Touch-screen phones have a big drawback. • The flexibility of the full touch screen has won out over tactile, physical buttons, leaving us with a keyboard that is just an image on glass and small keys that sometimes get cranky around big thumbs. • Still, users don't have to settle for the default keyboard on their smartphone. The advantage to virtual keyboards is just that — they are virtual — and can be easily swapped or altered for one you like better. Here's a sampling of tips and apps to help improve your typing experience:
FEWER TAPS: A quick way to speed up typing on almost all phones is through predictive text. Once the feature is turned on, the device will predict what word you are typing after filling in only a letter or two.
To turn on predictive text, you'll have to dig through the menus, under settings. Look for the keyboard options and select "auto correction," or whatever the similar name is on your phone.
Another option is provided by Fast Keyboard, a free app for Apple products. With the app, you won't need to keep switching the keyboard from letters to numbers — they all appear on the same screen. Symbol keys like hashtags appear on the screen, too, and cut, copy and other functions are also within reach.
Fleksy, a free iPhone app meant to help the visually impaired, can help you type without looking at all. Just approximate tapping where you think letters belong on a keyboard. When you have completed a word, flick the screen to the right. Fleksy will read its guess aloud. Flick down for it to guess similar words. The sloppier you are the better it seems to work.
HANDY CODE: If you find yourself repeatedly using the same phrases over and over, so-called typing expansion programs are for you. When using these programs, you assign an abbreviation like "omw" to automatically turn into "I'm on my way home, honey, need anything?"
Typing expansion is built into Apple products and the free Android app Google Keyboard. For Apple products, go to Settings, then select General and then Keyboard. Click Add a New Shortcut, then enter the abbreviation and phrase you want it to become.
In Google Keyboard, open the app and go to Personal Dictionary. Touch the plus sign and then add your abbreviation and phrase. Press done and the back button.
GESTURES: Gesture keyboards figure out what you mean to type as you to trace your finger loosely over the keys. It is faster than single-letter typing, but before it becomes really accurate, it has to learn your patterns. Sometimes, the process can be exasperating.
Swiftkey, a $4 app for Android, has an additional way to increase accuracy right off the bat. Give the app access to your Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail accounts and it will observe your vocabulary to better anticipate words you are likely to use. It has recently added a cloud backup service that saves your personal dictionary of often-used phrases in case your device is lost or dies.
It also searches the Web for phrases coming into heavy use (like "sarin," "twerking" or "Middleton") to better guess what you are typing.
Many phones already have gesture typing if you look in the settings. Usually it is under a heading like "Language and Keyboard" or "Language and Input."