It’s definitely no surprise that yet another keyboard alternative has landed on the Android MarketPlace. It’s safe to say that I have tried at least 90% of these keyboards so far. Frankly, I didn’t buy into the hype behind the ever so popular Swype. The introduction of Swype, however, has managed to capture the interest of other Android developers and in doing so, Swype alternatives like SlideIt have appeared.
While I do enjoy the concept behind these forms of input, I personally do not think they are that efficient. Is it not the point of these input methods to maximize your time? More bang for your buck? Or in this case, more words per minute? Sure it may be “cool” and convenient to be able to hold the device with one hand and “swipe” across the screen. But facts are facts, I type faster on a standard QWERTY. Typing on my Samsung Galaxy Tab with my thumbs (while in portrait mode) is a breeze. It’s nice not having to over extend my thumbs to reach a letter (I’m talking to you iPad!). But what about in landscape mode? Do you really want to hold the Galaxy Tab in one hand and Swype back and forth across the large 7 in. screen? And unless you are Shaquille O’Neal or have massive hands, trying to use the standard QWERTY keyboard in landscape mode would be extremely uncomfortable. Well the solution is here and its called Thumb Keyboard.
Out of the box Thumb Keyboard looks like an awkward keyboard. For some strange reason, the most compelling feature of the keyboard is not shown to you up front; you have to change the options. So when you first launch the keyboard it looks like this:
I didn’t even bother using this option. I didn’t understand it. It felt way to complex for me. So after long pressing the little keyboard icon in the left lower part of the screen, you are presented with:
Talk about bang for your buck! Lets dive right into what I want to talk about it. Just in case you missed it, the third option says “Thumb QWERTY Tablet Layout”. I didn’t hesitate to hit that option immediately! And so, here is what we are given:
So this is where Thumb Keyboard shines. This tablet centric keyboard is the first system wide keyboard of its kind. Though I have seen this on other another platform, this is the first time you can actually use the keyboard throughout the entire OS and not just in one particular app.
I must say that this keyboard is almost perfect. There is virtually no learning curve! My wrists used to scream out for mercy while holding the tab in portrait mode for long periods of time, especially one handed. With Thumb Keyboard, it allows me to hold the Galaxy Tab comfortably in two hands for long periods of use. I didn’t experience any hand cramps or tired thumbs after writing long emails; the whole experience felt comfortable and natural. The reason I love this keyboard is because it finally allows me to use the Galaxy Tab in landscape mode for an extended period of time. You may ask, what restricts you from using it in landscape mode all the time? Well, when I want to enter a URL or write a lengthy comment on a site, I need to switch to portrait mode to type. It’s been like that since day one. But with Thumb Keyboard, it allows my Tab-using experience to be more fluid and consistent. So when surfing in landscape mode and I feel the need to write a long angry comment towards an iOS4 user I just…type away! Gone are the days of reverting back to portrait mode.
As I mentioned earlier, this keyboard is almost perfect. It’s a work in progress. One of the biggest issue with this keyboard is the lack of auto correct. I know for many of you this may be deal breaker. When I emailed the developer behind about my concerns, his fast and reassuring response put me at ease. Here is his comment:
Yes I’m planning to add text prediction. I can’t give you any details though about how soon I will release it. I understand that it is vital for the keyboard to have this kind of functionality. Since I want this keyboard to be a success (I love it myself) I commit myself to make this keyboard worthwhile for as many users as possible.
Another feature that Thumb Keyboard is lacking is voice input. Many keyboard these days provide quick access to the voice-to-text feature by placing a little microphone icon conveniently on the keyboard. This is something that I would love to see implemented. Lastly, when you need to use symbols or input numbers the UI is just not coherent with the rest of the keyboard. Take note:
I have a feeling this area will be improved to better match the style of the rest of the keyboard; just give it some time. The preferences menu leaves much to be desired. At this point you can basically just change the vibration length along with some arbitrary stuff such as a “checker board pattern” which till this day, I still have no idea what it is; color me not impressed. Again, this app is a work in progress so I won’t be too harsh on it.
I am positive that Thumb Keyboard will be my default keyboard once the auto correct issue has been addressed. Until then, I still use it often but forced to type at a slightly slower pace to avoid making mistakes. This keyboard is definitely innovative and with hardly a learning curve, anyone can pick it up and feel like they are typing on a normal keyboard. If I concentrated hard enough (remember mind over matter!) I could almost type as fast and accurate on Thumb Keyboard in landscape mode as I can in portrait mode on a standard QWERTY even without the auto-correct. So if you have small hands and want to enjoy typing & using your Samsung Galaxy Tab in landscape for long periods of time, I highly recommend checking out Thumb Keyboard. With other keyboards price at nearly three times beyond the $1.37 asking price, its a bargain you should not miss out on.