It takes all types


  • Technology
  • Monday, 13 May 2013

Everyone has their own preference when it comes to typing but a good keyboard can make that much of a difference to the overall user experience.

Those who know me will know that I’ve always been a heavy user of text messaging. I don’t really like conversing on the phone much, but I’m a big fan of texting.

Back in the days, I mastered using the old alphanumeric keypad layout, both before and after T9 predictive text was available.

I then switched to a Sony Ericsson P1i, which had a physical QWERTY keypad. While other people always remarked about how tiny the keys were for my big hands, I didn’t face any problems typing with it. The learning curve was not that steep and before long, I was able to type even faster than with the alphanumeric keypad.

In 2010, I decided to get myself a BlackBerry Bold 9700, due to the growing amount of my peers switching to BlackBerry smartphones. One of the strong points of BlackBerry smartphones is that they have extremely nice keypads and I have to attest that they’re really good.

Then came my purchase of my first Android, a Samsung Galaxy S, and I had to get used to typing without a physical keypad. It was a completely unfamiliar experience for me at that time, and my typing efficiency took a great hit!

Swiping through

My first few weeks with the touchscreen were full of frustration as I struggled to type without being able to feel any buttons.

It was then that I discovered the wonders of Swype, a unique method for typing, which came bundled with the smartphone. You just have to slide your finger to the letters of the word you are typing, instead of tapping on each letter one by one.

I had my doubts about this at first, thinking that it was just a novelty that probably wouldn’t increase my typing speed by much. However, the more I got used to it, the more indispensable swiping became for me.

I’ve since changed gadgets and the newer Androids that I purchased no longer come shipped with Swype. There are other alternatives though, such as the ‘continuous input’ option that came with my Galaxy Note II. It works pretty much the same way as Swype did for me, though it doesn’t feel the same as that revolutionary keyboard I stumbled upon in my maiden Android smartphone.

Which is why, I was delighted when I found that Swype, created by Nuance Communications Inc, was available in the Play Store (bit.ly/ZGyCZU).

With a launching promotional price of US$0.99 (RM3), I didn’t have to think twice before making my purchase. The app that started it all was indeed refreshing to use. In addition to its established swiping features, it now comes with Dragon voice recognition, which is by far more accurate than what comes with the default Android keyboard.

Aside from English, the long list of languages that Swype offers for download include Bahasa Malaysia and Chinese.

An article about Android keyboards that doesn’t mention SwiftKey Keyboard is akin to a discussion about basketball legends without the mention of Michael Jordan.

Available for download from the Play Store (bit.ly/KrNSD6) at US$3.99 (RM11.95), SwiftKey is arguably one of the most popular keyboards for Android devices.

Touch sensitive

One thing that I’ve always disliked about touchscreen keyboards is that I tend to tap on the wrong letters when I’m typing too fast.

I also missed the tactile feedback that I would get from a physical keypad. With SwiftKey’s rapid typing mode, this didn’t bother me as much anymore as it accurately fixed all my typing errors that came with typing recklessly.

Haptic feedback is also quite good here, with the little vibrations making it feel as if I was actually typing on physical letters.

I was particularly impressed at how accurately the app was able to understand my text messaging habits, especially after allowing it to retrieve information from my Facebook, Gmail and SMSes.

With this, I didn’t have to painstakingly add in my vocabulary of jargons and Manglish words as they were already pulled in from my social network accounts.

Aside from English and the many other international languages, SwiftKey supports also supports our national language.

SwiftKey has also introduced the SwitfKey Flow feature, which works similarly to Swype and applies the same sliding technique to spell out a word.

Coupled with SwiftKey’s understanding of my text messaging style, I find this to be a very effective method of typing.

Another feature of SwiftKey that I like is the statistics that it compiles from my usage. I’m able to see my level of typing accuracy and typing habits, hence it allows me to identify areas of improvement for my touchscreen typing. It also saves and displays other fun facts such as amount of typos corrected and keystrokes saved.

For Android tablet users, there is SwiftKey Tablet Keyboard at US$4.99 (RM14.97) (bit.ly/Usfzeb). I personally have no experience with this app, but based on reviews, it is just as good as it’s more popular younger brother.

Not surprisingly, both SwiftKey and Swype are currently the top two paid apps in the Play Store. This goes to show that users value a good typing experience on their Android devices and are not willing to spend a little in order to attain that.

Note: This week’s D on Droid was typed entirely with the various Android keyboards mentioned in this article.

(Donovan is a full-time auditor and big-time gadget lover who discovered the wonders of the Android world back in October 2010)

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Donovan Quek , keyboard

   

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