Saturday, 10 September 2011
Android keyboard TouchPal free for the time being
Don't like the stock keyboard that comes with Android? No problem. There are plenty of other keyboards to choose from.
A bit of SlideIT, Swype, and SwiftKey
What do you get if you crossbreed SlideIT with SwiftKey? The new keyboard on the block is called by the cheesy name TouchPal. It's been around as a private beta test version for a while, but now everybody can grab a copy from the Android Market. There are many good reasons why you should, and only a few why you shouldn't.
TouchPal is like Swype, but with a couple of extras. The Swype gestures in TouchPal are called Curve. On top of its Swype-like input, TouchPal comes with a bunch of predictive text and auto-correct options and it can auto-complete unfinished words. Sometimes it's a bit too much, though. TouchPal insists on auto-capitalising the first word in a line even when you don't want it to. Worse, it inserts spacing between words even if auto-spacing is switched off. If you try to type www.google.com TouchPal turns it into www. google. com, with spaces!
If you don't like Curve you can turn it off. You can also switch to an old skool T9 keypad.
Languages, dictionaries, spelling
You can download dictionaries in most western european languages (and thai, chinese, russian, and indonesian too), but eastern europeans and most asians are left out. And it only has american english, not british. Maybe TouchPal will add more languages over time. You can add your own words to a custom dictionary to fill in the gaps.
A nice touch is that you can use multiple languages together, so if you're bi- or trilingual you don't need to switch languages in the settings all the time.
Bells and whistles
More good stuff: there's a "close" button in the top right corner so you can hide the keyboard with a single tap. That beats long-tapping the menu key or hitting the highly unpredictable back button. The virtual cursor keys are great as well. They make it very easy to put the cursor in exactly the right place, no matter how fat your fingers are.
You get quick access to the screens with numbers, special characters, and smilies. There's also an option to put alternative symbols on the normal letter buttons, which you can then insert by either long-tapping or a downward swipe. Unfortunately TouchPad only displays the extra characters on the bottom row in Curve (Swype) mode. The other keys have numbers and special symbols as well (just long-tap and see what happens), but the TouchPal keyboard fails to show them. According to the developers that's because downward swipes on the top two rows conflict with Curve. Maybe they should look a bit harder for a solution. While they're at it, they should add a page with letters like å, ß, ç, á, è, ñ, ø, š, ô, ü, etc.
Permissions and pricing
TouchPal asks for access to your contacts so it can add the names in your address book to its dictionary. It also wants full internet access, something that keyboard apps should never ask for. Apps like TouchPal can read everything you type, including passwords and credit card numbers. Better keep TouchPal offline with DroidWall or LBE Privacy Guard. Don't worry, blocking internet access does not break TouchPal. You can still download additional languages, because TouchPal launches the Market app for that.
TouchPal is available for free on the Android Market until the 31st of October, 2011. After the freebie period TouchPal will probably become a paid app, and judging from the price of the Windows Mobile version it won't be cheap. The free version never expires, so grab a free copy while you can.
• TouchPal (Android Market)
• TouchPal (cootek.com)