As I’ve previously mentioned, the main impetus for me to get a smartphone (nearly 2 years ago now!) was the decidedly cool Google Sky Map app.
I still rate this as my favourite app ever, as I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of being able to point my phone at a patch of sky and have it tell me what stars I’m seeing (or not, if it’s in the middle of the daytime or a cloudy night, or there’s a building, a tree or the bulk of the planet Earth in the way!). However, it’s not an app I actually use on a daily, or even weekly, basis.
By contrast, the keyboard is a feature of my phone that I use regularly. Another of the attractions of a smartphone for me was the opportunity to use a proper, albeit touch-screen, keyboard rather than faffing around with a standard mobile phone multi-letters-per-key setup.
The standard Android keyboard is not too bad, and certainly much better (for me, at least) than the aforementioned clunky keypad on my previous (non-smart) phone. However, there exist many alternative keyboards and after trying out a few I settled on one I’m very happy with – MultiLing Keyboard by Honso. It’s available on the Play Store if you have an Android device and want to check it out (I don’t know whether they do versions for other phones).
The thing that first attracted me to this keyboard is the facility to switch quickly between different languages, with suitable keyboard layouts and predictive text dictionaries. Not only does that make it easier to flip-flop between Welsh and English, which I do frequently (sometimes within a single note or text message), but it also makes it possible to write in a completely different script (e.g. Cyrillic if I want to write something in Russian, which does happen from time to time).
In addition to being able to fully switch between languages (which is accomplished by holding down the spacebar and selecting the language of your choice from the ensuing menu; NB you have to select the list of available languages in the app’s settings first), you can access menus of accented or otherwise-related versions of characters (or in some cases, unrelated punctuation symbols etc.) by holding down (as opposed to tapping) the various letter keys. The ones I use most often are undoubtedly the numbers, which are obtained by holding the top-row letter keys (there is also a separate numeric mode, which is useful if you’re entering more than a couple of digits at once).
All this stuff I discovered quite a while back (having installed this keyboard probably within about a month of getting the phone). This morning, however, I accidentally stumbled on another nifty feature. Actually, it’s another one of the extra-character menus accessed by holding down a key but it’s not one I’d thought to try. The “enter” key, located at the bottom right of the keyboard, gives you a fairly comprehensive selection of smileys (aka emoticons), as well as a tab and a few other random symbols. I doubt I’ll be peppering my text messages with hearts or crosses (or, indeed, most of the available smileys) anytime soon but it’s nice to know there’s a slightly quicker way to insert the old standby : – ) than constructing it laboriously by hand (not that entering three punctuation characters is that laborious; NB I’ve added spaces to ensure the ASCII emoticon doesn’t get automatically converted into one of those new-fangled graphical gizmos).
I doubt this emoticon menu would, on its own, be a major selling point of the app for many people and I was certainly happy enough with MultiLing Keyboard when I was blissfully unaware of this feature. Still, it’s quite a nice extra and has certainly given me something to smile about.