17
Sep
a

Last week the video demo of Dynamic Keyboard got quite a lot of attention. It shows a keyboard with bouncy keys that actually changed size in anticipation of the next letter in the word. So many keyboards strive to offer better suggestions in the bar above the keyboard, but this is an app which wants to do more with the data. Messing with the fundamentals of the keyboard is risky, though.

I've been living with Dynamic Keyboard for the last few days. So let's talk about whether or not this app fulfills the implicit (and explicit) promises made by the video. 

How It Works

Each letter you type on Dynamic Keyboard is used to estimate which keys you are most likely to go for next. Instead of guessing at words in a suggestion bar, the keys actually swell along with the hit boxes so they're easier to press. They'll actually overtake the borders of adjacent keys if Dynamic Keyboard is really positive you're going there next.

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That's the headlining feature, but it also does most of the other things you've become accustomed to an app of this sort doing. It has the double-tap period insertion, customizable themes, multiple key shapes (rectangle, square and circle), and autocorrect. With regard to that last point, the app didn't have autocorrect when it first launched. An update added it, which is certainly nice.

Dynamic Keyboard has a ton of settings to tweak the experience. You can change the animation level to be completely off, smooth, or bouncy. The video had the keyboard set to bounce. It looks neat, but it is distracting in real life. The smooth animation is fine, though. The degree to which the keys expand can also be changed as you like.

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This app has a lot of languages supported at launch, and actually permits you to so something pretty neat. If you're bilingual, you can have two languages active at once for key prediction. But that's only going to be useful if Dynamic Keyboard is worth using.

But Does It Work?

Cutting to the chase, Dynamic Keyboard works better than I thought it would, but not as well as I'd hoped. This keyboard is definitely doing good predictions of a lot of words, but the accuracy is only close to perfect when you get near the end of the word. I feel like it needs more context.

Let's use the word "neat" as an example. So you press the 'N' key and several others puff up, and one of them is 'E.' This is good. Press the 'E,' and again, several keys puff up. The next letter you're going for is 'A,' but that's not one of the enlarged keys. Instead, 'S' has grown. If you press 'S' it becomes clear Dynamic Keyboard thinks you're typing "nest." If you get in there and tap 'A' instead, the 'R' and 'T' both swell, which is what you'd expect.

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The above is just one example of the limitations in Dynamic Keyboards. No matter if the 'ne-word' is proceeded by "that's pretty..." or "the bird sits in the..." Dynamic Keyboard has the same predictions. It doesn't use the context of the previous words like, for instance, Swiftkey. Does that make Dynamic Keyboard bad? No, not really. A lot of words are predicted right, at least for most of the letters. It works out to a slight boost in getting the right key. Rarely do I feel like Dynamic Keyboard is causing new errors.

The keyboard looks nice, as long as you spring for the Pro version. The free edition doesn't have all the customization options, and one of them is "HD Fonts." The app actually looks pretty bad without this enabled. The round keys also look a bit aliased to me. As for the themes, a lot of them are a bit much. But if you want bright orange keys, Dynamic Keyboard can make that happen.

2013-09-17 21.47.13 2013-09-17 21.47.42 2013-09-17 21.46.24

2013-09-17 21.46.57 2013-09-17 21.47.29

I've noticed a bug that will probably be fixed before long, but it relates to the autocomplete, which I need to discuss anyway. If Dynamic Keyboard doesn't know a word you type, it will make it into one. This is far too aggressive, and will be an annoyance to anyone who uses a lot of non-dictionary technical lingo. As for the bug, hitting the backspace key to undo the correction simply inserts what you typed after the autocorrect fail. Very odd. This was tested on a stock Nexus 4, by the way.

Conclusion

I don't think Dynamic Keyboard is going to be my day-to-day input method, but I still use stock Android most of the time with SwiftKey thrown in on occasion. I've tested a lot of third-party keyboards, and Dynamic Keyboard is above average. I feel like I can tap out words quickly with a low number of errors.

It does something neat, and I suspect it has real potential. Is potential worth $0.99? Well, maybe.

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.

  • invinciblegod

    I believe keyboards already do this. This has been talked about by both apple and google. They just hide it from the user instead of showing it.

    • Alter

      That's right. For example, Smart Keyboard has "Dynamic key resizing" in the settings, which does exactly this, except it's not visible, which is a better way of doing it, in my opinion. We all know were letters are and which one we want to type next, and making some of them bigger could be more confusing than helpful.

      In general I prefer keyboards to mostly handle error correction, not prediction, because if they try to guess what you'll type next, that only makes it harder to type words it didn't predict.

  • Phill_S

    The problem with this concept is that I can type nrat on my keyboard and it knows I was going for neat so autocorrects. Inflating and deflating the keys in anticipation for the next keypress isnt nearly as helpful as taking the previously typed word and trying to work out what it was meant to be.

    The google keyboard, and others, are so good at this. On a long word you could get every letter wrong and it still may figure out what you wanted - as for a small word I just sloppily tried to type "then" at the start of a sentence, ended up with "rjrn" and it gave the two options of turn and then for what it figured I was trying to type.

    Not to mention just smudging your finger across the screen in one motion and the keyboard still knows what you were going for most of the time. If there is a niche ready to be found in new methods of typing on touchscreens increasing the size of keys to make it more likely to hit one just feels like reinventing the wheel on one hand and doing something that is a few steps below what the competition already does on the other.

    It is surely just a gimmick, trying to differentiate from the competition like Google itself and Swiftkey who have strong prediction engines but dont change key size, pretending to the user that it even matters if they hit the right key or not.

  • Jamesy

    "Hitting the backspace key to undo the correction simply inserts what you typed after the autocorrect fail."

    Huh? What does this mean?

    Oh well, it'll probably be fixed before I test this out anyways.

    Onto the meat a and potatoes.

    I can't see how a dynamic keyboard would be good for anyone--unless you have issues with spelling, and you type slow, and you dislike editing after the fact, I would think that hit boxes that constantly change size would have a negative effect on performance in the long run.

    I just can't see how this would be useful.

    I once saw a video of an iPhone keyboard that wasn't fixed though-- it calculated where the keyboard should be placed.....after you started typing, on thin air of course....even if you started typing at an angle, or you were typing as if the keyboard was really small or large, it would be able to tell, and adjust it's size accordingly.

    • phatmanXXL [16,000+ posts]

      Google keyboard does the same thing.

  • jpelgrom

    Interresting, but does it also work well enough with other languages than English? Think about Spanish, or some of the main languages of mainland Europe (French, German, Italian, Dutch, Polish...)?

  • http://visionaforethought.wordpress.com/ Oflife

    Dear humans, give it up already! Until they are tactile (3D pop out keys), touch screen keyboards can never replace a real physical keyboard. Why? Our brains seek out the keys by feeling, hence those small protrusions or ridges on the F and 5 keys, to help with the hard of seeing.

    I've given up and bought a superb Logitech K811 Bluetooth keyboard that can work with up to 3 different devices. I now carry it and a Stump device 'dock' in my bag. When I want to get productive, or type lengthy text messages, I sit down, put the Stump on the table, put my tablet on one side (Galaxy Note 8), my phone on the other (RAZR i), switch on the keyboard and type or work away!

    No typos, reliance on ever dangerous predictive text etc, just the words I type.

    • GraveUypo

      ideally, i wanted a slider keyboard that feels the same as the xbox360 chatpad on my phone. that's by far the best thumb keyboard i've ever used.
      but as it stands, i don't really like to type a lot on my phone, nor do i need to, and on screen keyboards are doing the work ok. my biggest beef is landscape mode taking all the screen real state.

  • phatmanXXL [16,000+ posts]

    It looks nice

  • Matthew Fry

    Even the high resolution fonts (assuming the photos are of the high resolution fonts) are pretty grainy.