Installing an Alternate Keyboard on Your Android Phone

Smartphone keyboard

Typing on a smartphone can be tedious, especially if you're tapping away a particularly long screed. Luckily, there are many third-party keyboards out there designed to make typing easier, with smarter auto-correct, tracing features, and more. While the Google keyboard is well-liked and has gesture typing built-in, as well as voice typing and emoji shortcuts, it's worth looking at the variety of alternative keyboard apps available.

Here's how to install one (or two, or three).

Choose Your Keyboard

One of the most popular keyboard apps is Swiftkey (free). It's so popular, in fact, that it's been pre-loaded on several different Android smartphones, including the Samsung Galaxy line. Swiftkey offers predictive text, a variety of themes (some require in-app purchases), and the ability to type by tracing; that is, gliding across the keyboard. Swype (99 cents) is also well-regarded and introduced the concept of tracing keyboards. Reviewers say that its predictive text isn't as good as Swiftkey's, though. Touchpal (free) is yet another keyboard that offers tracing, in addition to stickers, emoji, and auto-correct. For tap typists, Fleksy ($1.99) is a good choice with a top-rated auto-correct engine and some gesture control. It does not offer tracing.

Security Concerns

Auto-correct can be a great feature (or sometimes a nightmare), but in order for a keyboard to learn how you type and make appropriate suggestions, it has to collect your typing data.

This means an app may be collecting a lot of personal information from your emails, texts, web searches, and perhaps most importantly, your passwords. Be sure to read through the permissions carefully before you proceed, and keep on top of security reports. It's also worth looking into mobile security software for peace of mind.

Make it Your Default

Once you've downloaded your chosen keyboard—or even more than one—there are a few more steps you need to take. Go into settings, language & input, and then, under keyboard & input methods, tap on ​the current keyboard. A change keyboard window will pop up; tap on choose keyboards, and you'll see a list of all installed keyboards, including a handful of Google keyboards in alternate languages, as well as Google voice typing. Tap your keyboard of choice; you may see a warning that this input method may collect the text you type including personal information. I'd recommend reading about what the app collects and where it's stored before agreeing. If you're satisfied with the explanation, tap OK, and you're almost ready to go.

Next, open the keyboard app and finish setup. If you're using Swiftkey, for example, after you enable Swiftkey in settings, you need to select it again within the app. Then you can choose to sign in to Swiftkey to get personalization, themes, and backup and sync features. (You can sign in with Google rather than creating an account, which is convenient.) If you use Google to log in, you have to allow the app to view your basic profile information (via Google+).

You can also optionally personalize your text predictions using your sent mail.

Most keyboards offer alternate languages to English, which you can set up within the respective app. Some also enable you to tweak the keyboard layout, including adding or removing a number row and enabling emoji shortcuts.