Whenever I see an iPhone user laboriously tapping away a text message or an email key by key on that tiny 3.5″ iPhone screen, I cannot help but feel a tinge of pity (or is that glee? Hard to tell apart sometimes, especially when it comes to my attitude towards iPhone users). I’ve long since fell in love with sliding/swiping keyboard, as my SlideIT review from a year ago shows.
But when people hear “swiping keyboard,” SlideIT isn’t usually the first name that comes to mind: Swype is. It’s interesting to note how well-known this powerful sliding (or swiping) keyboard is, especially since it’s not even available on Google Play. But is Swype’s reputation justified, or is it mostly hype?
The Hassle: Installing Swype
Installing Swype is not fun. I can understand that Nuance (makers of Dragon Naturally Speaking, who now own Swype) decided to keep the app off Google Play — alright. But it’s not like you can just go to the website and download the app’s APK file (installation package). Instead, installing the app is a complex multi-step process. You have to give Nuance your email address; then they email you a link to an app (not Swype, but an installer app). Then you install the installer, and then the installer downloads Swype. The only way they could make it more complicated is if you had to send in a postcard, too.
The Payback: Day-to-day Use
In a nutshell, Swype is a joy to use. Gesture recognition is amazingly fast on my Galaxy S II — I just scrawl all over the keyboard as fast as I can, and Swype almost always gets it right. Even on the rare occasions Swype misses, error correction isn’t a big hassle: You just have to tap the word Swype missed, and the correct word is almost always in the list of alternatives (shown above for the word “This”, with “Thus,” “Third,” and so on).
Swype’s prediction is contextual: Meaning, if I tap out “TGI” (all caps) and then slide over “fridays”, I automatically get TGI Friday’s — correctly capitalized, and with the apostrophe. That’s because Swype knows this word combination, and is aware of the fact they go together.
It used to be that I would scrawl a word, look to make sure it got it right, scrawl another one, etc. I would do it quickly so it didn’t feel slow, but then one day I realized Swype is accurate enough so that I just don’t have to look most of the time: I just slide and scrawl very fast, and in the end I proofread my message. There’s usually a misrecognized word or two, but they’re easy to fix.
While Swype has quite a few preferences, it is not nearly as customizable as SlideIT. For example, SlideIT supports multiple skins, so you can change its appearance: Swype does not. SlideIT also lets you configure your own shortcuts — type “idk” and it expands to “I don’t know”: Swype doesn’t have a similar feature.
That said, Swype lets you configure a ton of other settings. You can enable or disable handwriting recognition (handy if you’re using a stylus), toggle the autocorrect, auto-spacing, auto-capitalization, and more. You can even plug Swype into your Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, and text messages so that it hunts for contact names and words you often use, and learns them for quick recognition. You can also view your personal dictionary at any time, and remove words that were added by mistake (typos, for example).
As I mentioned above, Swype is owned by Nuance, makers of Dragon Naturally Speaking. Dragon itself is, hands down, the best speech recognition engine available for Windows today (not that there are many alternatives, except for the one built into Windows). So you should not be surprised to hear that Swype’s speech recognition feature is very good, as well.
While Swype doesn’t come anywhere near Dragon’s speech recognition capabilities, it is more than adequate for replying to emails in a quiet environment. I often find myself using it at the end of a long day, when there’s “just one more email” I need to reply to, and I’m already in bed. I can just dictate my thoughts, commas and full stops included, and Swype generally gets it right. It does make the awkward mistake here and there, so it’s important to proofread before sending your message, but it is still quite handy and impressive. I’d say it’s just a bit better than the speech recognition built into Android 4.0 (ICS), but not overwhelmingly so.
Multi-Language Operation and Quirks
If you only need to type in English, you may not care so much about this; but if you happen to be bilingual, you might want to read on. What you see above is Swype’s Hebrew layout, and the text says “How do you type a question mark?”. If you scroll up a little bit, you will see that on Swype’s English layout, the “m” key has a little question mark above it, showing that this is the key you have to long-press to get a question mark.
In Hebrew, this not so. You can scrutinize each and every key, but you’re not going to find a question mark anywhere — nor an exclamation mark. Oh, they’re there alright: If you press and hold the bottom-right key, you’ll get a pop-up with several options, one of which is question mark. And if you do the same with the bottom-left key, you’ll get an options popup with an exclamation mark. It’s just that the bright minds who came up with this layout decided that Hebrew speakers must use more hash signs and pipes (# and I) than exclamation or question marks.
Bottom Line: Is It Worth It?
Awkward setup procedure, interface oddities, and bilingual quirks aside, I find myself using Swype all the time these days. The reason is simple: It’s word recognition accuracy and speed are simply better than anything I’ve tried before. It is very fast, and very accurate. And in the end, that’s what truly matters.