Keyboard is compared to other offerings. Individual keys have just the right amount of dark spacing between them, and just the right amount of vibration feedback when you press each letter. Gesture typing is supported, so you can drag a finger across each letter and the keyboard will predict the word you’re trying to write. By default, the keyboard uses names from your contact list for suggested words and corrections. It even tries to predict the next word as you type. None of this amounts to anything revolutionary. You can already find gesture typing and predictions in SwiftKey and Swype, which are also available through Google Play. But SwiftKey’s gesture typing doesn’t seem quite as accurate to me as the competition. As for Swype, I find that its non-gesture typing experience isn’t as solid as Google’s, and it requires you to use Dragon for voice dictation, rather than Google’s superior voice transcription. Google Keyboard is the best of both worlds, and it’s free. Previously, Google had only offered its own keyboard on phones running Android 4.2–the latest version of the software. It was possible to manually load the application onto an older Android phone, or to seek out an unauthorized version in Google Play, but neither of those solutions were ideal. By offering its own keyboard directly through Google Play, Google is continuing its strategy of updating Android without updating Android, as Dustin Earley recently put it. The company has been launching new services, such Google Play Music All Access, and updating existing apps such as Gmail and Maps, without doing a proper operating system update. Now, Google can also improve the keyboard without leaving older versions of Android behind.
There are still a few features of Android 4.2 that aren’t available on older phones, including lock screen widgets, a quick settings bar and a “Daydream” digital photo frame feature. Food for thought: Would Google ever release its own launcher to bring even more stock Android features to non-Nexus phones?