Apple makes good hardware. It does not always make good software. Its default keyboard is one example of that.
Thankfully, anyone in search of something else has worthy alternatives to choose from. As a recent iOS convert, I’m one of those people. So, for everyone’s benefit, I’ve tried to find the best of the bunch.
A couple of notes: I focused on keyboards that are explicitly designed for typing — sorry, Kim — and tried to weed out options with poor user reviews.
Here’s how the iPhone’s virtual keyboard market breaks down today.
I don't really think you should use Blink Keyboard: It has no swipe typing -- i.e., the ability to slide your finger across the keyboard to form words, instead of manually tapping each key -- and the notes from its last developer update in March merely say 'fix bug.' It works like a less accurate version of Apple's default keyboard that's also slightly more sluggish. When you make a mistake, it too often autocorrects to gibberish; being forced to be precise is the last thing you want from a smartphone keyboard.
Still, it does have a few things going for it: The 'fast delete' button lets you quickly scrap whole words at a time; there's a one-handed mode that lets you crunch the keys over to one side of the screen; and, when your phone is in landscape mode, it splits apart like an ergonomic keyboard, making it feel a little more natural for your thumbs.
But all of that only means so much when the keyboard itself is sloppy.
Go Keyboard lets you adjust the height and spacing of the keyboard on the fly, download a bunch of cutesy themes and stickers, and use swipe typing.
But again, it's not quite as fluid or reliable as its peers when it comes to actually typing. It's fine, but there isn't much incentive to go out of your way for it.
Minuum is one of the more technically impressive keyboards for iOS. Its big hook is that it can shrink the whole keyboard down to a single row, saving screen space and letting you see more of your web page or text conversation.
That actually works, too, because Minuum's prediction and autocorrecting skills are much more aggressive than most of its peers. When everything goes right -- either in the mini or full-size mode -- you can fire off texts very quickly. I also appreciate how developer Whirlscape doesn't go out of its way to obscure the app's privacy settings.
The problem is those autocorrections can be too forward for their own good; Minuum learns quickly enough, but it can still spurt out the wrong word, slow you down, and force you to type again. There's no swipe typing, either. And it hasn't been updated since January 2016. And the whole thing costs $US4. Unless the mini mode appeals to you, you can probably pass.
TouchPal supports swipe typing, and is generally more reliable than the likes of Blink Keyboard or Go Keyboard.
Its big thing is that it has a good chunk of goofy but cutesy themes and text art; the one here makes a 'Super Mario' jump sound with every key press, for instance.
But if that doesn't matter, you aren't missing much. TouchPal is competent, but you'll likely make fewer mistakes with one of the options below. That the app hasn't been updated since late 2015 doesn't help.
To be clear, Apple's default keyboard has improved. The new thing with iOS 10 was smarter suggestions; if you type 'Joe's email address is,' for instance, Apple can scrape your contacts for said address, then present it as a shortcut. This isn't perfect, but when it works, it's handy.
In general, Apple's prediction skills are sharp. That QuickType can suggest the emoji equivalents of certain words, and give different suggestions based on which app you're using, is great.
And if you don't care about swiping, QuickType is still the most reliably accurate keyboard on iPhone. That makes sense, given that it's baked into iOS. It never crashes, you'll have to use it whenever you enter a password or text from the lock screen, and it doesn't need any workarounds to let you text with your voice. That's all important.
But just because it's the default doesn't mean it's fast. Apple's rejection of swipe typing is just weird at this point, and the best alternatives find a better balance between speed and accuracy. A one-handed mode couldn't hurt, either. QuickType works, but people download third-party apps for a reason.
Now we get to the three keyboards you should really consider.
From a pure typing perspective, SwiftKey is tops. You have to use it a little bit for it to get there, but once you do, it requires the least amount of effort to get things right, quickly.
It does this in part with a 'tap map,' which tailors the shape of the keyboard to the autocorrections it most frequently makes. Nothing looks different, but behind the scenes it could make, say, the Y and G keys more spacious, so you have less of a chance of hitting nearby letters by accident. You can tie it to your Gmail and Facebook account to personalise things further. Just know that you have to be comfortable sending your data to Microsoft, which bought SwiftKey last year.
None of this is flawless. Swiping is a bit less accurate than standard touch typing, and sometimes SwiftKey's autocomplete will toss more common words in place of what you're actually trying to type. But, again, it learns quickly enough, and I found its word predictions to be excellent (if not on Apple's level). A recent redesign has made it look pretty slick, too: There are a good chunk of themes, and the whole thing now supports more than 100 languages.
So there's a lot to like. SwiftKey's problem is that the next two choices are almost as smooth to use, yet much more connected.
Word Flow, the keyboard Microsoft puts it brand on, has grown from an experiment to a charming and fully-realised alternative in recent months.
Word Flow's big hook is that, with a couple of taps, you can contort the keyboard to a shape that rounds out on the left or right. This is less accurate than its full-sized mode, but it does work, and it makes Word Flow the most convenient option to use with one hand.
The keyboard itself isn't as snappy or active with suggestions as SwiftKey, but it yields few complaints with both swipe and touch typing. It's all stable and smooth. There are several themes to use with it, too.
Word Flow's narrow lead comes from its search function -- as of late last year, you can search Bing for GIFs and web links that can be shared right from the keyboard. You can look up Microsoft-using contacts as well. This is all much faster than going in and out of a browser.
Put it all together, and you have a surprisingly full-featured option that's both smart and comfortable.
Google's Gboard is just a bit better.
Again, it's neither as fast nor as proactive as SwiftKey, but it's still quick and responsive across the board. It has swipe typing, which gives it a leg up on Apple's QuickType Keyboard. That swiping is constantly snappy. And though it's close, I've found it more likely to suggest and autocorrect in the right words compared to Word Flow.
It also has a web searching tool built in, which gives it the GIF finding and connectivity that SwiftKey lacks. Since it uses Google instead of Bing, I'd give it the edge over Microsoft's Word Flow.
And unlike Word Flow, or any other non-Apple keyboard, Gboard also lets you create texts with your voice. It requires an internet connection, and it bumps you over to a new screen -- Apple works offline and lets you dictate right from the text convo -- but it works well all the same.
You have to be ok with sending everything to Google's mother brain for this to be as useful as it can be, but if so, Gboard is the most well-rounded keyboard for your iPhone. It's a familiar story by now: If you need a change on Apple's hardware, look to Google's software first.
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