One odd thing I find myself excited about each new generation is the myriad ways game consoles let us communicate with each other. While there’s a number of voice-driven options — including headsets, built-in microphones, and inexplicable mobile apps — I’ve always kind of preferred a good old keyboard with little letters on it to get out my tweets and messages. Here’s the thing, though: Even when a virtual keyboard is good, it kind of sucks. At the end of the day, I’m ultimately manipulating a keyboard with a controller, and it’s extremely difficult to get anything particularly speedy out of that exercise. So I’ve been looking forward to how the new consoles will let me unleash my inner-(and I guess also outer-)wordsmith with their capabilities.
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The PS5 keyboard has a lot to live up to, as many would describe its predecessor (with its motion-optional controls) to be the cream of the previous generation’s crop. The PS5 follows in its PS4’s footsteps by almost wholesale copying it… Though it does add on a few things. The theme of this generation’s keyboards is basically: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The PlayStation 5 virtual keyboard, much like the PS4 one, has an optional floating cursor using the gyrometer built into the controller. Unlike the PS4, which could be a little swimmy and hard to control, the PS5 is a lot smoother and more accurate.
In terms of new additions, the PS5 keyboard also adds voice speech-to-text options this time around. This is a surprisingly useful addition, as it makes the arduous process of typing up a funny joke that might rely on comedic timing much easier. It’s also a lot easier to get to now that there’s just a built-in microphone with every DualSense controller. The problem is that the speech recognition doesn’t always pick me up every well. And when it doesn’t, it just sort of gives up on trying to transcribe the entirety of what I said.
Other than those features, the PS5 keyboard is fairly bog-standard. You can now choose to complete a word from a suggested list with just a button press, which was slightly more annoying on the PS4. The layout is a little bit confusing at a glance when you’re looking for anything more exotic than standard punctuation, though it gets bonus points for having an @ symbol on the main keyboard.
Pros: Motion-typing, voice typing, uses the DualSense vibration for keyclicks which feels nice.
Cons: A little small, not used in media apps like Netflix which can be annoying, looking for the dash took longer than you might think.
Xbox Series X & Xbox Series S
I mentioned above that the PlayStation 4 was considered by many to have the best virtual keyboard of last generation. Personally, I preferred the Xbox One keyboard. It just felt more clicky and less claustrophobic. It seemed like it came from a company that has spent a lot of time making such virtual features. More importantly, it let you use the right stick to select from suggested words, which was such a time saver.
This one… is still exactly all those things. Nothing’s changed! When I pitched this article, I assumed something would be different to review, but I could post images from the Xbox One X and it would be stunningly difficult to tell the difference. This is not a bad thing, really, it’s just what it is. If you liked the keyboard before, it is exactly the same now.
I will say that the default Xbox Series X | S controller has an improved D-Pad that is now much better suited for using the virtual keyboard. It makes extremely satisfying click sounds.
Pros: It’s exactly the same!
Cons: It’s exactly the same!
It’s not entirely new in 2020, but we might as well talk about the Switch virtual keyboard here. Of the three, and even including last gen consoles, I find it to be the worst of the bunch. While the right analog stick has different functions on PlayStation and Xbox keyboards, on the Switch it simply functions as a second left analog stick. This is inexplicable. Maybe it is an accessibility feature, but you can’t confirm text with anything but the face buttons, which kind of throws that out the window.
The Switch keyboard also has suggested words based on what you’re typing. This implementation, however, was never tried by humans. If you select a suggested word, you stay highlighted on the suggestion bar with the text cursor at the end of the word. Pressing Y, the space key equivalent on a Switch controller, confirms the next suggested word. So if you got the word you wanted and hit Y, for some reason it appends the next word onto the one you just added, making a nonsensical soup of cramped letters. I do not understand why this is.
The suggested words are also not a feature in games that use the keyboard. In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, all that’s available is the raw keyboard. That makes typing letters to friends or writing on town boards even slower than it needs to be.
On the other hand, one great thing about the Switch is that you can quickly plug in a USB keyboard and type away on that. This is absolutely cheating for the purposes of this review, but god it feels good to rub fast typing in Animal Crossing’s smug face.
Pros: Probably better than it could have been, given Nintendo’s track record.
Cons: I really do not understand some of the decisions made with it.