Emojis Suck, an Android Keyboard Adventure

So, if you have an Android phone like myself, and you use the default keyboard like myself, and you’re on Kit Kat, the latest update, like myself, then your texting screen looks something like this:


Which is okay. It functions as a keyboard. But, and this is the largest problem by far, that completely fucking asinine emoticon button is cornered between the backspace key and the period key, which are probably the second- and third-most pressed buttons on the keyboard, after spacebar.

And if you graze the emoticon button, then the backspace key moves. So if you’re typing fast, you can’t even delete all the happy faces and anchors you just typed without seriously hunting for the stupid thing.

This button didn’t use to exist all the time, but now it does, and it’s pissed me off enough that I’ve gone looking for another keyboard, because that’s a thing you can do with Android. So I went off to Google and found four hip new keyboards, collected from a couple different posts, for trying.

First was Minuum, a tiny tiny keyboard that prides itself on maintaining maximum screen real estate. There are only like 10 buttons, and you let the autocorrect do the rest. It’s an interesting concept. Ultimately, though, it was really hard for me to hunt for letters, and adding symbols is very nontrivial. I don’t want a learning curve for my keyboard. Next!

Next was Dextr, a “nu” idea for keyboards. Seriously, go click on that link, and tell me how completely arbitrary that layout looks. The letters are laid out in alphabetical order, and the edge letters are too close to the edge of the screen for me to hit them reliably (I have an OtterBox on my phone, because I drop it sometimes). It seems like something that could maybe work if you took the time to learn it, but again, that’s not the goal. Next!

Third was SwiftKey, which is a fairly straightforward alternative keyboard. It’s best known for its Swype features, but has other simple features like being able to move and resize it, as well as silly features like applying themes and syncing your autocorrect data to the cloud. I played with it for a while, it was fine, though I didn’t feel it offered anything over the default keyboard (the emoticon button is still kind of there, too, but you have to hold the enter key).

Fourth was TouchPal. Don’t be led astray by the app name, it really has very little to do with emojis in its free form. I’ve seen TouchPal described as a keyboard with too many features for its own good, but honestly you can turn off almost anything, so it ends up just requiring slightly more configuration out of the box. Here’s a shot of the same message link as above, but with the TouchPal keyboard:



So right away you notice there’s lots of buttons at the top. These are sort of customizable, and actually the part I like the least about TouchPal. The hand lets you access settings (neat) as well as themes (don’t care) and the store (don’t care). The EN icon lets you switch keyboards and languages (more on that in a second). The <I> gives you four arrow keys and a host of select/copy/paste buttons, which are fantastic. You won’t use them much, but man is selecting exact text hard on a small screen. The + just lets you add other shortcuts, which I don’t remember and aren’t important. (The V shrinks the keyboard.)

The number/symbol pad is laid out well, in my opinion, it has numbers in the num pad format, instead of across the top row. There is no possible way to access emoticons from this screen. In fact I don’t even remember where they where, or where they could be. They’re just gone.

Already this seems good enough for me. There are a couple small tweaks you can make to autocorrect and things that are nice. Nothing that would change my decision but they certainly reinforce it. You’ve sold me. So what’s behind the EN button?

Well, you can actually swap keyboard layouts in the same language. If you had a flip phone with texting years back, you’re familiar with T9, which was the way to text on a phone without a keyboard. You just clicked the buttons in the right order and the phone’s dictionary figured out what you were trying to say. There’s a T9 option, which I didn’t take a picture of but looks like you’d expect.

What completely blows me away is this intermediate mode, termed T+:


For a person with fat fingers who types fast, this layout is a godsend. I think I’ve had to pick the second guessed result, instead of the first, maybe once in the last day or so. It is so incredibly tight. Sometimes it’s even smart enough to split up two words you’ve typed back to back (sometimes I miss the space bar).

If you’re that person, and you also like to throw in non-dictionary words that you could conceivably reuse (like “Spelunky”, for example), then it is exactly two buttons presses to switch back into full-keyboard mode, where you can type your word normally, and it is exactly one button press after you’ve completed your word to add it to your personal dictionary. (If you don’t want to save a word, like “aaaahhhh!”, then you don’t need to dismiss any dialogs or click on anything special, you just press twice to switch keyboards, type your garbage word, then keep typing or switch keyboards again.)

Spoiler: that person is me, and maybe it’s you, and maybe you should pick up TouchPal if you have an Android phone and you hate the emoticon button, or you have fat fingers, or you just want to be like me in all the small ways.