This Kenyan Mistari Keyboard tricked me into thinking that it’s the best smartphone Keyboard

There are only three things, maybe four, about smartphone keyboards that make the use of smartphones seamless (that is easy and interesting to use). One thing a keyboard should be able to deliver is the ease with which you access target keys without having to press on undesired keys, ensuring you’re not straining too much to access the target key, and at the same time being able to access commonly used keys (e.g. the question mark key) as quickly as possible. The second characteristic of a good smartphone keyboard is the ability for the keyboard to know the word you intended to type through word suggestions and auto correction features and finally a beautiful smartphone keyboard will be that keyboard that knows what you intend to type based on your individual typing habits. Android Keyboard  (actually Google Keyboard) offers most of those, and I thought Mistari Keyboard, a Kenyan made smartphone keyboard, offers everything a good keyboard is supposed to offer – well, until I started using it.

To understand why I was excited the first time I downloaded the Mistari Keyboard, it is important to narrate what irks me every time I use Google Keyboard (which I prefer over the stock Android Keyboard).

First thing, the Google Keyboard no longer knows what I intend to type based on my typing history. Yes, Google studies my typing habits. Over time it learns the words I used more frequently, but this is not what I am talking about. When I was a Samsung fanatic (which ended with the demise of my Samsung Galaxy S3), I used to rarely type. This is because most times the Samsung Keyboard would know the correct words to suggest based on my immediate past, intermediate past, and past past typing habits.

The second problem I have with Google Keyboard, which Mistari Keyboard attempted to address but missed out big time, is the placement and access of the question mark key. I first explained my problems with the question mark key in the article Handson Review – Safaricom Neon Smart Tab.

Of all the symbols that are frequently used on keyboards, the question mark symbol is the third most frequently used after the period (full stop) and comma symbols. However, in order to access the question mark symbol in the Android and Google Keyboards, you are forced to long press on the period symbol until the shortcut menu for other frequently used symbols appear. Then you’ll be required to slide your finger without lifting it up to reach the question mark symbol. For first timers, this process will always be very frustrating. The alternative is to press on the 123 symbol to activate the symbols view, then slide your finger to the question mark key.

Finally, the problem I have with the Google Keyboard is the absence of the number grid arrangement. Number grid arrangement is the arrangement of the numerical symbols (0 through to 9), in a 3×3 grid similar to what you normally have on the dialpad. What Google Keyboard has is the arrangement of numbers in a straight line under the symbols view, and this normally proves hard to use especially when inputting several numbers in a text or when you have a long numerical based password.

Welcome to the Mistari Keyboard that promises to solve almost all of the above problems, introduce new solutions to problems you never thought you had with smartphone keyboards, and totally re-introduce other problems that make the keyboard extremely hard to use.

Mistari Keyboard is a smartphone keyboard developed by Solami Ltd, Value Addition Service Company in the telecommunication sector that I believe develops Apps and offers other telecommunication services. As a Kenyan product, Mistari Keyboard comes with it two important dictionaries, the Swahili dictionary and the Sheng dictionary, which are exceptionally excellent dictionaries based on my 5 hours of usage.

As a solution to the question mark problems that continue to give me sleepless nights on Google Keyboard, Solami Ltd decided to give the question mark symbol prominence at the default alphabetical view of the Mistari Keyboard. On the Mistari Keyboard, the question mark is the third key from bottom left, where the first key is the emoji key followed by the voice input key (which I think should be removed or hidden – if removed then I’ll be contradicting myself as I am a proponent of voice input – see here).

Mistari Keyboard First View
Mistari Keyboard Default View

Now, giving prominence to the question mark symbol is welcome, but the problem is that the question mark has been misplaced. Right from the Qwerty Keyboards to the almost every other keyboard out there, the question mark symbol is traditionally on the right side of the keyboard. The best place the question mark ought to be placed is where the apostrophe symbol has been placed. I believe that the apostrophe symbol is not as frequently used as the question mark symbol, so there would be no issue removing it from the alphabetical view of the keyboard.

The second important solution that Mistari Keyboard has introduced is the inclusion of the number grid view on the keyboard; excellent – but one issue – arriving at it takes about four steps. From the first view (the image above), you are required to press the key marked 123!#() which is the first top most key from the left on the keyboard. Pressing that key takes you to the symbols view of the keyboard, and from that view the first top most key from the left will change to {} which if pressed takes you to more symbols, from where the same top most key from the left changes to 123 key of which when pressed will now take you to the number grid view as shown below. To go back to the main view, you can always press at the ABC key placed at the top right corner.

Mistari Keyboard Number grid view
Mistari Keyboard Number grid view

With those one can say that the Mistari Keyboard is a miracle sent from heaven, but wait until you start using it. The image below shows what I got when I tried to type, as I would normally do using the Google Keyboard, the words “This is a trial use of the Mistari keyboard for review. So ignore the text”. Notice the jumbled up part – trial.use odbthe.mistari. This part is jumbled up because the keys are closely placed, meaning that when fast typing, you are more likely to press on the wrong key e.g. pressing on the period symbol instead of pressing on the space bar. However, most times your words will come out correcting due to the excellent auto correct feature of the Keyboard.

Mistari Keyboard typing problems
Mistari Keyboard typing problems

Last but not the least, the introduction of the Swahili and Sheng dictionaries makes the Mistari Keyboard a uniquely Kenyan keyboard. I have also noticed that under the symbols view, we also have the symbol for Kenya Shillings KSh well positioned. Although I stopped using the Keyboard after realizing there is no easy way of avoiding frequently pressing on wrong keys, if and when the issues pointed out in this article are resolved through an update, I will make the Mistari Keyboard my default keyboard in all my smart devices. I am also willing to pay for the Keyboard, but only at a one time payment- because the keyboard will be a disaster with ads.

By the time of writing this article, the Mistari Keyboard had received some over 100 downloads on Google Play and a few reviews. Here are some selected reviews from the users of the keyboard.

“The keyboard is light with less than 3mbs and knows kenyan language. Question, how do I remove the Mic Icon from the main keyboard?” ~ Steve N. K.

“Always wanted a keyboard with.sheng suggestions. Thanks solami ltd.” ~ Kenneth Kathurima.

“Hera mar ukweli” ~ Peter Opere.

As at the time of publishing this review, Mistari Keyboard had garnered a 4.6 star rating with 9, 2 and 1 people giving it 5 stars, 4 stars and 2 stars respectively. I would personally give it a 3 star but I am holding my star until I see an update from where I will give it a 5 star but only if my recommendations are implemented.


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