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My year with Android keyboards

I was looking through Android and Me’s Top 10 app downloads of the week [a great weekly perusal], and came across SwiftKey, touted for its word prediction capabilities, and thought I might as well try it out. Several hours later and I can’t contain my love for it, but I was feeling nostalgic, and felt compelled to chronicle my year in Android keyboards.

I think it’s actually a bit past my one year Android anniversary, and no doubt the marriage will only continue to blossom, although I might have to cheat on Mrs. HTC Magic soon. There were also no problems with the ceremony and venue, like others have sadly experienced recently.

Thanks to Android Central for the majority of the keyboard screenshots; I honestly couldn’t be bothered.

The stock Android keyboard

Media_httpwwwandroidc_mbbjy

There’s nothing really wrong with it, per se. I know some iPhone converts whinge about it, but I was quite content with it as my first QWERTY phone keyboard; the prediction seemed decent, it was easy enough to switch to numbers and special characters, and save the typos when first getting the hang of it, I didn’t mind it.

Where to get it: Googling “Android keyboard apk” should do the trick [if you don’t have a vanilla Android version, that is]

Verdict: 2.5/5

The stock Sense UI keyboard

Media_httpwwwandroidc_xadua

In hindsight, this thing doesn’t seem that different to the stock Android keyboard, but I think I was more in awe of the fact that you could simply d/l a .apk, switch inputs, and voila, a new keyboard! No iTunes rubbish to deal with, and not even the Android Marketplace to go through. 

The stock Sense UI keyboard does look nicer, and the spacing between keys made it felt like there were less typos being made.

Where to get it: Googling “HTC IME keyboard” should do the trick [if you don’t have a Sense enabled phone, that is]

Verdict: 3/5

Swype

Media_httpwwwandroidc_akfeu

Swype had me smiling from ear to ear the moment I installed the .apk. After resigning to the fact that I’ll be tapping away on virtual keyboards for the immediate future, this thing comes along and tells me I can just drag my thumb across a series of letters to create the words I want. Not only does it tell me this, it works amazingly well too!

Once you go through the tutorial that comes with the app, and learn the tips and tricks like the double loop, how to capitalise letters and words, and most of all, swyping over the apostrophe in the middle of a word [t – h – e – y – ‘ – r – e], which saves SO much time, and adds a whole new level of convenience.

The one thing that slightly irks me about Swype, and is demonstrated in the screenshot above, is the positioning of the word prediction options. Why they couldn’t have it horizontally, in between the message window and the “keyboard” itself is a mystery to me, and especially swyping one handed, I’d select the wrong word every now and then.

No, scratch that, one other annoyance is the effort required to add / remove words from the dictionary. Where with other keyboards, the new word simply requires a touch to be added, here, the word has to be highlighted, and then added to the user dictionary. Either I’ve completely missed a trick, or this is as relatively cumbersome as I described. Removing a word from the user dictionary is similarly cumbersome, with the not-so-helpful Swype overlay appearing every now and then when a word is typed, notifying you of a hidden word, and asking you to highlight said word and press the Swype key to remove it from the dictionary.

The annoyances in the last paragraph are really quite minor though, and in the overall scheme of things, Swype rocks. The demo below is from an early beta, but you’ll get the picture.

Where to get it: Swype did open up the beta to everyone temporarily, but now, googling “Swype apk” should do the trick. I believe you’ll have to choose between the HVGA and SVGA versions depending on the resolution of your phone.

Verdict: 4/5

Shapewriter

Media_httpwwwandroidt_okffi

First impressions. Fugly. The only reason I even tried Shapewriter was because the cracked Swype .apk stopped working once I upgraded my rom, and while waiting for the official Swype beta to come out, I realised I couldn’t go back to the previous two keyboards, and of course, Gina Trapani’s recommendation on #TWiG swayed me a little too.

Anyway. Yes, it’s fugly, but it’s fast, the word prediction, and the display of word options is much better than Swype, but there’s no comma in the main keyboard layout [in the version I was using, anyway]. Having to switch to the “shift” / secondary layout to get the comma was an absolute deal breaker for me.

This coupled with the ridiculous way in which words have to be capitalised, AFTER entering the word [I would really like to understand the logic behind this], made it pretty easy to ditch Shapewriter.

Where to get it: Omg, one that’s actually available on the Android Marketplace

Verdict: 3/5

SwiftKey

Media_httpwwwandroidc_jodsu

As stated earlier, and on the Twitterverse, I’m in love with this thing. Yes, it’s only been a few hours, but Swype has been ditched while I marvel at the way SwiftKey manages to predict entire sentences!

The prediction is amazing, I’m really liking the haptic feedback [not sure why I hadn’t enabled it on other keyboards that had it], and I’m still in the stage where I WANT to use my phone as much as possible to send texts, tweets and emails, just so I can type using the keyboard!

Only annoyance as of now, as again stated on Twitter, no Hat [^] character >.< I spent a good two minutes looking for it, completely not willing to accept the fact that they could just exclude that character, but I can’t seem to find it… No happy faces via my phone anytime soon I guess.

I must admit, coming from Swype, where the combination of very rarely hitting Spacebar between words and hardly having to select a word from the options presented, I sat there puzzled momentarily, initially.

Where to get it: Yep, this one’s in the market too [in beta]

Verdict: 4.5/5

One thing I’ve overlooked with all these keyboards is voice input, as it’s something that to me, still doesn’t seem in a mature enough state to warrant use.

And of course this took way longer than I thought it would. I blame @snarkle, for his question on what I thought of Swype.

UPDATE:

SwiftKey replied to me, saying that they’re adding in the Hat as a * longpress; god bless Twitter as a communication platform ^_^

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