[Mar-2013] Swiftkey Flow
[Jan-2013] Updated to include Touchpal and Swype’s Skins
[Dec-2011] Updated to include SwiftKey
Swiftkey Flow has recently come out officially, and it’s pretty much a game-changer. I’ll try to keep the layout of my original post but will update where appropriate for references to Flow.
There’s a lot of keyboard apps now for Android, and it’s getting more difficult for users to decide which one to pick. Now that I have given the top 4 a thorough test, I decided to share my findings.
To start I’ll talk about what they all can do:
- tap-prediction – Just as with the stock android keyboard, tap letters and it will predict the word you are trying to type.
- swiping – sliding text input, simply drag your finger across the letters of each word, and the app will output the one it thinks you meant, and offer suggestions for other words if it got it wrong.
Swype is famous for having great swipe input predictions. It’s also the only keyboard to allow circling letters for double-lettered words such as ‘too’. Apparently SlideIT has this functionality, but to me it’s implemented quite poorly, and would rarely correctly output words that end with double letters such as too, boo, woo, moo, etc…
In Swype when you want to erase text, you hold the backspace for a couple of seconds and it removes text word-by-word. TouchPal and SlideIT removes character-by-character which is very frustrating. TouchPal and SlideIT will remove the last word that was input, but if you want to remove words before that you will have to use their delete-swipe functionality, by holding delete then swiping to the left per word.
TouchPal has the most functionality out of the three. It has hardware keyboard prediction support as well as swiping, and tap predictions. Like SwiftKey, it has language prediction, meaning it predicts the next word you are likely to type in a sentence.
The text correction is not very good. I tried to type (not swipe) ‘disappointed’ about 4 times in portrait layout before it was correct.
Update: TouchPal is no longer the ugliest keyboard.
TouchPal’s vibration feedback is very low by default, I found this hard to use, particularly when swiping as feedback is barely noticeable, and it’s hard to know if the word was even recognised just by feel alone. I found a setting to adjust vibration, and after amped up, swiping was much more noticeable.
As with all keyboards, TouchPal offers long pressing keys to get the alternate characters [such as 'v' to get question mark]. However it’s the only keyboard to have drag-down to get the alt-characters. While this is a minor feature, it’s faster and I miss it using other keyboards.
SlideIT, like all the keyboard now, has some gorgeous skins, though strangely not by default. Initially it uses a plastic ‘Third Dimension skin’ which is quite ugly.
SlideIT’s default ‘Third Dimension skin’ centre, surrounded by holo and others
SlideIT is the only app to have tap-to-slide transition support, meaning you can tap the beginning of a word, then transition into swiping the rest. I don’t find a lot of use for this, but it’s worth noting.
SwitKey is better than anything at tapping prediction. It has hardware keyboard prediction support and virtual tap predictions. It has very impressive language prediction, meaning it predicts the next word you are likely to type in a sentence with pretty decent accuracy.
The tapping text correction is better than any other app I’ve tested. I tried to type as sloppily and as fast as I could and it pretty much got every word right except for times where I clumsily typed keys nowhere near the correct areas of the keyboard. I kind of wish this software was available for PC, as it almost makes typing on the phone faster and easier than a laptop.
I found SwiftKey works best when I ensured ‘precise’ was selected over ‘rapid’ as accuracy is important to me, and with haptic feedback at 30ms.
The biggest and most obvious flaw with SwiftKey was it’s complete lacking of any swiping functionality, however the new Swiftkey Flow feature corrects this. I have been using Swiftkey Flow since beta, and I am very impressed. It works shockingly well. Initially it didn’t seem quite as accurate as Swype but since stable release I’m finding it pretty much perfect.
Swype has incredibly accurate swipe input, before Swiftkey Flow this made Swype my clear winner and guaranteed recommendation. Now things are a little more competitive.
TouchPal has up to now beat SwiftKey in functionality as it offered everything, from hardware keyboard support, to virtual tapping and swiping. However with Swiftkey Flow, Swiftkey might be out on top with it’s amazing tapping and language prediction. It does almost everything TouchPal does, but better.
I still love Swype, it has great swiping predictability, and the ability to circle double letters makes accuracy extremely high. It’s tap predictions are just about as good as TouchPal and SlideIT, but not quite as refined.
Now all the keyboards are finally all beautiful with skin support (no idea why SlideIT insists on keeping the 3D skin as default though, it’s hideous), it’s all down to functionality now, and with Swiftkey Flow, Swype may finally lose it’s top spot for me. Flow has proven it’s a real feature and not just an advertising checkbox to compete against Swype.
I have been using SwiftKey as default on my phone for months now. Which is strange to admit as I used Swype pretty much religiously for years. I still haven’t turned my back on Swype fully though, it’s still my keyboard for my tablet, and time will tell if I put it back on the phone, or make Swiftkey my keyboard for both devices. I do miss circling keys for double letters, but it’s looking that Swiftkey is the new king.
Ironically, the reason I most wanted Swiftkey to have swipe functionality, was so I could use hardware keyboard tap-prediction and virtual keyboard swiping with one app, but as Swiftkey finally gained this ability, I gave up the hardware keyboard and moved to a phone that only has touch screen.
We’ve come a long way in the last couple years with Android keyboards, I can finally say that any of the apps would make a nice experience. Plus there are many other keyboard apps now, and with so much overlapping functionality, we’re truly spoilt for choice.