Unhappy that your iPhone's keyboard is taking up too much screen real estate? The third-party keyboard Minuum thinks it has the answer — smash it flat like an empty soda can. But how useful--and practical--is this condensed $3.99 keyboard in an age of ever-larger iPhones?
After downloading Minuum, add it as one of your available keyboards via Settings (under General > Keyboard > Keyboards > Add Keyboard). When you make Minuum your default keyboard, you'll still have a regular-size set of keys at your disposal.
But swipe downward, and the keyboard will collapse, with the different rows of the QWERTY layout crammed together. But whether you use this shrunken-down version or swipe up to restore the keyboard to its proper size, typing works the same way with Minuum.
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Making a small keyboard even smaller to make it more useful may seem counterintuitive. After all, my biggest complaint with the onscreen keyboard for my iPhone 5c is that my fingers are a little too fat to precisely hit the correct keys. Is shrinking the keyboard even further going to address that problem?
Minuum insists that it will, provided that the scrunched-up keyboard comes with a stellar prediction engine that can correct words as you type them even if you're not hitting the precise key. That way, you've not only got an easier-to-use keyboard, but more screen real estate as well.
As you type, Minuum will offer suggested words in a menu just above the keyboard, again, just like iOS 8's keyboard. However, iOS's regular keyboard suggests just three words; Minuum gives you a multitude to choose from. In fact, as I started to type "multitude," I had no less than six suggested words at my disposal — even more if I used my finger to scroll sideways to see more options.
There's a problem with this approach: Often, the word you want to use doesn't appear as an option until you've pretty much finished typing. ("Multitude," for example, didn't appear as a choice until I had typed "multitud.") That doesn't necessarily save you keystrokes, though it can come in use if you prefer using the shrunken-down version of Minuum's keyboard.
I found another behavior more problematic. As you type, Minuum adjusts the word in the body of your text to reflect what it thinks you're trying to say. Some users might not mind, but to me, it was pretty distracting to start typing the word "forgive" and watch as it mutated from "go" to "fish" to "forget" with each keystroke. It takes a certain amount of discipline to keep typing even though the word on the screen is nothing like the one in your head — more discipline than I'm afraid I could give Minuum.
It's not surprising, then, that Minuum produced the slowest typing speeds when I tried my fingers on iPhone Typing Test. Using Minuum's collapsed keyboard, I averaged a typing speed of 16.6 words per minute, the slowest among third-party keyboards, and well below my overall average of 19.7 wpm.
Plus, it took time to scroll through the word options Minuum offered me — and even more time when the word I wanted wasn't among those options and I had to start over. My time improved slightly when I expanded the keyboard, but not so much that it could compete with the likes of Swype and SwiftKey, where I managed 23.2 and 23.6 wpm, respectively.
If you're looking for something that helps you dash out quick messages, this is not the keyboard for you — at least, not without a lot of practice.
Some gesture-based controls improve Minuum's ease of use somewhat: You can swipe left to delete and right to add a space or punctuation. There are no themes or dictionaries just yet — those are coming in future versions, the app promises. What you have right now is a keyboard app that's as minimal as its name suggests.
Minuum may offer some relief to people who find the current iOS keyboard takes up too much screen space. But $3.99 is a lot to pay if you wind up finding the dynamic correction feature as distracting as I did. Fleksy, another third-party keyboard, lets you opt for a smaller-but-still-usable keyboard, and its predictive engine is a little bit more finely tuned.
For those with the larger iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, with whom a smaller keyboard is less a concern, both Swype and SwiftKey offer faster typing and less obtrusive word prediction. While I appreciate Minuum's flexible keyboard, its correct-as-you-go approach to typing is more of a distraction than a help.