Perfect tablet typing: The best tips, apps and add-ons

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KALQ—This new keyboard layout is designed for thumb-typing, and it radically alters the layout of your character set, putting 11 commonly used characters under your right thumb and the rest under your left. The learning curve here is the steepest since you have to learn a whole new layout, but if you’re not a touch typist, it may well be the easiest way to pick up a few extra words per minute. The developers claim most users gain an extra 30 percent in speed when switching from QWERTY to KALQ.


Thumb typists get their own keyboard with KALQ.

What about handwriting recognition?

A whole article could be written about handwriting apps like Notes Plus and WritePad, which can convert your longhand into legible, editable text. But if it’s speed you’re looking for, handwriting probably isn’t the answer. I was able to squeeze about 20 words per minute in writing by hand while maintaining a modicum of legibility, hardly worth the extra effort compared to typing. Using a stylus instead of a fingertip didn’t speed things up significantly, but it did at least make my chicken-scratch a bit easier to read (and for the OCR tool to convert to text).

While it’s difficult to account for personal preference, handwriting on tablets seems better suited to note-taking than actual writing (because you need to look less frequently at the screen and can focus more fully on the speaker), and for anything requiring freehand illustrations.

Screen-typing tips for any tablet

Assuming you don’t have the ability to break out an external keyboard—definitely the best way to improve your input speed—you can take a few steps to improve your typing performance even without one. Try these and see how your input speed improves.

  • Use two hands. It may sound obvious, but holding your tablet in one hand and typing with the other is about as slow as you can get. By putting your tablet down and typing with two hands—even just using two fingers, one on each hand—you’ll more than double your speed.
  • Try four fingers. It’s nearly impossible to touch-type with eight fingers (plus thumbs) on the tiny screen of a tablet: The keys are too small to hit accurately with your little fingers, and (more importantly) holding both hands over the screen completely obscures the keys themselves. After much trial and error, I found a four-finger strategy tends to work best and fastest. Try typing with the first three fingers on your right (or dominant) hand, and the index finger on your left. Your right hand will roam from about the T, G, and V keys to the right edge of the keyboard. Your left hand will pick up the remaining letters, plus deal with the Shift key when needed. Practice a bit and you’ll probably find you can type comfortably fast with solid accuracy. Over time, you might throw in another finger on your left hand when certain words require the extra effort or when you need to use Shift a lot. Let this come naturally as you get into a touch-typing groove.
  • Steady your tablet on a solid surface. A corollary to the first tip, your tablet will need to be set down and stable if you want to type with accuracy. Propping it against your knee will result in too many mistakes and plenty of discomfort. Whenever possible, place your tablet directly on a supportive surface like a table. A stand (or a case that folds to create an incline) can be even better if it mimics the slight incline of a standard computer keyboard. Typing like this, with your head craned downward, isn’t the best for ergonomics, so try to limit typing time using any on-screen method.
  • Use voice to text when possible. It’s often inconvenient, impossible, or just feels weird to dictate to your tablet, but voice translation—built into Android and available for the iPad through tools such as Dragon Dictation—has become remarkably accurate, and it’s much faster than typing under any circumstance. Dragon unfortunately has a 60-second limit for each dictation session, and ambient noise can be a problem.
  • Practice! Some users report that walking through a learn-to-type app on their tablet can help make the jump from keyboard typing to screen typing with better speed and accuracy. If all else fails, give this a try.
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