8pen: Android keyboard app tries something new

App offers a great concept that completely misses the mark.

There are apps that I don't want to like, but do. Then there are apps I do want to like, but don't. The 8pen keyboard, unfortunately, belongs in this latter category. I'm a big fan of innovation and out-of-the-box thinking, but the developer needs to go back to the drawing board with this one.

8pen is a replacement keyboard unlike any other. It completely does away with the standard QWERTY keyboard and replaces it with a circle surrounded by four quadrants. Each quadrant has eight letters or symbols, each one selected by starting in the center circle, going in a certain direction, looping your finger either clockwise or counterclockwise for a certain number of degrees, and then returning to the center circle. Sound complicated? It is. In fact, trying to explain how it works exactly would take up the entirety of this review, so I'll just say watch 8pen's promo video, if you're really interested.

In the video a speaker says, "If the keyboard were invented today for mobile devices, would it look the same [as a QWERTY keyboard]? Probably not." I actually think the logic behind that statement is pretty sound. However, 8pen fails to come up with a better alternative. Here are just a few reasons why:

1. The layout of the letters will be completely foreign to you. 8pen says it puts the most commonly used letters closest to the center of the circle to make them easier to access, but that doesn't make it any more intuitive. In addition, during typing your thumb will cover up a good portion of the screen, making it hard to tell what you've selected. The speed of your typing will be crawlingly slow until you memorize exactly where each letter is, and what gesture creates it.

2. It takes a rather long gesture to make most letters. It's hard to argue that this makes any sense when sliding keyboards like Swype and SlideIT allow you to create an entire word with a much shorter, more intuitive gesture.

3. It will take you a really long time to learn how to use it. Days later, after hours of practice, I was still typing at a snail's pace.

The 8pen keyboard does have a few things going for it. You can create a gesture to input oft-used phrases (such as your e-mail address, or "Where should I meet you?"), but you can do that in SlideIT, too. It has a speech input key for Froyo and higher (but so do pretty much all keyboards now). If you really memorized where everything is and how to do it, you could, theoretically, type without looking (if you could always find the home circle), but even then, if you were to tell me that it would be faster, I'd tell you you were dreaming. The predictive text is decent, but certainly not as good as SwiftKey's.

I applaud 8pen for trying something completely different. Unfortunately, this one is a nonstarter in my book. That said, it's free now, so if you're curious, you've got nothing to lose.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags smartphonesAndroidappsmobile phonessoftwarePhonesconsumer electronicskeyboards

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Brent Rose

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?