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7 great keyboard apps for your Android phone or tablet

You don't have to stick with that preloaded keyboard that comes with your Android gadget. Here are seven alternatives that give your device a boost.

Liven up your typing skills with a new keyboard view. Sarah Tew/CNET

The beauty behind Android's flexibility is that it's easy to replace the preinstalled keyboard with a new virtual keyboard with a slightly different layout and features that outperform your default fare.

Finding the right keyboard for you may take some trial and error as you narrow down the interface and themes you like best.

Below you'll find seven polished Android keyboard apps. All are either completely free or come with a free trial. Somewhere in this list is your next favorite keyboard.

Google Keyboard (free)

The Google Keyboard rounds up some of the best features you'll find in other third-party apps, like support for tracing words in addition to typing them, speech-to-text, a dictionary that learns your style and predictive text.

Available for any device running Android 4.0 and above, this one looks and behaves like yesterday's premium keyboards. You'll find a whole slew of personalization options including themes, sound and vibration, layouts and auto-correction.

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The Google Keyboard is but one of many great alternatives to your preloaded client. Screenshot by Scott Webster/CNET

One of my favorite details, the Google Keyboard will "learn" your contacts and suggest their names when you type. Along those lines, the personal dictionary adds words that otherwise get "auto-corrected" to something else. Using proper names, nicknames, and slang is much easier once you teach Google a thing or two.

Other tidbits include built-in emoji support, dictionaries for 25+ languages, and a simple design that looks very flat and Google-y. If anything, the Google Keyboard raises the bar for what we should expect out of other keyboards.

Fleksy ($1.99 | £1.32 | AU$2.48)

Fleksy excels at providing a fast and accurate typing experience. Fortunately for us, there's a lot more going on here besides.

Available for a free 30-day trial, Fleksy has a gorgeous, minimalist aesthetic with more than two dozen skins. Toss in more than 800 emojis, gestures, over 40 languages, and transparency settings, and you've got quite the personalized layout.

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Fleksy offers more than 30 gorgeous and minimal themes. Fleksy

If you find yourself hopping from Gmail to Facebook Messenger to Twitter, sharing updates along the way, you'll appreciate that the launcher lets you jump directly to other apps without leaving the keyboard.

Flexy is also a whiz at supporting GIFs and other extensions. It can make your button taps glow like a rainbow and can display "Frozen" or "Hunger Games" design. The out-of-box Flexy experience is fantastic, but it really shines as you tweak and fiddle with it along the way.

Do note that there's no swiping to type here; this one is for tap-happy typers only. Not to worry, however, Fleksy is super-forgiving and won't slow you down.

Minuum ($3.99 | £2.20 | AU$3.99)

After starting out as an Indiegogo project, Minuum works very well for those of us with bigger fingers. This may come as a surprise once you see how small the actual keyboard is, or can be.

The secret sauce here is the text prediction algorithm that seems to know exactly what it is you're trying to say. A conveniently placed toggle lets you enable and disable auto-correction on the fly.

Like other quality keyboards, Minuum supports multiple languages and layouts. You will also find nearly 900 emojis, quick access to thesaurus, Google search and a dictionary. The floating mode is a nice touch on larger smartphones, and it puts your keyboard atop your screen.

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Minuum's Mini Mode condenses the entire keyboard into one row. Screenshot by Scott Webster/CNET

While this one takes some getting used to, Minuum gets high marks from its loyal user base. Toggling to Mini Mode can be quite jarring at first but, once mastered, can be quite the time- and space-saver. Since its initial release I've found a rapid string of updates that sprinkle in new features all the time.

A free, 30-day trial version is available for those curious enough to give it a try. Note, you might spend a chunk of that time familiarizing yourself.

ai.type ($3.99 | £3.36 | AU$4.99)

Touted as the "smartest, most personalized" keyboard available, ai.type definitely delivers. If you're looking for a client that provides seemingly endless customization, then this is the one. The same goes for those who want a keyboard that doesn't get in the way.

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Minimalists will enjoy the clean layout of ai.type. ai.type

Like others listed here, ai.type offers word prediction, auto-correction, and auto-completion. Additionally, you'll find more than 800 emojis, as well as support for dozens of languages.

Head to the Theme Market (in-app) and you'll find literally thousands of custom designed keyboards. Indeed, ai.type lets users configure colors, backgrounds, fonts, and more. Create your own special blend and share it with others.

Although some might shy away from the $4 cost, it's possible to get a full-fledged sample for 14 days.

SwiftKey (free)

An oldie but goodie, SwiftKey has been around for years, and keeps getting better with time.

You'll find the standard suite of features, including themes, auto-correction, predictions, and a variety of layouts. Yep, there're also emoji and themes as well.

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SwitfKey gets even smarter when you tie in your cloud-based and social-media accounts. SwiftKey

As one of the first learning keyboards I ever played with, SwiftKey can tie into your various cloud accounts -- like Gmail, Twitter, Facebook -- to anticipate the way you type and speak. The Trending Phrases feature is also a nice touch to keep your slang on par with the cool kids.

There's a lot going on with SwiftKey, but it's never overwhelming. For many, this is a Goldilocks-like keyboard in that it's just right. Plus, the best part of it all is that it's now free for all.

Go Keyboard (free)

If custom-designed layouts and colors are your thing, then Go Keyboard should be your first stop. As of today there are more than 10,000 themes with a library growing by the minute. Head to the Google Play store or the in-app market and you'll see that there is, quite literally, something for everyone.

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Typing on a tablet? Go Keyboard breaks up nicely for two hands. Go Keyboard Dev Team

Lest you think this one is all about sizzle, there's also plenty of steak, too. Indeed, Go Keyboard offers word correction, suggestions, shortcuts, voice-to-text and swiping to type.

With support for more than 60 languages and a variety of layouts (QWERTY, QWERTZ, AZERTY, numerical and so on), the app looks great on tablets, too.

Swype (99 cents | 59p | AU$1.06)

Another long-time classic, Swype is the keyboard that put swiping input on the map. Sure, the best part of it may have been "borrowed" by others but that doesn't mean it's useless.

Swype is not only efficient, but it's smart and offers plenty of user-defined configuration. Thanks to Nuance and its Dragon dictation, this one gives you best-in-class voice-to-text.

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Swype was, and is, the first name in swiping to type. Nuance Communications

Those who own multiple devices or find themselves upgrading regularly will appreciate the cloud account that accesses that personal dictionary you've taken time to build out, even when you switch a new device.

Similar to what SwiftKey does, Swype can keep you up to date on new hot words and phrases. As a bonus, names of popular figures, like Chiwetelu Ejiofor and Benedict Cumberbatch, won't auto-correct to other words.

Although the full version of Swype costs just $1, you can try things out in the 30-day free trial.

Your turn!

The thing about keyboard apps is that it's easy to find a favorite. Conversely, it doesn't take long to grow aggravated with one and want something new.

Which keyboard app do you like best? Share your favorite in the comments below.