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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.

Jerry Ryan

February 17, 2012

6 Min Read

I'm a huge fan of Android touchscreen keyboards, so I was very interested in trying the new Float-N-Split Tablet Keyboard app from A.I.type.

I downloaded and installed the Float-N-Split app onto my Motorola Xoom running Android 3.2.2. When launched the first time, the app starts its Activation Wizard, which does a very nice job of helping a new user set up the application and enable it as the active input method on the tablet. Part of the wizard lets you try the keyboard for the first time.

First impression? Nice! Later impressions? Not so much.

The application displays the keyboard, which includes several buttons to access preferences and to change modes, and a strip along the top that displays the words that the app's "smart prediction" algorithms suggest might be the next word that you'd like to type. If the app displays a suggestion that you'd like, just touch the word instead of typing it and you are done. As you type a word, the app tries to predict what you're typing and shows you various guesses it's made. If it thinks you made a spelling error, it will show you a suggested correct spelling for the word it guesses you are typing. Again, you can just touch a word on the bar and the app will insert the entire word where you are typing.

The keyboard works quickly and easily, without any pauses or delays. Visual and audio feedback makes for a high-quality experience for the user.

As you might guess from the name of the company and the information on its website, this smart prediction algorithm is A.I.type's secret sauce, and it is very, very impressive. More than once, I smiled thinking that the prediction was performing so well, it must be reading my mind. The predictions come quickly, and they are very, very good.

The keyboard has three modes: full, split, and float-and-split. Full mode sits across the bottom of the screen, and can be easily resized by dragging a handle on the upper right corner of the keyboard to change how much of the screen it covers. Split mode divides the keyboard in the middle and moves the keys over to either side of the screen for thumb typing. This keyboard can also change height with the drag of a finger.

Float-and-split detaches the two halves of the keyboard and allows them to float freely and independently anywhere on the screen with a simple drag of the finger. You can resize one side of the keyboard, and the other side automatically resizes. You can move the two pieces together, or you can move them separately. The three buttons that control the resizing and moving are unobtrusive but intuitive, and I mastered their operation without needing to read any instructions. The user can control the transparency of the keyboard in float-and-split mode, so you can put the pieces of the keyboard on top of your text and see right through it. One key on the lower right side of the keyboard allows you to cycle through these three modes.

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.

About the Author(s)

Jerry Ryan

Contributor

Jerry Ryan is a Senior University Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He has done software development, technical sales, and management at Bell Labs, Lucent, Avaya and Motorola.If you'd like to reconnect, or just say hello, send an email to [email protected].

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