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Android, Mobile App, Software, Technology

Swype & SwiftKeyX Android Virtual Keyboards Review

Personally I prefer a physical keyboard, as I have big stubby fingers, and virtual keyboards generally require a fairly deft touch even if you have a large screen.  Another big con for me is that virtual keyboards take up a lot of screen space as well, blocking my view of the app I’m trying to use it with.  No, for precision and visibility a physical keyboard can’t be beat – especially if you’re using a terminal emulator app like ConnectBot.

However, for tasks where precision & accuracy are not important like texting and casual email, you can get a real speed boost from predictive typing and a typo or word screwed up here or there doesn’t usually much impact readability.  So to get a speed boost for those sorts of things, I have been trying out both the Swype and SwiftKeyX betas as replacements for the stock Android on-screen keyboard.I’ve been using Swype on my original Droid for almost a year, and love it.  The basic concept is that you just drag your finger over the keyboard to trace a line of all the letters in a word, and it will usually be able to guess the word from that.  Even if you don’t learn any of the shortcuts available in the tutorials (like jumping up over the virtual keyboard to capitalize), it’s still a great time saver.  Not having to lift my finger off the phone to tap a letter requires a lot less accuracy, and saves a lot of time!  And the predictive texting for everyday language is great (not so good for technical terms, though, alas).  While still in beta, it’s a very mature piece of software and I’ve not had any problems with it.  Five big fat yellow stars for Swype!

SwiftKeyX is much more recent, and uses the traditional keyboard tapping approach.  However, it takes a different route to predictive texting.  Instead of just using English language based common word associations, it does a Google-like search of all your text and emails and puts the results at the top of it’s prediction results!  This is great, as it really tailors the predictive texting to your needs and goes a long way towards making it easier to type technical term, personal short hand, and my favourite – addresses!  Usually it guesses an address from the first couple digits I type, which is fantastic.  Unfortunately, it *is* a type rather than swipe interface, which isn’t as fast or as accurate for me.  Also, it’s very definitely in beta and has some teething problems as of this posting.  One of the worst is that for many phone models, it shuts off the a few keys on the physical keyboard, and you have to disable the app to be able to use the physical keyboard or suffer the lack of an S, W and R key.  It also disables auto-complete of phone numbers and names in Google Voice, which is definitely a killer.  However, these are really pretty minor technical glitches that should be resolved in the next patch and were the only real problems I encountered with it.  I absolutely loved the tailored predictive texting otherwise!  So once they get the bugs out, I’m sure it will be a four out of five star app for me (it loses a start for requiring tapping instead of swiping) – the speed boost is tremendous!

To sum up, they are both great replacements for the stock Android virtual on screen keyboard.  However, if you’re like me and have problems with hitting the keys accurately, you’ll probably get the most bang for your buck with Swype.  However, if your fingertips are delicate enough, I’d definitely recommend keeping an eye on SwiftKeyX and scooping it up as soon as the major bugs are worked out – the speed boost from it’s customized predictive texting database is amazing!

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