Back at CES 2013, a start up touted its new on-screen keyboard as the solution to typing on touchscreens. Called Fleksy, this software promised predictions so accurate you can type without looking at the screen. Now that it's launched as a beta (using Google's new Play Store beta program), we have had a chance to put those claims to the test.

How It Works

Keeping in mind that this is still beta software, the setup process is a bit confusing and some devices have show-stopping bugs. On the Nexus 4 and Nexus 7, Fleksy installed from Google Play without a hitch. The keyboard was enabled and ready to go after a quick trip into the system settings. The first time you open the keyboard, you're confronted with a bizarre thumbstick interface. It's not made entirely clear, but this is a visual aid to help you grasp the concept behind Fleksy.

You tap on the keys as you would with other keyboards, but swiping is used to insert spaces, punctuation, and change word suggestions. After tapping out each word, you can swipe to the right to insert a space. Another swipe gets you a period, which you can change to other punctuation marks by swiping up and down. A swipe to the left deletes the last input.

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The same gestures come into play when you need to change the word suggestion. So if Fleksy gets confused, swiping up and down will cycle through the possible alternatives. There is a suggestion bar at the top of the keyboard, but whatever word you typed will automatically be added to the Fleksy custom dictionary if you move back to the far left position, signifying you meant what you typed.

Fleksy starts out looking like a pretty standard keyboard with perhaps overly large letters. It takes up the same space as the alternatives, but that isn't even its final form! If you swipe down with two fingers, the keyboard collapses to display only the letters. So it loses the caps lock, space bar, delete, and enter buttons. It takes up less space this way, and you can still bust out blocks of text with the letters and gestures.

Swipe down with two fingers again, and Fleksy disappears completely. But this is just an illusion! Fleksy is still there, but invisible. You can continue tapping away in the general vicinity of the right keys (making use of the swipe gestures) and see how it goes.

But Does It Work?

I will just point out again that Fleksy is a newly released beta app, but it doesn't quite live up to the hype – at least not yet. With the keyboard visible, it behaves kind of like a more sluggish version of SwiftKey. The swiping input for spaces and punctuation is hard to get used to. Although, I will cop to my muscle memory being a major component of that difficulty. It just doesn't make a lot of sense to swipe twice simply to get a period, and then swipe a few more times to place a comma or question mark.

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When you move to the hidden keyboard, the app still pops up letter imprints to help you stay on the right track, and it is very neat to see the entire screen while inputting text. However, the transparent keyboard covers the buttons in some apps (like Hangouts and Messaging/SMS). The suggestion bar also floats in the middle of the screen – it would make more sense at the bottom. I suspect there will be some kind of work around for this eventually, but again, this is beta.

The quality of the suggestions is sometimes jaw-dropping. The first time I tried the invisible keyboard, I was able to crank out a sentence without too much trouble. However, you need to have a very good intuitive grasp on the location of the keys. Fleksy is smart about corrections, but your presses have to be somewhere in the right neighborhood. The full keyboard is required to access special characters and handle proper capitalization, though.

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That's a real correction

There are times when using Fleksy that I missed every letter in a word, and the app still got it right. I'd say it guesses correctly about 90% of the time when using it in hidden mode. The problem is that 90% isn't quite enough to justify switching from another keyboard. Fleksy is just frustrating enough that I don't relish using it. The swiping also ends up a bit tedious when it's not hidden.

The technology behind Fleksy is fascinating, and I believe it could become something cool as development continues. If you really want to see what it does, tapping the version number 10 times in the settings will expand the invisible keyboard to fill the screen so you can type anywhere (requires three downward two-finger swipes).  Users with low or no vision might find this kind of aggressive text prediction more useful in the long run (it includes voice feedback). For now, Fleksy is something to watch. If you want in on the beta, check out the Fleksy Google+.

Keep in mind the app in Google Play won't be accessible unless you're in the beta.

[Fleksy Beta, Fleksy Beta Google+]

Ryan Whitwam
Ryan is a tech/science writer, skeptic, lover of all things electronic, and Android fan. In his spare time he reads golden-age sci-fi and sleeps, but rarely at the same time. His wife tolerates him as few would.

He's the author of a sci-fi novel called The Crooked City, which is available on Amazon and Google Play. http://goo.gl/WQIXBM

  • Nathan Borup

    Google play link is broken...

    • Sean Stone

      I think you need to join the community and opt-in to the beta program on said community page before the Play link will work.

      • Nathan Borup

        gotcha... thanks Sean

    • RyanWhitwam

      I made the existing note about that more prominent at the end of the article to prevent confusion.

  • Sean Stone

    Don't forget the Super Invisible Keyboard that lets you type anywhere on the screen. Go to the Fleksy settings, tap the version number 10 times and enable the option on the pop up. Now do another two finger down swipe on the keyboard and your invisible keyboard is anywhere on the screen. Not sure how to use it, but it's interesting.

    • Kenny O

      The Super Invisible Keyboard is crazy......

  • Steve Green

    How would one input characters like Crtl-c ?

    • Royal2000H

      how do you ever input ctrl+c on the common android keyboards?

      • firethorn

        My guess is Hacker's Keyboard. Not that you need key combos like that a lot, but sometimes it can come in handy.

        • Steve Green

          Some of us do need them a lot. Like those of us who use smartphones for ssh.

          • firethorn

            I know, that's what I use HK for.
            What I meant is that even though it is an important part of your use case, in the big scheme of things, i.e. looking at the majority of virtual keyboard users, button combos aren't very prevalent and therefore not a prime functionality to include in a keyboard targeted at the mainstream. Doing so would mean feature creep and that can be a very slippery slope.

            Generally, I use one keyboard (SwiftKey) for general purpose typing and will regularly try out new ones like Kii, Keymonk or Fleksy to see how they compare. And then I keep specialized solutions around to switch to as needed, in this case HK for ssh and other networking stuff.

      • senior1

        ctrl+c +x +v +a you will find in Swype. Swype has the best swipe-behaviour from all keyboards I ever tested. Best Dieter.

  • Nicholas Ruiz

    Unusable on my S4 since when I back out of texting or messaging and go back to my home screen the invisible keyboard is still there, making it impossible for me to do anything with the lower third of the screen unless I restart or uninstall the app. Bummer.

    • Jinghuang Lim

      backing out of the program doesn't make the keyboard go away?

      or you can try double swiping in the up direction to bring back the visibility of the keyboard?

      • Nicholas Ruiz

        Correct. The keyboard won't go away after leaving a program that uses it.

  • Mario Hernandez

    I can't access to the play store beta.

    • Nathan Borup

      look at my comment below

  • Andrew Kachaniwsky

    We can already Swiftkey without looking at the screen, do we really need this?

    • Sean Royce

      We can keep innovating with new software, do we really need stupid comments?

      • Andrew Kachaniwsky

        I'm all for innovation.. but I'm not seeing what's new with Fleksy. (maybe I need to look closer?)

        There is an "invisible keyboard".. which sounds like a novel idea, however I wasn't able to get it to work on my GS4. Looking forward to Minuum!

        • Brandon Watkins

          Minuum looks amazing!

        • Rahul

          Invisible keyboard is cool. Needs some getting used to but swype is easier.

  • http://www.facebook.com/miCc117 Micheal Banning

    Its been removed from the play store :/ I wonder why

    • Merri Mogridge

      Still working fine for me! Have you joined the beta?

  • WHO?

    Yea i tested this out just a minute ago. When it predicts the wrong word it doesn't even come close to what your trying to say. Instead it uses other strange long letter words that's the recipient want even be able to understand. And the punctuation on another screen slows me down.

    • Jinghuang Lim

      swipe to the right twice to access common punctuations such as periods, commas, etc

      while i'm at it, if you are in the minimal keyboard mode, swipe from the bottom right upwards to change the palette to punctuation etc

      swipe from bottom left to bottom right for "enter"

      • WHO?

        thanks would of never known

  • Alain Alemany Arana

    I just love it. I know it have some imperfections, but is another attempt from an Android development team to make it better, to give another option. Now that beta will receive tons of feedback and hopefully get better... being another project from tons of the best development community in the world: Android's.

  • spydie

    The only problem I have with it is that if you need to type in something that is not common, like an email address or password, it keeps forcing you to use its suggestions. I end up having to switch to another keyboard just to put in the entry, then I stay with keyboard rather than switch back and forth. Great possibilities, but it needs to learn your special words that it doesn't recognize, and do it easily!

    • Jinghuang Lim

      after you typed your own word and swiped to the right, it will auto correct to the closest word in the dictionary. You can swipe up ONCE to go back to the word you typed, and swipe up AGAIN (twice in total) to add that word to the dictionary

  • Jinghuang Lim

    I have been using this keyboard on and off for the past months and although it has been a pleasant experience, I still use swiftkey on a daily basis (because I paid for it :P)

    I have been following the thread on XDA for a while though: http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=2260215

    Here are some quick instructions provided by the developers (because let's face it, the tutorial provided is way too insufficient):

    Quick Instructions:

    Swipe down and up to change the word suggested to the next. Also works with quick punctuation.

    Enter a word accurately, swipe up twice to store it to the dictionary.

    Swipe down with two fingers to change to the mini keyboard. Repeat to change to the invisible keyboard. Swipe up with two fingers to go back.

    Mini/Invisible keyboard controls: Swipe up from bottom left corner to Shift. Swipe up from the bottom right corner for symbols. Swipe from bottom left corner to bottom right corner to Enter/Search/Go.

  • http://www.hdpixels.net/ HDpixels

    This is Amazing way to type.

  • Влатко Стојанов

    50+MB?!? Hell NO.

    • http://www.omghackers.com/ Arya Putra

      Now it have stripped down to 30Mb. But yeah, still a little big size for a keyboard. Well, it is still in beta stage, so can't say much right now. We'll see what it has to offer when the stable version released.

      • Влатко Стојанов

        30+MB and supports only 2 languages... :(

        • http://www.omghackers.com/ Arya Putra

          Yeah, that are the gripes that have hold me back from using this keyboard. I just use it when I wanted to do some test with the app. Other than that, I just stick with my Kii Keyboard. I'm more into swiping though. :)

  • ericshotwell

    Tried it on iOS and was extremely underwhelmed. My experience with Swype and Swiftkey on the Android platform were that they are both superior to Fleksy. I found it counter-intuitive to swipe for a space, and deleting individual characters is a pain in the a$$. I much prefer the stock keyboard on iOS, where I can actually type without looking at the keyboard and trust that usually iOS will get it right. Uninstalling, and I won't use Fleksy on my Android tablet either.