Quick look at different third-party keyboards on Dell Streak

Streak-keyboardsSince it isn't always necessary or practical to use a full-size Bluetooth keyboard or a handheld mini one for text entry on the Dell Streak, you'll probably be using the on-screen keyboard quite a bit. The one that's preloaded on the Streak is often criticized because of the separate number pad that appears in landscape mode, which takes up unnecessary space and makes the keyboard off-centered, but there are so many other alternatives out there that it doesn't really matter what people think of the stock option.

One of the great things about Android is that you don't have to use the keyboard that comes with the device if you don't want to. If you don't like it, then use something else. Simple as that.

There are dozens of keyboards to choose from and since many are either free or eligible for a 24-hour refund in Android Market, the best way to find the one that suits your needs and preferences is simply to try them out for yourself.

To get you started, though, I've put together a brief look at seven of the more popular keyboards available for Android: Swype, ThickButtons, Better Keyboard, Smart Keyboard, TouchPal, AnySoftKeyboard, and Swiftkey. I've also thrown in the stock keyboard (known simply as "Android keyboard" in the input method menu) since that's what comes with the Streak.

I'll start with that one.

Stock Keyboard

Streak-stock-kb (1) 

Streak-stock-kb (2) 

Likes:

  • This is the only keyboard of the bunch that doesn't launch a huge text field when you're typing something in landscape mode (you'll see what I mean in the landscape screenshots of the other keyboards below). I really like being able to see the screen (and not just the keyboard and text field) at all times.
  • Accurate. I rarely mistype on this keyboard.

Dislikes:

  • Can't long press any of the keys to access the double-mapped symbol; need to press Alt key instead.
  • Typing in portrait mode is uncomfortable. Streak becomes top heavy because of low hand position required to thumb type.
  • No speech-to-text, which would've been nice to have as a preloaded feature. Some of the third-party keyboards support speech-to-text, so it's not a limitation of Android 1.6 that prevents the functionality from being included in the stock keyboard.

Swype

Streak-swype (1) 

Streak-swype (2)

Description: Rather than tapping on individual keys, you swipe your finger across all the letters in a word with one continuous motion.

Likes:

  • Fastest input method (it set the Guinness World Record for fastest text message, after all).
  • Best for swiping with index finger of one hand while holding device in other hand.
  • Alarmingly accurate, even with "sloppy" swipes.
  • Words can be added to dictionary by typing them in (instead of swiping).
  • Nicest looking default layout/color scheme, in my opinion. Other keyboards can be customized with skins, but I think this one is very nice as is.

Dislikes:

  • I'm a one-handed thumb swiper (I use Swype as my primary keyboard on the HTC EVO, Samsung Captivate, and Droid X); the Streak is simply too big for this kind of usage.
  • Takes time to learn and get used to. Not something you'll be able to use well immediately.
  • Not available in Android Market.

ThickButtons

Streak-thickbuttons (1) 

Streak-thickbuttons (2)

Description: Tries to predict what word you're going to type based on the letter you just tapped; enlarges and highlights the keys you'll most likely use next and shrinks the ones you won't.

Likes:

  • Clean layout.
  • Large keys.
  • Accurate prediction. The next letter I want to press is always highlighted or enlarged.

Dislikes:

  • Keys don't shrink in landscape mode.
  • Constant enlarging/shrinking and highlighting is distracting.
  • Novelty. The keys are big enough as is.

Better Keyboard

Streak-better-keyboard (1) 

Streak-better-keyboard (2)

Likes:

  • Speech-to-text functionality.
  • Different layouts (standard QWERTY, number/symbol, compact QWERTY) that support other skins.
  • Lots of customizable settings.

Dislikes:

  • Inconsistent gesture controls (used to switch layouts). Sometimes a quick short swipe is enough; other times a deliberate long swipe is needed. Often have to repeat gesture several times.
  • Unlike most of the other keyboards mentioned here, this one isn't free. It's only $2.99, which is a good price, but it can be a hard sell when compared to all the free options.

Smart Keyboard

Streak-smart-kb (1) 

Streak-smart-kb (2)

Likes:

  • Speech-to-text functionality.
  • Opacity level can be adjusted.
  • Different layouts and skins.
  • Customizable swipe gesture settings.

Dislikes:

  • Not all layouts are available in landscape mode.
  • Auto-complete, quick fixes, suggested words, user dictionary, and integration with Contacts only available in Pro version (€1.99).

TouchPal

Streak-touchpal (1) 

Streak-touchpal (2)

Likes:

  • Swipe gestures for capitalization, alternate character input, and switching between layouts.
  • Good predictive text. Often correctly predicts next word.
  • Supports multiple languages.

Dislikes:

  • Huge! Takes up way too much space on screen.
  • Switching between layouts (left/right swipe) is slow.

AnySoftKeyboard

Streak-anysoft-kb (1) 

Streak-anysoft-kb (2)

Likes:

  • Different layouts accessible with swipes and taps.
  • Customizable key height factor in landscape and portrait modes.
  • User-definable swipe gestures.

Dislikes:

  • Top buttons above letters are too easy to press accidentally. And when you actually want to press them, they're too skinny (so you end up pressing a letter instead).
  • Lots of dead space.

SwiftKey

Streak-swiftkey (1) 

Streak-swiftkey (2)

Description: Uses text-prediction technology that can correctly predict about 33% of words without any letters being entered and about 80% with just 1 or 2 letters entered.

Likes:

  • Amazing word prediction.

Dislikes:

  • Takes time to get used to typing so little and relying on the predicted words, which appear in a bar above the keyboard.
  • I actually type more slowly because I'm always keeping an eye on the predicted words.
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Jenn K. Lee

Jenn K. Lee is the founder of Pocketables. She loves gadgets the way most women love shoes and purses. The pieces in her tech wardrobe that go with everything are currently the Samsung Galaxy Note II, Sony Tablet P, and Nexus 7, but there are still a couple of vintage UMPCs/MIDs in the back of her closet.

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