A better way to type on your smartphone

Typo, the iPhone cover with a keyboard
Typo, the iPhone cover with a keyboard

Typing on a phone is a pain in the glass. But new apps and tools are make entering text -- and emojis -- a little less excruciating.

As gadgets evolve, typing has only gotten harder.

Laptop keyboards are more cramped and flatter than desktop keyboards. BlackBerry keyboards force you to type with your thumbs. Smartphone keyboards make you to type on glass. If you're holding a tablet with one hand, it's even harder to type on than a phone. And smartwatches are so tiny that most have given up on keyboards altogether.

Fear not. Here are some solutions to your typing angst.

Handwriting. In a blast from the past with a modern twist, Google (GOOGL) this week unveiled a new app that replaces your Android keyboard with handwriting.

It's remarkably accurate -- it can read some of the worst chicken scratch, whether in cursive or block print. And you can even use it to draw emojis.

It can feel a little slower than typing, but if you find that you're constantly going back to fix typing mistakes, the handwriting app can actually be faster. And the emoji recognition trick is downright magical.

keyboard emoji

Use your voice. The fastest and easiest way to enter text is with your voice. Most smartphones, tablets and smartwatches come equipped with some kind of voice dictation software. The primary tools from Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOGL) and Microsoft (MSFT) are fairly accurate and zippy.

But it's not always practical to shout commands at your gizmo. If you want to send a text while in a meeting or if you're in a noisy room, voice commands aren't going to work.

keyboard voice

Predictive text. Smartphones have gotten pretty good at guessing what you're going to type. Just enter a few letters, and you'll get three options listed above your keyboard that your smartphone thinks you might be trying to say. Over time, as your smartphone gets to know you, it will get even better at predicting

Third party keyboard app SwiftKey has one of the best text prediction engines on the market. And if you're one of the few people to own an all-glass BlackBerry 10 phone without a physical keyboard, BlackBerry's (BBRY) predictive text virtual keyboard is the best in the business.

But using predictive text isn't always faster, since it forces you to start and stop typing and look away from the part of the screen where you're entering text.

keyboard predictive text

Swype. Instead of typing each letter, Swype and other similar smartphone keyboards allow you to drag your finger across the keys to form words. It saves you time from lifting your thumbs.

But it doesn't allow you to use predictive text. You'll have to swipe over the entire word instead of just a few letters.

keyboard swype

Turn your phone sideways. An easy way to make your keyboard larger is to hold your phone in "landscape" mode. Larger keys give your thumbs much more room for error.

The problem is that they larger keyboard often cramps the screen. You might see the field where you're entering text, but incoming messages won't necessarily show up -- you'll have to turn your phone back into "portrait" mode.

keyboard sideways

New kinds of keyboards. The QWERTY keyboard layout that we're all familiar with was invented in the 1870s, designed for 10 fingers. Some app makers believe that typing with our thumbs requires a whole new entry method.

There have been dozens of apps aimed reinventing typing with thumbs. In some cases, these apps have shown how thumb typing can be faster than typing on a keyboard.

But they require you to learn a whole new way to type. The revolution might happen one day ... but the road will be paved with failed attempts, including unfunded Kickstarter projects like Floki and CrossTap.

keyboard crosstap

Meanwhile, small helpful additions to the old fashioned keyboard can go a long way to making typing on glass less headache-inducing.

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