Sure, you’ve got plenty of choices when it comes to picking a new keyboard for your Android phone, but you shouldn’t overlook the growing list of customization options available on the “stock” Android keyboard.
Not only can you change the color of the keypad, you can also create your own background using an image from your camera roll. You can even toggle key borders on and off, raise or lower the height of the keyboard, change the timing of a “long-press,” get easier access to your favorite emojis, and more.
Change your keyboard’s theme and background
Back in the early days of Android, the “stock” keyboard was something of an ugly duckling, with boxy, chunky keys and a single white-on-black theme.
Luckily, the Android keyboard got a makeover a couple of years ago, complete with a sleek new look and a quartet of grayscale color schemes. Today, the number of Android keyboard themes available has expanded to 15, plus the option to use a snapshot on your camera roll as a keypad background.
Tap Settings > Language & Input > Google Keyboard > Theme to see the menu of available keyboard themes—everything from black and red to green and pink—and tap an option to make the change.
To use your own picture as a keypad background, tap the My Image option near the top. Once you’ve given Google Keyboard access to your photos (just tap Allow when prompted), pick an image from your photo library, crop the image and use the slider to adjust the brightness of the background. Finally, select the new background from the Set Keyboard Theme screen.
Add borders to the keys
When Google gave the Android keypad its sleek “material design” makeover, one of the big changes was the elimination of outlines for individual keys; instead, letters, numbers, and symbols simply appeared to be floating on the keypad. But if you miss seeing a border for each key, there’s an easy fix.
Just go back to the Set Keyboard Theme settings (Settings > Language & Input > Google Keyboard > Set Keyboard Theme), then toggle the Key border switch.
Go back to the keyboard, and you’ll see translucent borders for each key—and if you ask me, the effect looks pretty good.
Raise or lower the height of the keyboard
By default, the stock Android keypad takes up about the bottom 40 percent of the screen. If you want the keyboard to be a little roomier—or, on the flip side, if you want to shrink the keypad a tad—there’s an easy way to do it.
Tap Settings > Language & Input > Google Keyboard > Preferences > Keyboard height, then use the slider to pick a new setting. The Tall setting, for example, expands the keypad to about 45 percent of the display, while Short confines the keyboard to the bottom third of the screen.
Long-press to type symbols
Here’s a great setting for anyone sick of having to tap the “?123” key to access the symbol keys. Tap Settings > Language & Input > Google Keyboard > Preferences, then toggle on the Long press for symbols switch.
Now, go back to the keypad; when you do, you’ll see little symbol icons in the corners of each letter key. Just tap and hold a key to type the symbol in the corner of the key you pressed, no extra keystroke required.
By default, you must hold a key about 300 milliseconds (or three-tenths of a second) for the Android keypad to register your keystroke as a long-press. If 300 milliseconds sounds a little too long—or too short—for you, give this setting a try.
Tap Settings > Language & Input > Google Keyboard > Preferences > Key long press delay, then pick a setting using the slider; 100 milliseconds (just a tenth of a second) is the shortest, while 700 milliseconds (nearly a whole second) is the longest.
Get shortcuts to your favorite emojis
If you can’t resist ending a text message with a smiley face, there’s a nifty keyboard setting that’ll quickly put your most-used emojis at your fingertips.
Tap Settings > Language & Input > Google Keyboard > Preferences, then toggle on the Show emojis in symbols keyboard setting.
Now, when you tap the “?123” key—you know, the key that calls up the symbols keypad—you’ll see six of your favorite emojis appear in the suggestions strip just above the keyboard.
Bonus tip: You can easily create keyboard shortcuts for just about any word or phrase you want; here’s how.
Ben has been writing about technology and consumer electronics for more than 20 years. A PCWorld contributor since 2014, Ben joined TechHive in 2019, where he covers smart speakers, soundbars, and other smart and home-theater devices. You can follow Ben on Twitter.