Saturday, 18 June 2016

Best free iOS keyboards

Best free iOS keyboards

Google, Microsoft and others are muscling in on Apple’s iOS devices with keyboard apps that offer more tools than the standard one. Andy Shaw finds out whether they’re good enough to justify making the switch

Gboard (, US App Store)

Google has launched its own keyboard for iOS devices  but it’s only available in the US App Store at the moment. You can wait for it to come to the UK, or you can sneak into the US store if you set up a US iTunes account first – you’ll find a step-by-step guide for this on the Alphr website at It’s a bit of a pain but it’s worth it if you’d like to try this or the Microsoft Word Flow keyboard before they’re released over here. You can flip back to your UK account once you’ve downloaded the US apps, and both your US and UK apps will remain perfectly usable.

The Google keyboard adds two main features that the standard Apple keyboard lacks. The first is ‘swipe to type’, which enables you to enter text without having to lift your finger from the keyboard. This makes typing quick and easy, especially if you’re using your device one-handed.

The other new tool is the Google button. Tap this and a search box appears. Type your search, then press Enter, and the keyboard is replaced by a series of cards that show your search results. You can scroll through these by swiping from the right, and you have a choice of standard search results, image search or GIFs. Tap a card to paste the information it contains into whichever app you’re working in. This is particularly useful when you’re using chat tools, because you can search and paste information into your chat without having to leave the app and open a browser.

Well, for starters, Google could hurry up and bring Gboard to the UK App Store, so we don’t have to muck about with US accounts. We didn’t like its use of Google grey rather than Apple grey, either, because the keyboard clashes with the standard Apple toolbar. It doesn’t come with any additional colour schemes, so you’re basically stuck with it.

Google has brought search to the keyboard and it works really well, especially as you can transfer your results easily to whichever app you’re typing in. If you’re not prepared to download it from the US store, we’re confident it will come to the UK store soon.

SwiftKey Keyboard (

SwiftKey is currently our favourite Android keyboard replacement, and all its most prominent features have been copied by its rivals. Microsoft even went so far as to buy the company. The keyboard hasn’t changed much since it was launched but it was so far ahead of the competition in the first place that it’s simply taken a while for other keyboards to draw level.

SwiftKey’s main enhancements are the ability to swipe around the letter keys to ‘type’ words instead of tapping on them, and the addition of a wordpredicting toolbar. Both features now appear in most add-on keyboards. However, SwiftKey does a lot of work behind the scenes, learning the words you use to improve predictions. We like this a lot, and it’s well worth giving it a go. If you sign in to the service, it will learn from all the keyboards you have installed on your device.

A selection of themes are available, so you don’t have to stick with the default black keyboard. Only three of them are free, although most of the others cost less than £1. Of the three free themes, however, one is horrible and the other two don’t look as classy as Apple’s own keyboard.

We love SwiftKey on Android, and it’s just as good on iOS. Its rivals have stolen most of its innovations, but it’s still brilliant at predicting what you want to type based on your typing history. It’s available from the UK App Store.

Word Flow Keyboard (

Microsoft’s Word Flow is only available in the US for now (so you’ll have to use the store-switching trick mentioned in the Gboard review) and is designed for iPhones. It works on the iPad, but you need to choose ‘iPhone only’ from the drop-down menu in the App Store to find it.

This keyboard’s main innovation is the one-handed typing option, which you access with a swipe. This turns the keyboard into a quarter-circle that lets you access any letter using the thumb of the hand you’re holding the phone in. You can tap the letters or swipe between them if that’s quicker.

If you don’t like the default colour scheme, you can choose from a number of alternatives or drop in a photo of your own and change the colours of the letters to ensure they stand out from the background.

Microsoft’s keyboard doesn’t have separate keys for each letter, leaving no obvious differentiation. Instead, you just aim for the letter itself. That may not sound too difficult but we found that it took some getting used to.

This Microsoft keyboard is a leap forward for one-handed phone typists, and it brings the predictive text and swipe-to-type options we’ve come to expect from add-on keyboards. Like Gboard, it’s only available in the US store for now, but we expect it to arrive here soon.

UltimateKey Keyboard (

UltimateKey Keyboard (or ‘Brilliant Keyboard for iOS 8’ as it’s known in the App Store) is a swipe-to-type option that actually comes in an Applefriendly grey theme, making it a reasonable replacement for Apple Quick Type if you want to swipe. It comes with four free themes, and you can add many more if you upgrade it for £1.49.

Apple Quick Type (Pre-installed)

You could always stick with the default iOS keyboard. It lacks some of the best features available in the other keyboards but it looks good, and Apple is slowly introducing new features. The most recent addition was the emoji, which wasn’t particularly exciting, but the keyboard also has a reasonable text prediction system for those who struggle to type quickly enough.

Fleksy (

Fleksy is a larger keyboard, which means it’s best used in portrait orientation on the iPhone – in landscape mode, it takes up more than half the screen. Its benefits are largely aesthetic, with a range of themes to choose from and an animated GIF tool that will be popular with the kids. It doesn’t even offer swipe-to-type, though, so it isn’t much of a step up from Apple’s basic Quick Type keyboard in terms of usefulness.