How to type pinyin tones on Android

How do you type pinyin tones on Android devices? I’m talking about creating pinyin text (with tone marks), not using pinyin to create Chinese characters.

Examples of various pinyin characters with tone marks

Update: 13 November 2014

Google has released their updated keyboard app in preparation for Android Lollipop (5.0). Finally, this keyboard allows us to type pinyin tones! The app is compatible with Android Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0) onwards. You’ll probably want to grab both the updated keyboard app and the updated pinyin input method.
Android Pinyin Tones

Once you have the updated keyboard and input method installed:

  1. Switch to the pinyin input method.
  2. Switch to “English mode” (the “En” button next to the “中”).
  3. Type letters as usual, but for letters that need tones, long-press the letter and you will be presented with tone options.

I’ve heard you can also do this with the updated zhuyin input mode, but I haven’t tried it myself.

Original post: 10 January 2014

As far as I’ve been able to tell from my own research, there’s no way to type pinyin on an Android device (unlike iOS devices). This includes the default input methods provided by Google, up to and including the latest version of Android (4.4 on my Nexus 4), and any third party keyboards (that I’ve been able to find so far).

The only conceivable method I know of is to load up a web site like this Pinyin editor in your Android’s web browser, type the pinyin with numbers (e.g. “ma3” for “mǎ”) and then copy & paste the generated text to where you need it.

This is a rather sorry state of affairs. I’ve done a little bit of Android development and have pondered whether I could make something (either an Android keyboard, or an app similar to Pinyin Typist for iOS). However, I’m not sure how much demand there is out there for it.

If you’re interested in something like this, please leave a comment! Feel free to include what kind of solution you would most prefer (custom keyboard, standalone app, etc.).

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17 thoughts on “How to type pinyin tones on Android

  1. RB says:

    Hello,

    I would realy appreciate such an keyboard. I search by myselfe for allong time to find a keyboard to write PinYin with tone marks at Android. Today I again searched some hours and tested different APP’s but still did not find a working one.

    Would be realy greate to have such an App. I know very much persons and friends, who learn Chinese like me and would be happy to write PinYin in their Androids too. So I think that there are many persons out there who would love it.

  2. RB says:

    Today I found a Keyboard, where it is possible to write PinYin in Android.

    The Name is “Smart Keyboard”. You could test it with the Trial-Version. The Pro-Version costs 2,38 Euro.

    I tested it and it realy works.

    • John says:

      however there appears to be no way to type tone marks with smart Keyboard mentioned in the comments

      • Sorin says:

        I have just tried Smart Keyboard Trial version and it does work!
        You might need to install Chinese dictionary or activate Pinyin input on the keyboard (I’ve done both from the app settings), but it surely works.
        You have the tone marks right above the letters; you tap a letter and then tap the tone you want to apply to it – the keyboard will apply the tone where it can possibly be applied (you can’t put the tone on any letter).

        The version I’ve tried is 4.9.1 on Android 4.4.4.

        I hope this helps!

  3. Audrey says:

    I would love something like this! I think I would prefer custom keyboard to turn on/off when needed 🙂

  4. Tyron says:

    Please make one! For non native speakers, it can help one learn the proper tones with the corresponding sounds as they type. The play store has no other options and one would have to switch to ios.

    • Tyron says:

      A custom keyboard is preferred so that it can be used as the default keyboard in other applications.

  5. Rojo says:

    Yes a Keyboard that you can turn on and off! It took me a few days to get this working on windows xp, now it would be real nice to have the option in my phone!

  6. Sophia says:

    *Please* make such a keyboard. I looked, and even tried out that “smart keyboard” someone else suggested. I found nothing — no keyboard that allowed me to enter PinYin tones — and no clue why anyone thought “Smart Keyboard” can do it – as it must definitely can’t.

    Please create the keyboard. BTW — it needs to be a keyboard, not a separate editor, so that I can use out with my terminal-based flashcard program.

  7. Anthony says:

    I think a lot of people are looking for this kind of input system, but it’s a difficult search. Because “pinyin input” tends to yield IMEs that produce Chinese characters when you type pinyin. Of course, some people want to take notes on the tones! So please go ahead with this project.

  8. Kat says:

    Please create something like this! I am just learning Chinese, so I can type pinyin but do not have the knowledge yet to know which characters to select. It would be very beneficial in communicating with friends to just type the pinyin.

  9. PascalB says:

    I’ve been using MultiLing keyboard (from Honso) for years now. It’s easy to type pinyin tones with it, even if this is not really documented. After having installed MultiLing keyboard, install plugin for Chinese. Then, enable Chinese.Pinyin language. To type pinyin characters with tone marks, simply add a ‘ character at the end of the pinyin syllable. MultiLing will display the five possible accented versions of the syllable. Choose the one you need.

    • FuglytheBear says:

      PascalB, you rock! I have been searching for a way to do this for over a year; this works perfectly. Thanks a million!

  10. Eric says:

    PascalB – thank you so much for that tip. It took me a while to figure out that, for some applications (e.g. iKnow), I have told first hold-press the ‘ button and then after that hold-press the number (1,2,3 or 4) to implement a tone. It’s a two-step process.

    For other applications, it works just as you described.

    Thank you!!!

  11. Ko says:

    Is that right – really no way to type pinyin tone marks on stock android (4.4)? I don’t type in pinyin a whole lot but I’m on travel in Taiwan and need to input Chinese text every so often, and it’s frustrating (slightly better with Apple) – which is why I found your site via google while trying to figure out how to input pinyin. If this is true then I think we need a better keyboard. I’ll also check out MultiLing suggestion above.

  12. Membrillo says:

    Hi all,

    Try the new Google Zhuyin input app (or Pinyin, although the Zhuyin version also has Pinyin) and yōú wǐll fìnd thē sólǔtìon ;). You can use English in those apps to type pinyin with tone marks, but you can not choose a specific tone while writing Chinese using pinyin (or at least I don´t know how to do it).

    PascalB: more than a year ago I also found that Multilingual Keyboard feature and it is cool. But I need to type in three languages and often change between them and I don´t like too much Multilingual K. It seems that this feature does not work well in the more new Multilingual O Keyboard.

    I will give a try to Smart Keyboard.

    By the way, the keyboard I use the most is TouchPal X because it is the faster one changing between languages (Spanish, Chinese [pinyin and zhuyin] and English).

    • Membrillo says:

      I gave a try to Smart Keyboard and it is quite fast to write Pinyin with tone marks. If you have to write A LOT of pinyin tone marks then it is a better choice than Google´s keyboards. Unfotunately Smart Keyboard is an old keyboard so I will keep it (but inactive) just in case one day I need to write a lot of pinyin tone marks.

      Using Multiling O Keyboard and the Chinese plugin you can actually type Chinese characters using pinyin and tones, and it is easier than with Multilingual Keyboard (without “o”). Just write the pinyin letters and the number (1-4) and the character prediction will change according to it. Nice!

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