The keyboard is the most important interaction point of any smartphone. The efficiency of your keyboard defines your productivity. Whether you're replying to emails, or chatting on WhatsApp, having a smart keyboard is critical.
One of the strengths of Android is that the keyboard can be very easily switched and changed for something else, and there's plenty of choice too. Not only can you download keyboards from Google Play, but manufacturers also make changes of their own, all seeking to find the best solution.
Now there's a new player on the block. We say new, but this keyboard has been around for a while. But now it's pulling the full arsenal of Nuance in a bid to be the keyboard that everyone will want. Today we're looking at the rebirth of Swype.
- Google Play
For the past few years, we've been saying that Swiftkey is our go-to keyboard. There have been other offerings, the HTC One's stock keyboard is alright, the native Android keyboard in Android 4.2 is pretty good too, however, we've often reverted to Swiftkey over those keyboards.
Although Swype has been around for several years - it was available on Symbian devices through the Ovi store, as well as being pre-installed on the Samsung Galaxy S II at launch - it has only just arrived as a standalone app for Android.
Swype, however, sees a Google Play launch at a time that’s critical. With Android recently introducing trace entry, and Swiftkey adding the Flow option, both have aligned themselves with what Swype is best known for and potentially see themselves bettered.
But Swype is now owned by Nuance, the company best known for its Dragon dictation software. With that comes a departure from Google's own voice services that you'll find integrated into other keyboards, for its own homegrown solution.
That's the same solution that's been provided as an OEM service to Samsung for S Voice and is finding its way into premium cars, as well as televisions. In short, Dragon is a powerful alternative to Google's offering and in practice it means you can hit the dictate button to speak a reply, rather than having to type.
Trace and dictation are only two pillars of Swype's offering, with conventional tapping and handwriting also an option. Handwriting isn't something that's widely used in the Western world, being better suited to graphical languages, so it's difficult for us to judge how effective it is.
However, the tapping option we can judge. Just like Swiftkey, Swype's tap entry works in tandem with trace and, like Swiftkey, it offers prediction and correction, as well as a clever feature called Smart Editor.
The predictions are contextual and Swype learns the language you use to give it a better chance of knowing what you're about to say. However, if it gets something wrong, contextually, tapping on the word will let you change that word. It's slick and easy.
One of Swiftkey's boasts is that its natural language engine can tap into your social networks and pull out the language you use. Swype also offers a link into Facebook, Twitter and Gmail. One great addition this brings is that it knows people you know. Type the name of a friend and although it will offer a celebrity surname, once it knows you, it will give you your friend's name.
We've been using the Swype beta as well as the final retail version that you can download from Google Play and we're impressed with how quickly this keyboard learns what you're trying to say. It's natural to use, offering a great experience for both trace and tapping, with the corrections and predictions being accurate - meaning it’s nice and fast.
There's also a range of shortcuts that Swype has built into the keyboard. Not only can you switch languages, so you can easily move from English to German, for example, but you can launch Google Maps. Sounds random? We've already used it a lot, because we're often jumping from messaging directions.
There are other gestures too. You can open a phone-style keyboard for number entry, which is much faster than using a linear numeric offering. Of course, there are secondary characters on each of the keys, so if you're only after a single number, or a punctuation mark, then they're easy to get to.
The accurate positioning of caps can be an issue when you’re trying to be technically correct. Of course, when using a name the dictionary will often correct it for you, but there's also the option to swipe up off the top of the keyboard, then trace into the rest of the word if you want it starting with a cap. Again, it's really useful and easy to do. There's also an easy gesture for capping whole words.
The most impressive thing about Swype is that, as Swiftkey users, we’ve found Swype incredibly fast. We normally miss Swiftkey when we're testing another keyboard, but in this case, Swype has performed. We're not feeling a loss of speed or accuracy and it covers all the features you would expect.
In addition, the same app covers both smartphone and tablet, so if you buy one, you have a keyboard for both. On a tablet you get the option to change the keyboard style too, so you have have a split thumb keyboard, or you can opt for a small keyboard you can position where you like. This is so you can trace out text with one thumb in a corner, for example.
The Swype name might be something of a blast from the past, but this is a really powerful and impressive keyboard. At 65p, it's a force to be reckoned with.