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2/17/2012
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Slick Android Tablet Keyboard Is Cool, Has Problems

The A.I.type Float-N-Split Tablet Keyboard offers awesome keyboard splits, transparency, and prediction, plus some bugs.

The settings give you a lot of control over just about every piece of the keyboard, including deciding if you want to use "cloud based prediction"--presumably this provides some network-resident functionality or data for the prediction code. My device told me it was talking to a server in the Middle East, but there was no latency in the performance of the keyboard--very nice.

You can set a keyboard theme and make your keyboard look like an iPad if you like, and you have control over fonts, background images, and colors of everything--keys, characters, predicted words, corrected words. There are several language settings, including character sets from all over the world, and downloadable language packs, some of which are marked "coming soon". I'm unfortunately not fluent enough to do justice to a review of the predictive power of the keyboard in any other language than English.

There are some oddities. The app asks you to choose a keyboard theme in two separate places. It also makes the odd choice of grouping the control over the setting for the opacity of the floating keyboard under the Fun Factory settings, such as colors and fonts, instead of under Appearance, where I would have expected to find it.

There were also a few glitchy things about the basic keyboard modes that reflect either odd design choices or poorly thought out implementation, or maybe both. You can, for example, resize the keyboard to the size of the entire screen, covering the input area, which seems like a mistake. Another oddity is more of a missed opportunity: the split mode keyboard does not include the ability to set its transparency; therefore, when you use split mode, there is a large area of wasted gray space in the center of the tablet screen. It would be nice to have the option of making that section transparent.

I encountered more serious glitches as I dived further into the app. I used the keyboard with the Mail application on my Xoom and was incredibly impressed by how well it worked. I decided that I would write this review in Google Docs on my Xoom, using the app, and suddenly my predictive text bar was gray, blank, and unusable.

It turns out that the keyboard queries text fields to determine content and cursor position. According to A.I.type, some applications return non-standard results to the keyboard app, and "when our keyboard reacts to this wrong information, the results are poor". Kudos to the vendor for immediately acknowledging this known problem in response to an email, and sending me a test version of the .apk. The test version fixed the Google Docs issue, but I had to force close it at one point when I stepped out of Docs. The vendor said it would be deploying a hot fix for the Google Docs issue and other issues in a matter of days. Let's hope the force close issue is fixed there as well.

I also learned that the vendor made a design choice to turn off the predictive algorithms when working inside single line fields in a browser in order to make sure that they are not processing user passwords. An understandable choice, but it ought to have been explained somewhere.

This isn't the first split keyboard for Android we've seen. At CES last month we saw the TouchPal Input Suite which has many of the features of the Float-N-Split and is free.

So, what's the bottom line? The A.I.type Float-N-Split keyboard's predictive algorithm is excellent. The keyboard is easy to configure and use. I would have designed the app a little differently in some places. But the vendor was responsive to problems that were reported and fixed them quickly.

I like it, and I'll keep using it, but I'll watch for fixes and updates.

Name: A.I.Type Float-N-Split Tablet Keyboard

This alternative keyboard app for Android tablets offers impressive predictive text and correction as well as many options for controlling size, shape, color and background. It works extremely well with several apps, such as Mail, but its behavior with some other apps needs work.
Price: $5.99
Pro:
  • Top-notch predictive text features.
  • Lots of options to control appearance and behavior.
  • Works smoothly and quickly.
Con:
  • Does not work with every application.
  • A little glitchy.

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