Last week, after a fit of frustration with Swype, I decided to download 8pen as the new keyboard for my Android phone. 8pen, much like Swype, relies on you pulling your finger along the screen rather than hitting individual letters. However, it reorganizes the keyboard layout so that, instead of a QWERTY keyboard, your letters are organized in a circle.

You drag your finger from the circle into whichever one of the four quadrants that your letter is in, and then drag your thumb around until you hit the letter you’d like. Commonly-used letters are near the center and so require less movement–an “s” requires only a single quadrant drag, while a “z” requires you to circle fully around the keyboard. It’s hard to explain well, so it’s worth it to watch this video from the makers.

The good: The keyboard layout, though totally freaky at first, is pretty easy to pick up on. I’m not as quick on it as I was on Swype, but–because I’m no longer having to deal with words that have overridden other words–my speed is about the same. If I want to use fake words, obscenities, or unusual names, the keyboard will do whatever I tell it to. Because there is no predictive text element, there are no embarrassing/confusing autocorrects. Though I’m not a drunk texter, the dexterity required to type is probably enough to prevent any intoxicated person from sending a text message that they’ll regret. The keyboard layout is designed to be used with a single thumb, which leaves my other hand free for holding a drink or my keys.

The bad: The keyboard takes up a bunch of screen real estate. Since my phone is small, this can make seeing previous text message conversations difficult, which is a bummer. If I’m not really concentrating on what I’m doing, it’s easy to screw up what letter I’m picking–however, this is most likely a product of my unfamiliarity with the keyboard, rather than an issue with the app itself. There is a steep learning curve, and if you don’t pay close attention to the app’s documentation, some of the non-basic typing features (capital letters not at the beginning of a sentence, emoticons) are hard to find.

Overall, I’m happy with the $.99 I dropped on the keyboard. I’m avoiding the constant frustration that I had with Swype, and I’m able to type what I mean to type. Given a month of getting used to it, I suspect that I’ll be quicker on here than I’ve ever been on a touchscreen keyboard. If you’re frustrated with your Android keyboard, it’s certainly worth a shot.