can live on the edge a bit with a beta build or SwiftKey Neural Alpha. It takes use of neural network learning, which shows tremendous promise for strengthening how machines understand human language. Some of the predictions are wicked smart, but it’s definitely a bumpy ride given the alpha status.

Runner-up: Google Keyboard

Google has seriously ramped up its game when it comes to producing a high-quality keyboard. I’ve come to really enjoy Google Keyboard because it has an almost Apple-like level of focus on simplicity. It looks great, is smooth, and is a great benchmark for Material Design. And just like Google’s other products, it uses your information (typing history, contacts, and other data) to improve typing suggestions.

Google Keyboard uses, you guessed it, characteristics from your Google account to learn your typing style.

There’s something else that may kick Google in the pants when it comes to going with a stronger keyboard game: Microsoft recently acquired SwiftKey. Google’s not about to let the best keyboard on Android be run by its rival, so I expect the prediction and gesture typing capabilities (which are good, but not as strong as Swype) to get even better.

A final rumor worth paying attention to: that Google is building a keyboard for the iPhone. The move makes a lot of sense. The company could tie in Google search services directly to the keyboard. And your typing preferences could go cross-platform, whereas right now they’re restricted to Android.

Google Keyboard could also use some more themes, as right now you’re stuck between two Material design builds or an old Holo look.

Swype: still the best at gesture typing

Swype has its dedicated fans, and with good reason. There isn’t a better keyboard out there if you want to type with gestures.

I’ve never been a particular fan of this method. I still find myself having to correct words that Swype and other keyboards that use this approach get wrong. But keyboards are very personal, and if you slide your finger quickly through common enough words and phrases you’ll be able to text, email, or take notes amazingly fast.

Swype is still the king when it comes to gesture typing on your smartphone.

Also, if you think Swype is solely about gesture typing, then give it another look. The app has partnered with Dragon for speech recognition, which means you can speak what you want to say. I find Google’s voice capabilities to be better, but Dragon is a big leader in language research so you’ll still be in good hands. Plus, Swype also offers many themes if you want to customize the look, including a some Material Design options that look right at home in the world of Android.

Innovation and design: Fleksy

Even though it’s not my first choice, I do really like Fleksy. The design stands out, with huge letters and very bright colors that give a refreshing pop to your phone’s design if it’s too stodgy and business-like.

But the big claim to fame behind Fleksy is in how you can use swipe-gestures to do simple functions like correcting a word, going back, or spacing ahead. It’s a little weird at first, but if you get into a rhythm and like this method it can be a really fast way to type.

Fleksy combines a lot of original thinking in design and typing gestures.

But Fleksy is also about fun. Want a keyboard that throws in GIFs or wacky images with ease? Then this is definitely your choice. The autocorrection is decent enough, but mastering the swipes makes this a super fast way to fire off a text message or email. The design isn’t totally to my taste, but I do recommend you give it a try and it’s a system that might really appeal to some people.

From left field: Go Keyboard

Sometimes you don’t care so much about all that serious productivity and you’d rather have a little fun or tap into your inner teenager. If that’s the case, then check out Go Keyboard. It has the wackiest set of themes, sticker packs, and other animations that pair perfectly with a Snapchat session.

Go Keyboard is the ideal choice for your less serious self.

But the keyboard and auto correction also need to be good, which they are. It’s not quite SwiftKey level at churning out magical predictions, but it’s competent enough to get the job done. But the focus here is really on all the themes and emoji integration, so check it out and have some fun with it. I didn’t expect to enjoy using it, but there was a lot to like.

Besides, experimenting is the whole point when it comes to deciding on the best keyboard solution. There are plenty of others: ai.type, Flash Keyboard, and Microsoft’s new Hub keyboard that syncs up closely with Office content. So if you want to find the right keyboard for you, there’s a good chance it’s out there.

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