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More of a keyboard downgrade

Keyboard Upgrade allows customizable keyboards on the iPad

Editors' take: The iPad's onscreen keyboard hasn't won many fans. In portrait mode, it's a bit too narrow for touch-typing. Landscape mode is more accommodating, but if you're holding the iPad in your hands, the keyboard's actually a bit too wide for thumb-typing. Enter Keyboard Upgrade, a data-entry alternative. It's a split, two-piece keyboard, one you can size and position to your liking.

For example, suppose you want to type with your thumbs. You can drag the two halves of the keyboard (which by default is smaller than the standard landscape keyboard) to either corner of the screen. Although this leaves some weird-looking white space in the middle, it cuts down on thumb travel. Likewise, if you want to touch-type, you can rotate each piece to a more ergonomic position, at the same time increasing the size of the keys.

Sounds good in theory, right? In practice, Keyboard Upgrade is somewhat of a disaster. For starters, the space bar on the right half of the keyboard flat-out doesn't work. The developer knows about this bug and has already submitted an update, but for now the app is just about useless. Other usability problems abound. Every time you drag, rotate, or resize a keyboard half, you end up with unwanted keystrokes. You can't lock the halves in their current positions, so an errant swipe easily knocks them out of place. In fact, just rotating your iPad restores the keyboard to its default, sandwiched position, undoing whatever setup you previously had. Maddening.

What's more, Keyboard Upgrade doesn't remember your positioning from one session to the next. Every time you run it, you have to set up your desired configuration again. This isn't hard to do--in fact, it's kind of fun--but the app really should offer some kind of layout recall. It would be simple to add, say, "ergonomic" and "thumb" buttons to the toolbar. One tap and you've got the layouts you use most often.

All these issues are easily corrected with a few programming updates. The real obstacle here is that Keyboard Upgrade doesn't actually upgrade the iPad's keyboard. Instead, all your typing must take place inside the app. When you're done, one tap copies the text to the clipboard, where it can be pasted in whatever app you like--easy, but inconvenient. The good news is that there's also an e-mail button, which copies your typed text straight into the body of a new message. So for e-mail at least, you don't have to go through the chore of copying, exiting the app, loading a different app, and then pasting.

As much as we like the idea behind Keyboard Upgrade--and its very reasonable 99-cent price tag--we can't recommend it in its current state. (We didn't even get into its lack of support for basic autocorrect features.) Hopefully the developer will turn this great idea into the great app it should be. For now, it's more of a keyboard downgrade.

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