To Swype or Not to Swype ? Is That The question ?
Product Category: Keyboard app (for Android and Windows Mobile touchscreen devices)
Where to Buy: Pre-installed or Beta release from www.swypein.com
System Requirements: Android, Windows Mobile platforms and certain new Nokia smart phones, but not on iOS devices as at time of review. It requires 500k to 900k depending on options.
- The original slide/trace touchscreen keyboard for Windows Mobile and Android platforms;
- Can enable faster and more flexible input, especially on phones in portrait screen orientation;
- Good interactive tutorial and support on website (which is professional and on-going).
- Still only available as a beta release for many phones and not at all for iOS devices;
- Rival slide/trace keypads available;
- Many people do not see any reason to change from tapping.
Summary: Swype is a slide-to-type touchscreen keyboard, installed on devices such as Galaxy Tab and My Touch 4G and available again (as of December 2010) in beta version for many others. First released a year ago, it is designed to work on a wide variety of devices. It was hailed (or was it hyped?) as the input software that would revolutionize the way we use touchscreens and the first beta release was over-subscribed and closed until recently. World record texting speeds were set using Swype, yet, many have still not heard of it and it is only in beta version for most of us. So, the question is to Swype or not to Swype ? I hope that this review will help you to answer it.
What's All the Swype About a keyboard
The Swype keypad software caught my attention last August because, as a “silver” Android phone user, I hoped it might help me text and email on my HTC Desire with more ease than I was doing. At that point Swype Inc. had closed the invitation to try the beta and I sought alternatives and found it in SlideIt. Then, when I had almost forgot about it an invitation email appeared. I had used the SlideIt keyboard but had given up tracing and gone back to tapping and I had tried a wide variety of keyboards. So, I had already used trace input before but was not overly impressed. Well, now I can say that after a month or more of using Swype I have a good insight into this software; enough to say that it is more than a keyboard.
Figure 1: Main AZ keyboard in portrait orientation on a phone screen.
Essentially you slide your finger from key to key without lifting, which results in a blue path as shown above, which looks like scribble. So, I tried it on my six-year old godson who was away in minutes but I am told that some long-service keyboard users in IBM boast that they can now text faster than their teenage off-spring. Personally, I find using the Swype keypad means I now use my HTC Desire to word-process effectively and can text and email etc. much more quickly than I could using the installed keypad.
It is true of any onscreen keypad that the larger the screen you are using, the less of a factor becomes the size of your fingers so you would expect Swype to be easy to use on a tablet. Friends and I, with a Galaxy Tab and an iPad on hand, were still impressed with Swype. Using it on the smaller screens is the real testing ground and where one problem with sliding quickly manifests itself: basically, you cannot see where some of the lower line letters are because they are covered by your wrist. This is less of a factor if you use landscape orientation but it could put you off using Swype. The software is not even available for the smaller phones, such as HTC Wildfire.
My review is based on using Swype on my old Desire, not a huge beast and I prefer portrait orientation. I now use it to email and edit documents etc. everyday and sometimes I can write more effectively than on a larger device, but it was not an instant fix.
Firstly, I am obviously also going to suggest you read the remainder of my review because it may tempt you try the beta or it may reassure you about persevering with Swype, if it's on your brand new Windows or Android baby. Secondly, I recommend you look at the tutorial before starting and to use the help menus on the software and the tips on the website. It is something that you can't just jump straight into (well you can, and you can just swipe but I want you to get more out of this software because if I can, you can too.)
I was willing to spend a bit of time learning how to use some of the more advanced features, and it is these that make me a fan and inspired me to write a full review rather than a short Quick Look article. The Swype tutorial is well presented and explains quite complicated stuff quickly. Swype comes with a lot of extra features which really can enable editing and note-taking on a small screen, so it does make sense to learn how to use it. However, this does not mean I would recommend it to everyone because it does depend on what you want to do on your phone or tablet.
I will remind you that this review is largely based on my phone experience, although I have compared using the Galaxy Tab with the iPad and taken opinions from loyal fans of both (and my six year old godson). Keyboard software is more than an app but with Swype you really can start and stay simple or delve deeper if and when you want to and I think that lifts it above a lot of its competitiors.
In More Detail
Before I discuss the need for such a tool, for that is what a keyboard must be, I do want to cover how to use it. This review is of the keypad I have installed on my HTC Desire but the operation on any device will be similar. I should point out that I prefer to use portrait orientation, as shown below, but the keypad works in landscape too and this view shows the features more clearly.
Figure 2: Main keypad in landscape, showing the sub-level symbols, trace pattern and Swype key.
As you trace you form the blue path shown but this view enables you to see what I think are the real winning features of Swype and what set it above many of its rivals, including the iPhone keyboard. My first big love is for those sub-symbols on the keys. There are more on the SYM or the number/symbol pad accessed from that key on the bottom row, indeed there are four keypads or layers on my version. This may just make it all seem very complicated but read on.
For the first three weeks I did not explore much beyond this ABC level but I am showing the others later, including the numeric layer which has even more sub-symbols and extras (some of which may well be alien speak, especially those shown when you hit the shift key!). Don't panic, reassuringly, you can see the QWERTY layout (OK there may be better ones, but for some people it would be like changing the side of the road we drive on to alter that). You could just use Swype from just the ABC pad because if you tap and hold the key, the other, smaller number or symbol will appear as a blue square or on a choice box. So you can enter mixed letters and numbers easily, which is great for the long passwords we all need to be using.
Another firm yes from me goes to how the keypad changes to show the case (capitals or small letters) that you will get if you use the shift arrow key, unlike on the iPhone. You really need to look at the tutorial or tips on how to do capitals etc. but one way is to use the shift key. Another is to slide above the keypad after your first letter.
So, at first glance it is a recognizable keyboard which can be used to tap type and sometimes this is quicker but it would be a shame not to show you what else you can do with this software.
More Options Than You Can Throw a Hat At...
Figure 3: Numeric keypad in portrait orientation, shift key reveals further symbols.
Now you can see the SYM level, clever isn't it and there is even a phone keypad orientation, (hold that SYM key longer, whoops, it has now got ABC and the smaller 123 on it as a clue). It really is worth finding out about the user tips, most of which are done as videos, because there are almost always to ways of doing something. Choose which suits you. Just tap out you numbers on this pad. OPT or the blue S key takes you to a very useful menu which will link you to options to tweak the software and to help etc.
Even More Layers?
Figure 4: Editing layer, entered by sliding from blue S to next key, exit by ABC key
Now, this is where Swype really shows its strength. You reach this layer by sliding from bottom left "S" to its neighbour key. I would have loved Swype if I hadn't found this layer but if you are taking the time to read this review then I want to extol the virtues of this facility. Some of these keys are self evident or just easy to try. The advice from the Swype guys is to put in a body of text without stopping at every error and then edit it. You can navigate around the body of your text with the arrows and there are three delete buttons: backward by word, by letter or forward delete. Copy, cut and paste and Select Text speak for themselves and I have found that most applications will accept Swype input. By the way, if you double tap a word in your text you will get a correction choice box without using the above pad.
Finally the Recognition I have been waiting for...
For me the wow thing about this software is the accuracy of the word recognition. When you pause at the end of a slide, the word suggestions appear in a mid-keyboard box in two batches of about three choices. If you have not hit the first letter right, however, they may not be of much use but starting accurately does come with practise. It will not be a problem if you have used a touchscreen keypad before.
Figure 5: Swype recognises many common letter-strings as words
I am impressed with Swype software's uncanny ability to recognise what I am trying to say (unlike the keyboard on this laptop I am using to write this review) including www. and other useful stuff as shown above. I still do not rate voice input, it will be nice when it arrives or will it ? English is a complicated language with words that sound the same but are spelt differently, not to mention throwing in the many versions spoken across the planet and each person's ability to spell. So, I guess this is really what is driving the guys at Swype Inc. mad and why they are still wading through beta versions. All I can do is to repeat that I am amazed when blue scribble comes out as intelligible words. At least it does for me, how good a speller you have to be for it to work is a question which I guess the designers are also working on.
To improve accuracy or speed, tap the blue S key and you can adjust settings to put your keypad into what I would term "Sports" mode and this will appeal to all you executives in your convertible cars. You can balance speed against accuracy to suit you. If I wave my "it's a tool" stick and say, I just want to be able to enter text accurately and easily, I am being unfair; this is where you may be able to compensate for spelling or just increase your input speed for a simple task. I did actually say "Wow!" when my crazy, scribble path came out as the word "simaltaneously". Now we all know that if you cannot spell a word you may just use one that you can (that's from me as a primary teacher).
It has to be said that many people who text do not use conventional English but you can teach Swype your own words and pick up the SMS SWYPE app from the android market. This app will allow you to import "words" from your text message dictionary. However, I would take care over teaching Swype letter strings etc. which might be part of a password. Using the space can be preset but I prefer to toggle this on or off depending on the nature of what I am doing and you can do this and access other option from that blue S key.
Prediction: I have seen the future...
As an "oldie" who, more often than not had turned off predictive text on my phones, I am now a convert with Swype. My prejudice came from texting that I was going to "phone my mum" which came out as phoning my "nun"! Now I know that Swype Inc. boast of the size of their "word bank" (neatly avoided some body-part humour there by not saying Dictionary) but I doubt whether most of us know how many words we can use or want to use, so I am not quoting statistics here, sorry again lads. Suffice to say that with an English degree and thirty years classroom teaching experience I am impressed with the suggestions I get. Awesome would not be too strong, to use "cool speak"!
In my opinion, part of the reason for these Beta releases is Swype Inc. attempting to overcome the restrictions of writing and even word-processing on something the size of a cigarette packet (I remember the long Russian Sobranie Imperial cigarettes, so I am sticking with that analogy). To do so, you need good word recognition, prediction and editing features and I think Swype Inc. has got it.
It may be something to do with the scribble patterns, but whatever the science is, it works. That is it in a nutshell; not whether it is quicker to slide or to tap because if you go for Swype you can do either and can change screen orientation, but I very rarely do.
Finally, I would say Swype is not just a keyboard but a way of...(whoops, better not or there may be copyright problems). After all, continuing to use a system devised to operate metal levers - i.e. typing in the face of today's technology - is silly. Swype retains the QWERTY layout and that is regarded as outdated for the same reason but for me Swype takes on touchscreen input without making me feel it is all too new to bother with.
Chris Hordley lives in Cornwall, UK, with her husband, three dogs and four donkeys. She is a semi-retired teacher but like many baby-boomers she does not read The Lady magazine or get her grand-children to surf the net for her. She earned a qualification in computer maintenance at college last year and is really hooked on her android phone.
Do you enjoy using new hardware, software and accessories, then sharing your experience with others? Then join us on the Thoughts Media Review Team! We're looking for individuals who find it fun to test new gear and give their honest opinions about the experience. It's a volunteer role with some great perks. Interested? Then click here for more information.