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?