When it comes to movies, the first in a series is almost always the best. The same also applies to Android, which had customizable, third-party keyboards long before Apple ever dreamed of adding this feature to iOS 8.
Over the years, developers have knocked out some impressive wares for text entry on smartphones and tablets, meaning there are more choices than ever before - literally hundreds of them are on Google Play alone!
Thankfully, TechRadar is here to whittle this enormous list down to only 10 of the best options, and there's something here for every kind of typist. We've even tossed in a few eccentric and off-the-beaten path options you may not be aware of.
Call us crazy, but we've always been partial to Google's own flavor of keyboard, and thankfully it's no longer only limited to devices running stock Android. Best of all, it's absolutely free, so there's no reason not to at least try it out.
Aside from good looks, Google Keyboard (free) also offers a responsive, silky smooth typing experience with predictive voice dictation that gets smarter over time. Naturally, this keyboard will also autocorrect and predict words as they're typed, and there's even a handy Gesture Typing option that allows you to just glide right through.
Download this if… You hate the custom keyboard on your device!
Avoid this if… Wait, scratch that. Download immediately!
The granddaddy of gesture-based keyboards, Swype ($0.99, free trial available) is so good Samsung pre-installed it on some of its early flagship handsets before the app was finally unleased on Google Play. It may cost you a buck, but this is one of the most fluid and accurate "swyping" experiences you're likely to find on Android.
Featuring a customizable personal dictionary, multiple keyboard layouts and themes, lots and lots of possible languages and now support for emoji in the most popular dialects, one of the best keeps only getting better.
Download this if… You've forgotten how to type.
Avoid this if… You still can't get used to this whole swiping business.
A holdover from our previous list of nine best Android keyboards, Adaptxt (free) still gets our nod as one of the most beautiful available. We've previously described it as having a "spacious and airy layout" with translucent graphics that give off a premium laptop vibe, and those words still apply nearly three years later.
With support for more than 90 languages - the most of any keyboard we could find - Adaptxt includes location-based suggestions, corrections and predictions with a unique 12-key layout, plenty of great themes and loads of personality.
Download this if… You appreciate good looks and functionality.
Avoid this if… It's just too damned sexy for your device.
Imagine Google's awesome keyboard, but infused with the power of all the typing you've ever done in Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, or text messages to help predict the next thing you've going to write. That's the power of SwiftKey (free), the award-winning keyboard that nearly rivals the stock Android board.
If you love most everything about Google Keyboard, SwiftKey offers one thing that one doesn't: Lots and lots of themes, and even more available via in-app purchase. Shiny veneer aside, it's equally fast and accurate as well.
Download this if… You like shiny-looking themes.
Avoid this if… You're paranoid about data privacy.
Some might consider it bold to name your app Smart Keyboard ($2.50, free trial available), but the Google Play ratings don't lie. There's support for multiple languages, voice input, a Smart dictionary (of course), custom auto-text and yes, the kind of predictive typing we've all become accustomed to.
So what makes Smart so smart? For starters, this is one of the few keyboards we've run across that actually lets users adjust the height of the keys, making them smaller or larger depending on the size of your digits. And hey, if you miss the T9 input from your old feature phone, this is the keyboard for you.
Download this if… You want to control the size of your keyboard.
Avoid this if… You have an aversion to paying for keyboard apps.
Even more great Android keyboards
Any app billing itself as "the fastest keyboard in the world" certainly warrants a closer look, especially when it holds a Guinness World Record for that accomplishment. Fleksy ($1.99, free trial available) goes beyond the predictive typing hoopla, jumping the shark with support for GIFs, licensed themes from the likes of Frozen, Peanuts and The Hunger Game, and a Rainbow Pop effect you'll have to see to believe.
Okay, so it's great fun to use and efficient enough that you can practically take your eyes off the screen while typing, but is it any good (and more importantly, worth paying for)? If you can adapt to the flat, square keys, it's certainly worth a look.
Download this if… You're a speed demon at typing.
Avoid this if… GIFs, themes and Rainbow Pop make you break out in hives.
Forget about emoji and all the other gimmicks - we just want a clean keyboard that doesn't require thumb gymnastics to use. Look no further than Thumb Keyboard ($2.49), which is the perfect companion for your phablet or tablet thanks to the insane number of available layouts.
Users can switch between standard or patent-pending split portrait or landscape view, each with custom themes and background combinations for a seemingly endless variety. There are even special layouts designed strictly for larger displays, and a slick one-handed mode for banging out text on your phablet screen. Best selling point? It's all emoji-free.
Download this if… You own larger devices or hate emoji.
Avoid this if… You're still rocking a device with smaller screens.
Literally packed to the gills with themes, emoji, emoticons and more, GO Keyboard (free) has some of the highest Google Play user ratings of any keyboard app. Supporting more than 60 languages, over 1,000 themes with weekly new arrivals and QWERTY, QWERTZ and AZERTY keyboards, this is one of the few apps capable of adding special characters and sounds to messages without missing a beat.
Clearly geared toward teens and younger Android users, our only real grievance is how much valuable screen space GO takes up above the keyboard to make sure you'll shop for custom themes and more in its online market. Otherwise, this is a solid choice with a lot to offer.
Download this if… You can't get enough choices.
Avoid this if… You're not a teenager or young at heart.
Designed for users with larger fingers, Minuum ($3.20, free trial available) is great if you have a device conducive to typing with one hand or just want to be able to mash those virtual keys and have the software figure out what the heck you're trying to get across.
The developer promises you'll be up to speed with Minuum after a mere 15-second tutorial, and we were pleasantly surprised to find that was a pretty accurate claim. If you have an Android Wear smartwatch, this will also be money well spent - just sign up for the mailing list and you'll be ready to tap those tiny keys on more than 10 different wearables.
Download this if… You're a sloppy typist with obese fingers.
Avoid this if… You don't trust those tiny keys to do all the work for you.
We may be more than a little disappointed that TouchPal (free) has rebranded as an "emoji keyboard," but that doesn't mean it's still not a perfectly great keyboard for the rest of us as well. This one is all about creating the perfect customized board for each user, so it features a dizzying array of ways to do just that.
For example, users can turn personal photos into emoticons (which is pretty neat!), and there are more than 800 emoji, emoticons, smileys and text faces available across 100-plus themes, all of which can be constructed to your liking. Despite the big push toward emoji, this is still a darned fine keyboard with contextual prediction and all the usual tricks (swipe typing, et al) to improve your mobile typing experience.
Download this if… You love to customize everything you own.
Avoid this if… You're not a fan of emoji. (But please try it first!)