Why I use 3 keyboards on my Nexus One

Nicole Cozma
 from Chicago
Published: November 16, 2010

It might seem cumbersome to anyone who isn’t me to switch between several keyboards on their phone. Honestly, I don’t find it to be much of bother; I am only a long-press away from selecting “Input Method” and choosing a different keyboard. So which are the three I’m selecting from? Those would be Swype, HTC IME mod, and Ultra Keyboard.

If you aren’t familiar with Swype, it’s one of the easiest methods for texting with just your thumb in portrait mode, and definitely makes typing out a quick text, tweet, or IM (my fave methods of communication) a breeze. I keep my phone in portrait mode more often than landscape because I like to be able to see the rest of the conversation AND the text input field at the same time—which is something you don’t get in landscape mode on most touch-screen only phones. If you’re still lost, watch their videos here. Basically, I use this keyboard for all of my primary communication, though I am guilty of using it for an email or two.

Swype does have two pitfalls: its availability to those who didn’t buy a phone with it preloaded is very limited and those in the beta group cannot save their custom dictionaries. A while back Swype opened up their beta access to those who took the time to register on their site. Unfortunately, not everyone interested in Swype now had an Android device then. So now there are new fandroids who have no shot at grabbing the beta in a legitimate fashion (if it isn’t preloaded on their phones). Additionally, those who did buy phones with it preloaded cannot update to the newest version of Swype (featuring voice-input) because the update process isn’t the same as compared to beta users. And why did I mention saving user dictionaries? Because the beta install process is just that, beta. In order to install a new version of Swype, the user has to uninstall the current one and install a new copy, which also means a new dictionary. There’s hope for both situations though, according to @Swype on Twitter. They mentioned they are currently working on fixing both issues (and if you’re interested, they’re also working on changing the way the keyboard tells you about “hidden words,” which can sometimes be more annoying than helpful). I realize I’m a little tough on Swype, but being my favorite of the three, I do hold them to extremely high standards.

The second keyboard, HTC IME mod, is basically a “borrowed” copy of the keyboard that phones with HTC Sense use, their own spin on the basic Android keyboard. I find it to be supremely awesome for typing things like email or longer notes in Catch (a note-taking app with tags and other cool stuff, formerly called 3banana). Some of the amazing developers on XDA decided to pick it up and add some extra features to it, making it even more awesome than the original—like making your own custom themes. So why switch out the keyboard for email? Well, when I type email I tend to do so in landscape mode, generally because I’m looking at longer sentences and working towards making them flow together. It’s probably just a weird personal quirk, but I find landscape mode to be more accommodating to the way I like to write in letter/email form. Another thing this keyboard offers is the ability to add new words a little easier than Swype. For instance, if I needed to add PhoneDog to the dictionary (it’s already there, promise!), my fingers would have to slowly key it in for Swype, otherwise it will think I am trying to swipe across the keys when I’m not. The HTC IME mod keyboard will let you keep typing as normal, but then show you the word highlighted in orange to let you add it to the dictionary as you typed it in. Super easy. So what’s the catch? Well, it doesn’t work perfectly on all versions of Android because the not-for-profit people working on it simply can’t be responsible for accommodating them all. Still interested? You can find more info on their project here and here.

The last keyboard in my collection is Ultra Keyboard. I keep Ultra Keyboard around for two specific reasons: in case I ever lose access to Swype (no joke here), and because it’s starting to gain an edge on HTC IME. First of all, Ultra Keyboard is the closest substitute an Android user can find for Swype. The swiping feature can be turned on or off in an (also) optional menu right above the keyboard on the screen. Additionally, Ultra Keyboard has extra tools built in like instant translation, a zoom for the text input area, and a cursor mover for those without a trackball/pad. If Swype ever becomes unavailable for my Nexus One, Ultra Keyboard is the best understudy I can find; it only cost me $2.79 USD and doesn’t require me to constantly lose the dictionary when updating.  So how is it gaining an edge on the HTC IME? Well, aside from offering features the HTC IME mod doesn’t, it also lets me customize the size of the keys and it can use Better Keyboard skins (thanks Jeremy)!  The only setback with this keyboard is the accuracy needs to be improved a bit, or maybe I just need to learn how to use it better? Overall though, I like to keep it on my phone and stay familiar with the process of using it, just in case.

So there you have it—my case for three keyboards. Hopefully you can understand why I keep all three around now. Perhaps you’ll discover that you like one of these just as much as I do, and even add it to your own collection.