Quick: When was the last time you thought about the keyboard app on your phone?
If you’re anything like most people, the answer is probably somewhere between “a ridiculously long time ago” and “never.” And it’s no wonder: Keyboard apps are easy to forget! You install one — or stick with whatever came loaded on your phone by default — and then use it to input text when you need to. It’s just there, and unless you’re a weirdo who spends hours trying out different keyboards to see how they compare (and then trying ’em all out again months later to see how they’ve evolved and what other options have come along), you’re never gonna know what you’re missing.
Well, good news, my friend: I am that weirdo. Somehow, it’s my job. (Crazy, right?) And I’ve just finished assessing all of the significant Android keyboard apps in their current incarnations to see what they have to offer in 2021 and how they stack up.
Lemme tell ya: These once-unassuming typing tools have come a long way. The top Android keyboard apps now offer almost absurdly polished and refined text input experiences — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Android keyboards today are overflowing with all sorts of advanced functions that go way beyond their original purposes. And that means it’s more important than ever to find the right setup for your personal productivity needs.
So let’s get into it, shall we? These are the best Android keyboard apps around, broken down by where they excel and for whom they make the most sense.
The best all-around Android keyboard app for most people
Gboard – the Google Keyboard (free)
If you just want a solid, thoughtfully designed keyboard that works well and is pleasant to use, Google’s own Gboard is tough to beat. Gboard is great for accurate swipe-based typing — where you slide your finger from one letter to the next without lifting it — and it does a decent job at tap-oriented typing, too, with its built-in typo correction and next-word prediction capabilities.
Beyond the basics, Gboard supports a variety of potentially useful advanced productivity features. For instance, you can search Google right from the keyboard and then paste in results — things like directions to a business or a link to a web page — directly into the text field, wherever you are. You can also activate an integrated Google Translate mode that’ll translate anything you type from one language to another on the fly.
Other noteworthy elements include a handwriting mode, which transforms your on-screen scribbles into regular text as you write; a floating keyboard option, which makes it easier to access the keyboard on a large-screened device; a built-in clipboard, which makes it quick ‘n’ simple to find and paste any recently copied content or permanently pinned items; a variety of themes to make the keyboard look any way you like; and a series of hidden shortcuts for extra-speedy text input.
Whether you take advantage of all those possibilities or not, though, Gboard is a well-rounded keyboard that lets you type quickly, accurately, and with minimal hassle on your Android phone. If you don’t have any special requirements and just want a commendable all-around keyboard that gets the job done, Gboard is the app for you.
The best Android keyboard app for tap-based typing and predictive text
Microsoft SwiftKey Keyboard (free)
Find yourself typing mostly by tapping out words? The now-Microsoft-owned SwiftKey is the Android keyboard app you want. SwiftKey is in a league of its own when it comes to ease and accuracy of tap-based typing, and its next-word prediction is second to none. (The app can handle swipe-based typing as well but is less exceptional in that domain.)
SwiftKey has plenty of bells and whistles, too, including a feature that lets you share your exact location (or any location around you) with a couple quick taps; an option to connect the keyboard to your calendar and then browse through your agenda and share details about an event or time slot into any text field; and an integrated web search system that makes it possible to view entire web pages in an overlay window and even capture and share screenshots without ever switching away from your current app.
All in all, SwiftKey is a polished and viable alternative to Gboard. It also, not surprisingly, relies mostly on Microsoft services over Google services, by default, for things like search and translation. If you tend to type mostly by tapping — or if you’re heavily invested in the Microsoft ecosystem and want your Android experience to revolve around that world — it’s well worth giving a whirl.
The best Android keyboard app for writing perfection
Grammarly Keyboard (free with optional $140-a-year subscription for premium features)
If you’re less concerned about how you’re typing and more worried about what you’re typing, the appropriately named Grammarly Keyboard might be just the answer for you. Grammarly, as its name suggests, is focused on watching your words and making intelligent suggestions about your grammar, spelling, and other potential issues as you enter text on your phone.
To that end, the keyboard pops up corrections about your writing within its upper bar in real time and as part of an ongoing list of suggestions. Even when it comes to something as simple as a misspelled word, it outshines other keyboards by making sure an error catches your attention both while you’re actively typing it and after you’ve moved past the problematic text, thanks to a lingering alert in the keyboard’s upper-left corner. And it does the same with grammatical issues, too — something most other keyboards don’t attempt at all.
Grammarly also offers up synonyms for your most recent word whenever you stop typing, which can be both handy and beneficial. Or, shall I say, efficacious. (Thank you, thesaurus!)
If you really want to go all out, Grammarly can give you detailed suggestions about improving your writing — tips for everything from clarifying sentences to fixing wordiness and even making you sound more confident (a service I sure could’ve used in high school) — as part of a $140-a-year premium subscription. The price is a bit steep, but it does include a similar set of benefits across Grammarly’s browser extensions, native Windows and Mac utilities, and Word-, Outlook-, and Docs-specific functions. (Team-based business plans are also available starting at $12.50 per user per month.)
Writing improvement aside, Grammarly’s Android keyboard is perfectly fine. It supports both tap- and swipe-based input and works well on both fronts. It lacks most of the more advanced elements and options Gboard and SwiftKey provide, but it gives you an awful lot of alternative value in return.
The best Android keyboard app for privacy and simplicity
Simple Keyboard (free)
On the flip side to the more elaborate Android keyboard options is the bare-bones, basic-as-can-be Simple Keyboard — an app whose name tells you much of what you need to know about the experience it provides.
Simple Keyboard gives you, yes, a simple keyboard, with support for tap-based typing — and that’s pretty much it. There’s no text correction system, no next-word prediction, and no support for swipe-oriented input. There’s not even access to Google’s system-level voice-to-text system, which every other app in this list provides. Heck, aside from a humble set of simple options, Simple Keyboard has no bells and whistles whatsoever. It is, quite simply, a keyboard. And that’s all it aspires to be.
So why would you want such a frills-free typing experience when so many rich, feature-laden alternatives exist? Well, you might not want any of those added elements, for one, and might be content to have something that just lets you tap in words as needed. But perhaps more prominently, Simple Keyboard’s lack of lofty ambitions gives it one powerful feature no other keyboard can match: privacy — built in at its core, with a ground-level assurance that nothing you type could ever be transmitted off your device by the keyboard itself.
Pretty much every other Android keyboard app, y’see, requires perpetual network access in order to operate. And while most of the major players say they’ll never do anything nefarious with your data, there’s no denying that they do at the very least have the ability to observe and transmit it. (The need for internet access can be explained in a variety of perfectly legitimate ways, including the ambitious options those apps have for performing internet searches and even just learning your typing habits over time in order to provide better predictions — but still, if maximum privacy is a top concern of yours, that may not be enough to make it acceptable.)
Simple Keyboard, in contrast, requests no level of network access. In fact, the only permission it requires is the ability to control your device’s vibration motor. (You can see this for yourself by opening the “View details” link under the “Permissions” header on the app’s Play Store page. On Android, an app is only allowed to access system functions and types of data that it explicitly requests and that you explicitly authorize at some point along the way.) That means there’s no realistic way the app can log what you’re typing and then transfer that data off of your device — for any reason. The program’s code is even completely open source, if you’re tech-savvy and want to confirm exactly what it’s doing.
Most people will prefer the added creature comforts offered by the other apps in this list, but for the privacy-conscious and simplicity-seeking among us, Simple Keyboard is a valuable and unusual contender that plays an important role in this keyboard collection.
This article was originally published in March 2019 and updated in February 2021.
Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.