One of the options you have on Android that you don’t have on iOS is the option to switch out the keyboard with one of your own choosing. Sometimes that means changing how the keyboard looks, sometimes it means changing how it works. When Android 4.2 was announced a couple of weeks ago, a new “gesture typing” keyboard was shown off. Despite there being several apps that does this already, people seem to like the idea of there being a stock one, because…heck I don’t know.
I’ve tried these types of keyboards before, and generally not been very impressed. Learning a new way to type takes time, and back then I wasn’t willing to put in that time. Now, however, I feel it’s time to try it for an extended period and see if it’s something that I end up liking in the long run. After all, it does look fast when someone who’s used to it uses one.
Swype comes pre-installed on my phone, which seems to be the only way to get the thing. It’s an older version, and when I tried it out, I wasn’t impressed. I found SlideIT on Google Play, essentially a Swype clone that you can actually go out and buy. After setting it up, configuring, and using it for a few days, I thought it had potential, but also a lot of issues.
The I saw the demonstration video for the new version of Swype, currently in beta. It promises to fix a lot of what I hate about SlideIT, like its complete inability to read words in context. I signed up for the beta program, and after some rather unnecessary steps to actually get it installed, I had that one set up too.
I have to say, Swype 1.3 is a completely different ballgame than the current version of SlideIT. It’s much more intelligent, and understands what I mean much more often. Apparently it uses an algorithm to guess collocations (words that belong together), so that it suggests a different word when you use a certain slide combo after one word than it does after another. This works well in practice, and I’ve even noticed that it guesses the right word even when I swipe the wrong pattern, like if I accidentally swipe a key to to right of the one I want. SlideIT would start suggesting the weirdest of words if that ever happened. It simply seems like Swype 1.3 has a different probability model where it considers the user missing the key needed to make a very common word as more likely than the user trying to spell out a word only ever used in dictionaries – and that’s good.
Swype 1.3 also has both handwriting and voice recognition “typing” as options. I haven’t used the handwriting mode much, since I’m using this on a 4.3-inch phone, but the voice recognition feature has been the source of endless fun. Swype is made by Nuance, which also makes the famous Dragon Dictate dictation software, so the voice recognition is actually pretty decent – and even supports Norwegian! However, even if it works well a surprising percentage of the time, it’s still hilarious like there’s no tomorrow when it does mess up. I recited the Norwegian national anthem to it, and, well…I don’t think you’ll be hearing its version of the lyrics used in the media anytime soon.
So far my swiping experiment is going well, much thanks to this beta of Swype. I feel like I’m typing faster than I did with my old hunt and peck keyboard, and I’m still learning how to swipe around properly. I’m not sure how the official Swype clone for Android will turn out, but if it’s better than the latest beta of Swype, it will really be something. If it isn’t, well, then that’s fairly typical of official Android releases.