Google Keyboard App Now Available, No Nexus Required

Google's Android software includes one of the best smartphone keyboards around, but you might not know it if you own a phone from Samsung or HTC.

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Jared Newman / TIME.com

Google’s Android software includes one of the best smartphone keyboards around, but you might not know it if you own a phone from Samsung or HTC.

Both companies, at least in their latest Android phones, have replaced the main Google keyboard with their own homemade offerings–and they’re not as good. I’m not crazy about the default keyboard on my HTC One, and Samsung’s been criticized by some reviewers for its own Galaxy S4 keyboard as well.

Fortunately, Google is now offering a way for users running Android 4.0 and higher to install the company’s own software keyboard. Just head to Google Play, install the app, and follow the setup instructions.

I like how simple and solid Google Keyboard is compared to other offerings. Individual keys have just the right amount of dark spacing between them, and just the right amount of vibration feedback when you press each letter. Gesture typing is supported, so you can drag a finger across each letter and the keyboard will predict the word you’re trying to write. By default, the keyboard uses names from your contact list for suggested words and corrections. It even tries to predict the next word as you type.

None of this amounts to anything revolutionary. You can already find gesture typing and predictions in SwiftKey and Swype, which are also available through Google Play. But SwiftKey’s gesture typing doesn’t seem quite as accurate to me as the competition. As for Swype, I find that its non-gesture typing experience isn’t as solid as Google’s, and it requires you to use Dragon for voice dictation, rather than Google’s superior voice transcription. Google Keyboard is the best of both worlds, and it’s free.

Previously, Google had only offered its own keyboard on phones running Android 4.2–the latest version of the software. It was possible to manually load the application onto an older Android phone, or to seek out an unauthorized version in Google Play, but neither of those solutions were ideal.

By offering its own keyboard directly through Google Play, Google is continuing its strategy of updating Android without updating Android, as Dustin Earley recently put it. The company has been launching new services, such Google Play Music All Access, and updating existing apps such as Gmail and Maps, without doing a proper operating system update. Now, Google can also improve the keyboard without leaving older versions of Android behind.

There are still a few features of Android 4.2 that aren’t available on older phones, including lock screen widgets, a quick settings bar and a “Daydream” digital photo frame feature. Food for thought: Would Google ever release its own launcher to bring even more stock Android features to non-Nexus phones?

13 comments
Gruntman
Gruntman

I agree, who wants anyone having accesd to everything they type except for passwords!

Now has anyone else been bothered by this fact? My GIII is my work phone and it seems so wrong to have my clients business info accessible to Google since they are competitors with quite a few of my clients. Have any other kb apps come out that are as nice or a pay 4 use Google that doesn't allow them to collect data? Also I've heard the Google voice to text was included as well as not included. Which is it?

Adevarul
Adevarul

@yay101   "God some people are stupid."  Yes, I'm confident Daniel considered that when he read your post. 

Adevarul
Adevarul

This keyboard is highly touted everywhere.  But I wonder how many tech gurus actually use it?  When you download it to your device, the first screen that pops up says "Oh, to use this, you must agree that Google may choose to record every character and swipe, including passwords and personal info."  Then that info can become property of the NSA, hackers and?????  No thanks Google.  I don't care if your keyboard is the best thing since sliced bread.  It won't be on any of my devices.

pbug56
pbug56

I wish that Google would put more effort into fixing its bugs and NOT messing up its standard software.  For instance, the new GMAIL client on Android is much harder to use then the previous one, has odd defaults as well.  One example; it is much harder to select a group of emails to act on, the Actions icons are on the top kind of out of reach without moving my hand each time, the icons can be very hard to decipher.  In bugs, when my Moto Android Razr Maxx got its last update, the old alarm clock, very functional, went away and was replaced by one with fewer tone choices and where the top of the screen icon to show an alarm has been set now seldom works - same thing in the dock where the alarm time should show but instead it says Add Alarm.  Fix your bugs before you add things!

luscus111
luscus111

I do not text, and hence do not use the keyboard that much. But the S$ keyboard with the row of  Numbers on the top is great!!

I had a S Nexus and I did not much like the lack of the numbers row, so I downloaded swift key.

DanielGonzales
DanielGonzales

How do you not make any mention that if you install the app, there is a warning that: "This method can collect all of the text you enter, except passwords, including personal data  and credit card numbers. It comes from the app Google Keyboard. Use anyway?" 

l.steiner55
l.steiner55

the best android app is probably callurgency. awesome app

missionary
missionary

I hate how you can't install sh*t if your device is over a year old.  real fair.  a phone that's less than 2 yrs old, with a 1ghz processor should be able to download this thing.  alkdsjfr4q3ru43rq3j

yay101
yay101

God some people are stupid. That's the default keyboard warning. Aka any soft keyboard ever on anything can record what you are typing because, you have to type it.

See?

yay101
yay101

Sounds like you should have gotten a nexus device. Sadly 3rd party manufacturers love to destroy your hopes and dreams on not top of the line devices, and even then some developers just suck and don't even try.

Gruntman
Gruntman

Nice reply yay101 and how correct you are! I guess I would use naive instead of stupid but call yourself whichever you prefer. It is the standard warning but that doesn't mean he's not correct. By clicking ok you give them the right to collect data except for passwords. Now reading it in naive fashion I could see your point if it wasn't for that disclaimer on the passwords. If its strictly because the app enters text that it can save it then why the disclaimer? Does the keyboard not allow you to enter passwords? Well gee, that would suck and be quite noticeable eh?

So before you call someone stupid, you might want to give some thought and realize that you make "naive" comments too.

Now has anyone else been bothered by this fact? My GIII is my work phone and it seems so wrong to have my clients business info accessible to Google since they are competitors with quite a few of my clients. Have any other kb apps come out that are as nice or a pay 4 use Google that doesn't allow them to collect data? Also I've heard the Google voice to text was included as well as not included. Which is it?

yay101
yay101

@Gruntman Wow that is an old comment. Firstly, my comment was quite harsh, sorry anyone i offened i must have been drunk or half asleep.

Secondly, most learning keyboards collect data so they can learn, by this i mean their prediction engines need to be fed. Swiftkey does this most obviously by linking with social accounts to learn the words and sentences you use most. Almost all of googles services collect data on it's users to better the experience and in turn give google some advertising information. This is of course how we pay for these services. USUALLY only servers ever see this information and it is used in a pool keeping it anonymous. 

The disclaimer is there for legal reasons i would imagine, if they DONT say they are collecting information then someone finds its cache google would be in a lot of trouble. Also. Passwords have no use in data collection as most are jumbles of characters, the keyboard also doesn't offer to save them, only browsers and apps do that. All browsers and apps can also record what you type in them, are they the enemy too?

Nothing about what i have said is naive, i just understand we are paying for a service with data.

I know many people who have been bothered by this fact, myself included. 

My tips are: 

If you are worried about security find a open source keyboard to use so you know exactly what is happening to your typed data.

There are some security apps (mostly features of alternate ROMS) that let you choose what rights you give the app and can even block all communication to the outside world for some.

Look into secure messaging. https://heml.is/ here is a promising client for this technology. 

If you really don't trust google, or google hackers, or the NSA these are things you can do to de google your device.

1. Use an AOSP (android open source project) based ROM which comes with nothing that communicates with Google. From here you can build yourself a device full of apps you trust.

2. Ensure all clients are using email providers and clients that support encryption THE ENTIRE WAY. Often times people will at the very least not configure their email client correctly or not tick a box and get unencrypted emails sent to them over the airwaves.

Anyway i have got to go to work.

There are many ways you can go about fixing these "features" that are problems for you, if you need any more advice feel free to reply..