Review: Snapkeys launches a creative take on the mobile keyboard

Designed to make more of your screen visible, Snapkeys brings mixed results.

Snapkeys provides an innovative replacement for the QWERTY keyboard as a primary method of typing. Primarily aimed at touchscreen devices, Snapkeys aims to reinvent the way users type out words and sentences with an interface that strives to provide the same level of support for the entire alphabet. Combined with some intelligent algorithms to predict what you're going type, the interface, itself, is designed to drastically reduce the amount of space a keyboard occupies on a screen, allowing users to focus less on what to write and more on the content at hand.

The arrangement is unconventional, yet effective to some degree: there are four primary panels that consist of common letters arranged like the corners of a rectangle. And though it may look like it only supports a limited number of letters, Snapkeys utilizes the remaining empty space to invisibly "fill in" the rest of the alphabet. Texting functions similarly to a hybrid experience between conventional keyboard texting and the older T-9 model prior to the smartphone era. The left margin area is used as a backspace and the right margin area, a spacebar.

As you type, Snapkeys will display a list of word predictions that you can choose either by tapping the space button or selecting a word from the list. If your word isn't listed, you can swipe across from left to right to cycle through additional predictions.

In addition to typing via alternating taps, Snapkeys utilizes a few clever gestures to input common punctuation, as well as quick ways to switch modes. Swiping in one of four directions from either side will either input a punctuation mark, switch typing modes, or open an options menu.

While Snapkeys does indeed work, there are definitely some reservations on our part as to whether this is worthy of being a full-fledged QWERTY replacement. The learning curve for Snapkeys isn't terribly hard; in fact we were quite surprised at how well it worked. QWERTY was originally designed as an arrangement meant to be used off-screen and away from display; in that sense the initial Snapkeys approach to creating a keyboard that is less visually obtrusive makes sense. However, there are a couple glaring issues that we bumped into.

First is the learning curve; it's not impossible to learn but Snapkeys is asking for a level of primary adoption that might not always make sense, especially for such a diverse range of apps on a device like a smartphone or tablet. Though the keyboard, itself, does allow its placement to be moved, we found ourselves getting a bit lost when using messenger clients.

Typing on a picture or image is one thing, but staring at a colored block of letters amid a paragraph, made for some frustrating interruptions in the flow of our conversations when used in messenger clients, especially since many chatting apps are designed to display the most recent message on the bottom of the screen. For example, using Snapkeys on Google Hangouts overlays the keyboard on top of the conversation, making the tool the very thing it tries NOT to be. Standard Android keyboards usually push the conversation up by displaying the QWERTY keyboard below the conversations when a text field is highlighted. Though you can slide the keyboard up, it does call for some awkward ways to hold your phone, depending on the size of your device.

The word predictions were generally solid...except when you make typos or if you don't know how to spell certain words. Because you don't really "see" what you're typing until the entire word is spelled out, it's difficult to recognize at what point you make a mistake unless you count the number of letters. Unlike typing on a physical keyboard, users are generally more prone to making errors while typing on a touchscreen, whether it's due to lack of tactile feedback or just plain elementary spelling levels.

Snapkeys is an innovative solution, but certainly not a universal replacement at this current stage. QWERTY may have its flaws when it comes to obstructing your screen view to some degree, but it's also remained an evident solution for a wide variety of applications (DVORAK enthusiasts may disagree though ;D ), and arguably become less of an issue as screen sizes increase. It might indeed solve a partial aspect of the screen obstruction problem, but Snapkeys also runs into issues of its own, like when used in chatting environments. Its learning curve isn't bad, but don't expect to reap the fruits of immediate convenience, either, since it does take some time getting used to which primary letters reside in which block. With that said, we look forward to observing its evolution.

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