I’ve been thinking a lot about thumbs lately.
Why, you might wonder? Simple: Whenever I watch unsuspecting strangers use their phones in public (it’s not as creepy as it sounds, I swear), I can’t help but notice how many people rely solely on their thumbs for on-screen typing.
I’ve never been a two-thumb typing man myself. I’m also not a full-time swiper, which is another increasingly common type of mobile tech typist you see in the wild these days.
More than anything, what I’ve learned by observing other people’s smartphone-using habits is that there is no universal “right” way to type on a smartphone.
There are several distinct styles, and what’s most natural for one person is going to feel impossibly awkward to the next. Like so many things, it ultimately just boils down to a matter of personal preference.
Once you figure out how you like to type, though, there is such a thing as the best keyboard for your own personal typing style. That’s why I put together a guide to figuring out which Android keyboard app makes the most sense for you; after SwiftKey announced its sale to Microsoft earlier this year, I realized I hadn’t taken the time to seriously re-evaluate my mobile typing setup in quite a while.
And so I set out to find the most compelling, polished, and distinctive options in the Play Store — and to figure out for whom each one is best suited.
In doing so, I spent some time getting reacquainted with the “stock” Google Keyboard app. And tucked away in its minimalist facade, I found some useful hidden features I’d never been aware of — features that went a long way in making my typing faster and more efficient.
If you’re using Google Keyboard on your phone or tablet, check out these three out-of-sight options:
1. Fast access to numbers and symbols
One thing that held me back from using Google Keyboard in the past was the extra step it required to get to certain special characters like the underscore or asterisk. While many other keyboards allow you to long-press letters to find those symbols — a step that takes only one tap to execute — Google Keyboard makes you first tap the “?123” button and then find and tap the character you want.
Or so I thought. Turns out there’s a simpler way: Just touch your finger to the “?123” key and then slide it upward across the keyboard. You’ll see a screen full of numbers and special characters instantly appear, and all you have to do is swipe your finger to the one you want.
Once you let go, that character will be inserted into your text, and the keyboard will go back to its regular QWERTY panel.
2. Quick capitalization of an individual letter
Whether you’re typing out an acronym or just feeling especially shouty, there are times when you want to capitalize a letter beyond the first character of a sentence.
Yup, you guessed it: Google Keyboard has a hidden shortcut for making that easy. Touch your finger to the caps-lock key (the up-facing arrow to the left of the “z”) — and, instead of letting go, keep your finger down and swipe over to whatever letter you want. That letter will come through capitalized, and the keyboard will then automatically switch back to lowercase when you let go.
3. Formatted fractions in a fraction of a second
Want to talk fractions without wasting your time? Long-press any number in Google Keyboard to get a pop-up list of common fractions involving that figure.
And here’s a bonus: This’ll work by first tapping the “?123” key and then long-pressing a number — or by using the swipe-to-get-a-number trick explained in tip #1. In the latter case, just touch and hold the “?123” key and slide your finger to the number you want. Let your finger rest on that number for a second or so, and any available fractions will automatically appear.
Lemme tell ya: With shortcuts like these, it’s never been easier to see the glass ½ full.