Third-party keyboards may not be the most exciting of apps at first glance, but when you stop to think about how much time we spend tapping away at our smartphones — their significance becomes pretty clear. If you have the right keyboard, you can power through messages, emails, updates, and searches much faster than you'd normally be able to. With that in mind, here are a few of our favourite alternative keyboard apps for Android and iOS.
1. Google Keyboard
Updated recently, Google's official Android keyboard will, of course, be on your phone if you're running stock Android, but it's worth a look if you're using anything else. The newest feature is a special one-handed mode that shrinks the keyboard down to make it easier to reach with your thumb (which comes in handy on larger handsets).
There's also improved cursor control now. Tap and hold the spacebar, then move left or right. On top of that, it includes all the usual stuff like word prediction, emoji support, voice typing, cross-device syncing, slide-to-type and more. It's Android only for now, but a version for iOS is rumoured to be in the works. [Free, Android]
2. SwiftKey Keyboard
Any keyboard you choose will come with some kind of word prediction technology built in, but SwiftKey makes it the primary focus. The company promises "autocorrect that actually works" on its app listings. By learning from the way you type and your own idiosyncrasies, it gets smarter over time as it learns your typing style.
The app supports emojis (of course), typing in two languages simultaneously (without having to change settings) and the SwiftKey Flow system that lets you type by sliding your finger across the keyboard. What's more, there are a bunch of themes to pick from so you can customise colours and fonts to suit your own tastes. [Free, Android and iOS]
3. SwiftKey Neural Alpha
SwiftKey has more than one keyboard in its armory, because it's also experimenting with a product called Neural Alpha. The idea is it leverages neural networks — vast swathes of data that get smarter over time — to further improve predictions and corrections, making it even more intelligent and intuitive than the company's standard set of keyboard apps.
SwiftKey Neural Alpha understands more about the context of your sentences and, in theory, should be much better at guessing what you're about to type before you've even put a finger on your touchscreen. It's still early days for the app (hence the "Alpha" in the title) but if you use an Android device then you can start testing it now. [Free, Android]
4. Hub Keyboard
Here's another Android app from the Microsoft Garage Project (like Next Lock Screen and Arrow Launcher). Hub Keyboard plays particularly well with Microsoft's Office 365 suite of applications. You can quickly get shareable URLs for documents you've got stored in OneDrive, for example, and scroll through snippets of text stored in the clipboard.
There's Bing integration too, which means you get all of Bing's services right inside the keyboard — web search, news headlines, word translations, and a thesaurus feature to fall back on when you just can't find the right word. Microsoft is also developing a keyboard for iOS devices, but it's not yet been released beyond a private beta. [Free, Android]
Fleksy is all about customisation, from the themes and sizes you can choose to the extensions you can plug into the app to enhance its features (including one that keeps a number pad on screen). Whether you want to install a pre-made theme or create your own, Fleksy gives you the tools to get your keyboard looking just the way you want it.
GIF support is built right into the keyboard too, and there are emojis and stickers galore available to drop into your virtual conversations, as well as the standard features like autocorrect and multiple language support. It's probably too busy for some, but you can't argue with Fleksy's long list of useful tools and features. [Free, Android and iOS]
The swipe-typing feature that Swype made its name with has now been copied by just about every keyboard app out there, but it's still worth visiting the original. Besides that letter-sliding mode you have available to you, the app is designed to get faster over time, as it learns your typing behaviour and comes up with smarter predictions and corrections.
All this data can be synced between multiple devices, too. On top of that there's support for emojis and (premium) themes if you want to liven up a conversation or dramatically change the look of the keyboard. You can customise the layout of the keyboard if you want to and there's even built-in support for regional dialects too. [Free, Android and iOS]
7. TouchPal Keyboard
TouchPal doesn't have any stand-out features to make it particularly different to the other keyboards we've mentioned here, but it does everything well and is a breeze to use. It's best features are emoji and sticker integration and the accuracy of its predictive text system, which is something you're going to be relying a lot if you use it.
Elsewhere there's support for swipe-typing, integration of over 150 languages, and the option to import new themes together with a handful of settings for tweaking those themes. You can even create emoji art using the keyboard if you really want to outdo the other chatters you're in conversation with on your phone. [Free, Android and iOS]