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Writing a CNET review on a mobile phone is a good way to drive yourself mad. And yet here I am, as there's really no better way to wrap my head around the apparent madness that is Minuum. This $3.99 keyboard replacement for Android devices aims to free your screen by squishing a full QWERTY keyboard into the smallest possible space.
But you know what? It works. With Minuum, I can type comfortably (and accurately) in a space barely taller than my thumbs are wide, leaving the rest of my device's screen clutter-free. Heck, if I were going to ditch my computer for my smartphone full-time, Minuum would be a must-have. But right there is the app's main problem. As great as this keyboard feels, the screen real estate it saves isn't enough to motivate most folks to try something so radically different, especially for $4.
The most confusing thing about Minuum is that it feels so natural. It is, after all, simply a QWERTY keyboard smushed onto a single line. You have precise control over the pixel height of the keyboard, and while Minuum recommends doing without a space bar, you can add one for a more familiar feel.
Minuum requires that you use gestures. They aren't necessarily intuitive -- swipe right for space, swipe right and up for a paragraph break-- but they're easy to learn, and there aren't very many of them. Tracking down punctuation marks is about as difficult as things get, and best of all, pressing two fingers on the keyboard stretches it out into a normal, full-size keyboard -- handy if a friend is using your phone, or if you're entering passwords.
I also like that the app does the little things that save you time. Selecting a suggested word from the carousel inserts a space after it, so you can keep moving. Swiping to the left deletes the word to the left of your cursor, but adds that word to the suggestions carousel in case you made a mistake. Swipe to the right twice and you'll drop a period after the last word you typed, just like double-tapping a spacebar would.
I'm usually loathe to put too much trust into algorithms, and it's still a bit jarring to watch my diligent tapping produce a nonsensical jumble of letters. Fortunately, Minuum's autocorrect and predictive text features are quite reliable, usually converting a mess of text into the exact word I needed. And when it's wrong, I can scroll through a list of suggestions sitting just above the keyboard and tap the word I need. As expected, though, since the entire system is based on predicting the word you were looking for from the letters you typed, it's less effective when you have a long list of possible words. Right now, for example, I'm getting "if," "it," and "is," but what I really wanted was "of."
I also like that Minuum's predictive text works retroactively Just. tap on any text that you've already written, and you'll get suggestions for other word options. That's a great feature if you've ever typed out a lengthy email only to find nonsense words scattered within. The app will also learn new words as you type (if you let it), and does so rather well: after just a few Twitter conversations, it picked up on the obscure gaming acronyms I was throwing around and worked them into its vocabulary.
Minuum hasn't exactly changed my life or opened my eyes to hitherto unimagined possibilities in the realm of mobile phone input methods. But it has made the prospect of tapping out (virtual) reams of text on a 5-inch screen palatable.
But here's the thing: I'd hardly ever type something as lengthy as a review or an essay on my phone. But even if you do, you probably have your own solution -- if not a physical keyboard, then probably free services like SwiftKey or Swype. What's more, on a device with a larger screen (like a tablet), I've never been bothered by the amount of space that a keyboard occupies, which renders Minuum's primary benefit moot. Instead, the app makes the most sense on the smallest screens possible. And that's right where the developers are aiming -- on the Minuum website it's touted as "the best keyboard for smart watches." I haven't tried it on my wrist yet, but it looks awesome.
I'm definitely a bit faster (and a lot more accurate) with Minuum than with the stock Android keyboard, but whatever keyboard you're most comfortable with is likely enough for you. That makes it rough to recommend for the $4 download. Fortunately, though, the free version of Minuum lets you try the app out for 30 days, which should be more than enough time to find out if it's right for you.