Google Adds Handwriting Recognition to Android

Can you write faster than you can type? If so, you'll probably dig Google's latest addition to the Android keyboard settings. In addition to typing with your thumbs or relying on the operating system's pretty-good voice recognition, you can let your device parse your handwriting.

Google outlined the new feature on its Research Blog. The downloadable app, known as Google Handwriting, is exactly what it sounds like. Grab it on the Play Store, follow the on-screen instructions, and a handwriting input box will replace your traditional keyboard. From there, you can write out words in one of 82 languages.

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I played with the app for a few minutes and tried writing out words in both English and French. The app plugin did an admirable job parsing my chicken scratch in English, but I found that when I had both languages activated, it had much more trouble determining which language I was trying to write in. Otherwise, the process was fast and simple, although not as quick as typing with my thumbs.

As it turns out, though, Western languages aren't really the focus of the update. Handwriting recognition is much more useful in languages like Mandarin and Hindi, which have many more ornate symbols than the Latin alphabet. While I didn't get a chance to try these out firsthand, Google foresees that the handwriting tool could offer a lot to those who write in South and East Asian languages.

Regardless of language, the program also recognizes emojis, which is probably a lot simpler than hunting through a few hundred images to find your favorite.

Google is hardly the first company to offer handwriting recognition keyboards for Android. Samsung's Galaxy phones have had a handwriting option for years and there are some third-party handwriting apps such as MyScript Stylus, available in the Play store.

The company has provided an FAQ page if you hit any stumbling blocks. Otherwise, download it and give it a try, but don't be surprised if you find it faster to type out words the (technologically) old-fashioned way.

Marshall Honorof is a senior writer for Tom's Guide. Contact him at Follow him @marshallhonorof. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.