Typing on a touchscreen can be tricky, so having a good software keyboard on your Android phone is essential. Fortunately, Google’s mobile operating system has supported third-party keyboards for years (long before Apple finally started supporting them in iOS 8). Switching from your Android device’s stock keyboard to an alternative can make typing on your phone or tablet way easier and way more accurate.
But which is the best alternative Android keyboard for you? There are plenty to choose from, but here are the five we’d recommend you check out first.
Of course, Google has its own keyboard — the free Google Keyboard — but, surprisingly, it does not come standard on all Android devices. The Google Keyboard looks simple but is actually impressively versatile, with gesture-typing, voice input, enhanced predictive text, and built-in emoji. It supports over 80 languages (23 for gesture-typing) and multiple keyboard layouts — including a “PC” layout that includes a dedicated number row, which is particularly convenient for typing in passwords. This keyboard isn’t going to win any prizes for customizability, but it does offer four themes (all of which are clean and minimalist — no ombré sunset colorways or galaxy prints here).
The Google Keyboard is an excellent all-around option if you like to switch frequently between input methods: it’s not best-in-class for any one method, but it’s good at all of them.
Gesture-typing — swiping your finger from letter to letter, tracing out words instead of tapping individual ‘keys’ — is arguably the best form of input for one-handed typists, and Swype is the original gesture-typing keyboard. It comes pre-installed on many Android devices; for everyone else, the full version costs $0.99 (though you can preview it for free for 30 days).
Because gesture-typing can leave a lot of room for error, the keyboard also relies heavily on predictive text, which uses your personal dictionary and typing patterns to predict what you want to type. The keyboard supports over 80 languages and offers bilingual support (meaning you can type in two languages at once). It offers premium paid themes and a few different keyboard layouts that cater to people with larger screens, including a split keyboard layout and the option to raise or lower the keyboard’s height.
While other keyboards offer gesture-typing input as an option, there’s really no substitute for the smooth, effortless flicks and lines of the original. Swype’s tap-typing is slightly less responsive than other keyboards, but it does feature voice input via Nuance’s popular Dragon Dictate voice-recognition software.
SwiftKey takes predictive text to the next level — assuming you’re willing to sacrifice a little privacy in the name of accurate, personalized predictions. While other predictive text keyboards log your typing behavior and adapt to your writing style as you use them, SwiftKey asks for access to your email and social network accounts so it can get to know what you like to type across all platforms. It can also predict two-word phrases and emoji.
Even without its scary-accurate predictions, SwiftKey has lots of useful features. It supports over 80 languages, offers several keyboard layouts and a store full of free and paid themes, and it can sync your settings and predictions across devices. SwiftKey also supports gesture-typing (called SwiftKey Flow) and has a button for voice input.
But SwiftKey’s real strength is in predictions. Once SwiftKey gets to know you well enough, it will basically type your text messages for you.
Google Keyboard, Swype, and SwiftKey are all pretty similar, with slightly different strengths. Fleksy, on the other hand, is a different keyboard altogether. It uses a particularly clever autocorrect algorithm to improve your typing experience: It doesn’t try to predict your next word, it just focuses on what you’re currently typing. Fleksy’s autocorrect is so impressive that even visually impaired users can reportedly type on it accurately.
Fancy autocorrect aside, Fleksy is also a beautiful keyboard with tons of customization options. The Fleksy store has themes (free and paid) as well as optional extensions (such as a dedicated number row or a GIF search) that you can add to the keyboard. Fleksy doesn’t offer gesture-typing, but it does have gesture commands — swipe down to scroll through autocorrect options, for example, or swipe left to delete a word.
If you’re not rocking a Samsung Galaxy Note 5, you may want a keyboard that maximizes your on-screen real estate. In that case, the odd-looking Minuum keyboard ($3.99; you can also try it for free for 30 days) was made for you.
Minuum has a unique layout: All of its keys are arranged in a single row at the bottom of your screen. That obviously takes a little getting used to. But once you climb the learning curve, you’ll find it’s actually quite speedy and accurate, even if you have huge thumbs. Minuum relies heavily on predictive text. That can work retroactively, too: Tap on any word you’ve written in a sentence or a paragraph, and you’ll be able to select from a list of replacements.
The keyboard supports 12 languages and multiple layouts (you can arrange that single line alphabetically, for example), and has a number of built-in themes. It doesn’t have gesture-typing, but, like Fleksy, it uses gesture commands. Also, Minuum won’t leave you hanging when you’re craving a traditional layout: Swipe up, and the keyboard will expand into, well, an actual keyboard.
Sarah is a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles who has a love/hate relationship with social media and a bad habit of describing technology as “sexy.” For more of her work, check out her portfolio or follow her on Twitter.