By Dan Gookin

No one touch-types on an Android cell phone. No one. Not even those preteens who seem to write text messages at the speed of light. So don’t feel bad if you can’t type on your Android phone as fast as you can on a computer. On the phone, everything is hunt-and-peck.

Typing one character at a time

The onscreen keyboard is pretty easy to figure out: Tap a letter to produce the character. As you type, the key you touch is highlighted. The phone may give a wee bit of feedback in the form a faint click or vibration.

  • To type in all caps, press the Shift key twice. The Shift key may appear highlighted, the shift symbol may change color, or a colored dot may appear on the key, all of which indicate that Shift Lock is on. Tap the Shift key again to turn off Shift Lock.

  • Above all, it helps to type slowly until you get used to the onscreen keyboard.

  • When you make a mistake, tap the Delete key to back up and erase.

  • A blinking cursor on the touchscreen shows where new text appears, which is similar to how typing text works on your computer.

  • When you type a password, the character you type appears briefly, but for security reasons it’s then replaced by a black dot.

  • People generally accept the concept that composing text on a phone isn’t perfect. Don’t sweat it if you make a few mistakes as you type text messages or email, though you should expect some curious replies about unintended typos.

Accessing special characters

You’re not limited to typing only the symbols you see on the alphabetic keyboard. Tap the ?123 key to gain access to additional keyboard layouts. On some onscreen keyboards, the ?123 key is labeled SYM.

Number and symbol keyboards.

Number and symbol keyboards.

The symbol keys are accessed by tapping the key labeled =<, although some phones label that key with different characters. You might also see page numbers, such as 1/2 or 2/2, to page through multiple pages of characters.

To return to the standard alphabetic keyboard, tap the ABC key.

You can access special character keys from the main alphabetic keyboard, providing you know a secret: Long-press a key. When you do, you see a pop-up palette of additional characters, similar to the ones shown for the A key.

Special symbol pop-up palette thing.

Special symbol pop-up palette thing.

Choose a character from the pop-up palette. If you choose the wrong character, tap the Delete key on the onscreen keyboard to erase the mistyped symbol.

You can use this long-press technique also to access the gray or tiny characters on some variations of the alphanumeric keyboard. Not every phone features those tiny characters.

Typing quickly by using predictive text

As you type, you may see a selection of word suggestions just above the onscreen keyboard. That’s the predictive-text feature in action. You can use this feature to greatly accelerate your typing.

Here, the word I was typed. The keyboard suggests the words hope, have, and will. Each of those is a logical choice for the next word after I. Long-press the center word to view additional choices. Tap a word to insert it into your text.

Predictive text in action.

Predictive text in action.

When the desired word doesn’t appear, continue typing: The predictive text feature makes suggestions based on what you’ve typed so far. Tap the desired word when it appears.

Predictive text should be active for the Google Keyboard.

Typing without lifting a finger

If you’re really after typing speed, consider using gesture typing. It allows you to type words by swiping your finger over the onscreen keyboard, like mad scribbling but with a positive result.

To use gesture typing, drag a finger over letters on the onscreen keyboard. This image illustrates how the word hello would be typed in this manner.

Using gesture typing to type “hello.”

Using gesture typing to type “hello.”

Gesture typing isn’t used to type a password or email address or for other specific activities. When it doesn’t work, type one letter at a time.