Snapkeys: Typing Reinvented
There are a number of keyboard options available for Android users, ranging from the stock Android keyboard to custom keyboards such as Swype that turn typing into a connect the dots experience. One of the rites of Android passage is sifting through all of the choices to find the keyboard that you like best, and now there is another option that should be added to the list. There is a new keyboard interface that was released in beta this week from Snapkeys, and since their keyboard is like nothing else I’ve seen on a smartphone before, I gave it a brief test drive.
Even calling Snapkeys a keyboard is a bit of a stretch. It uses predictive text, somewhat like Swiftkey, but the interface is very unusual. Instead of a classic QWERTY keyboard layout with rows consisting of every letter of the alphabet, Snapkeys reduces the interface to four square “keys”. Each of those four squares is dedicated to a set of three commonly used letters. If the letter isn’t on one of the keys, simply tap in the space between the keys and predictive text will generally take care of the rest. You can see it in action in the video provided by Snapkeys Ltd.
I was able to register with Snapkeys and sideload the beta version of this new keyboard. It is a fairly light app, and only took up about 10Mb of storage space on my phone. I happened to be carrying my rooted LG Optimus V at the time, which runs on Android 2.2 and has a 600Mhz CPU. This was a poor match for Snapkeys, due to its limited power and cramped 3.2” display. I experienced a few issues that I suspect would be minimized or eliminated on a more current Android phone or tablet with a larger screen.
A significant drawback of using Snapkeys on my small screen was that the keys blocked much of the page in the background. This made it more difficult to type, because I couldn’t always see the words as I was typing. As you can see from the video, this is not as significant of an issue on tablets. I was also unable to make the keys translucent on my device, which would have helped considerably. The only other significant issues I experienced with Snapkeys were long load times and frequent forced closures, but these were likely caused by the underpowered Optimus. It is also important to remember that Snapkeys is in beta, so a few hiccups should not come as a shock.
Even with the hardware related issues, Snapkeys was a pleasant surprise. Frankly, I expected it to have a steep learning curve and be little more than a gimmick, but that was not the case. After a few minutes of familiarization, I was able to enter text nearly as quickly as I can on the stock Android keyboard. I can easily believe that an experienced user could type faster with Snapkeys than a traditional keyboard. I would expect some additional refinements to Snapkeys during beta testing, but it is already worthy of consideration as an alternative keyboard for anyone who finds the stock Android keyboard lacking.