There's no denying that Swype, SwiftKey, and the standalone Google Keyboard are great standard keyboards for typing on your Android phone. But if you've grown bored of the typical typing experience, hoping instead for something that's unique or challenging, you've got a few options.
I looked at the smattering of keyboards in Google Play and rounded up four funky apps that harmoniously meld features, functionality, and design into a keyboard that not only looks cool, but also gets the job done.
This minimal keyboard, released in 2013, takes up one row on your screen, making it great for phones with small displays. Letters are grouped in tiny rows that follow the QWERTY standard, which makes it easy to type even in such a tiny space because the key layout is familiar. While you can't use gestures to type, you can swipe your fingers to delete words, insert spaces, and start voice dictation.
If you need to select a specific letter, just press and hold in its general area and swipe up to select it from the pop-up menu. If you need even more precision for passwords, tap and hold Minuum with two fingers to bring up a full-size keyboard.
Flesky made waves in 2013 because of its invisible keyboard. That's right, there are no visible keys -- you just tap on the screen in the general direction of the key while envisioning a QWERTY keyboard in your mind. The app's purportedly robust prediction technology understands what you're trying to type so it can correct "hsopu" to "happy."
After playing around with it, I can say that Flesky does a good job of correcting mistakes, though you need to at least tap in the close proximity of the keys you're trying to type. I did have to think harder about where the keys are on the screen, which slowed me down considerably. This is the kind of keyboard that either works for you or doesn't. I couldn't hack it with the invisible keyboard, so I made the keys visible again by swiping up with two fingers.
The idea behind MessagEase is that we use the same nine letters (A, N, I, H, O, R, T, E, and S) over and over because they combine to create the most common words. Those nine letters are laid out over nine keys, in the same setup as a telephone dial pad, with smaller, less-used letters surrounding them.
Typing with MessagEase works like this: You simply tap the large letters to type with them. To use one of the smaller letters, find the square it's in, then tap the large letter in that square and slide your finger to the smaller letter. You'll even see a green trail that shows where your finger is sliding to help guide you.
MessagEase takes some getting used to, but it promises faster typing once you do. It took me a while to remember the placement of each letter, but soon the keyboard helped boost my typing speeds.
8pen (99 cents)
The most bizarre keyboard in my list is also the oldest. 8pen has been around since 2010 and sports a peculiar design. There's a large circle in the middle with four branches coming out with letters along each branch. The company built 8pen this way to mimic the flow of natural handwriting, so it's no surprise that using this keyboard doesn't feel quite like typing. Instead of tapping the screen, you place your fingertip in the middle of the circle, then slide it across the screen, while drawing loops around each letter to form a word.
8pen comes with several guides and tutorials to help you get the hang of it, and you'll need them. This is one of the most challenging keyboards out there, but once you get the hang of it, it's quite satisfying to use. Like the other keyboards on this list, there's also a full-size QWERTY option for precise typing.