The Android keyboard market is a pretty exciting place right now. Where a few years ago typing on a touchscreen seemed like a cumbersome experience marred by repeated tapping and laughably horrible autocorrect, we now get to glide, swipe, and slide our way across emails and other text like never before. Typing on a smartphone has become an almost painless experience – but not all mobile keyboards were made equal.
In this follow-up to our post from 2011 featuring 6+ fantastic Honeycomb keyboards, I’d like to take a good hard look at four of the most popular and well-regarded sliding keyboard. Call it a “keyboard death match” if you’re feeling particularly nerdy today. To test all four Android keyboards, I’ve picked the same text and swiped it out without making any corrections. Let’s see who’s the most accurate – It’s science!
My Test Paragraph
They stood below him, ready and willing – in fact anxious – to give their lives for the Emperor. Abhir felt calm and confident as always and definitely looked the part of the Emperor of the Universe. The Corps of Seven stood firmly behind him in their smart golden uniforms. Abhir stood straight, ran his fingers over his long white hair and then straightened his golden Corps insignia band. The insignia bore a man holding seven suns in his right hand and wielding a brilliant shining sword before his face as if he were poised to kiss it.
I picked this paragraph because it contains just a single proper name (which every sliding keyboard is bound to stumble on), and no technical jargon. So, it’s a bit like an ordinary email, if you happen to be talking to someone about the Emperor of the Universe. After typing it up with each keyboard, I will show you the differences between the original and the keyboard output. I will be using DiffChecker, a tool we reviewed here, to make the comparison.
The rules, in brief: Only sliding (no tapping at all!), NO correcting any errors, NO manually selecting alternatives suggestions, NO manually capitalizing anything, NO being over-careful and watching every word. Just casually swiping without over thinking it.
Native Android 4.2 Keyboard
Claim to fame: Comes with Android… if you’re cutting-edge enough.
Getting it: You need to install an Android 4.2 ROM, or another ROM that has it enabled. It’s not on Google Play (like most of our contenders really).
Test results: They aid below him, ready and willing – in fact anxious – to giver their lubes for the emperor. Abut felt calm and confident as always and definitely looked there Lafferty of the emperor of the universe. The corps of seven sod firmly behind him in their smarty golden uniforms. Abhor sod straight, ran his fingers over hodge lung white hair and then straightlaced gird golden Corot’s insignia bang. the insignia bore a man golfing seven find in hid right hand and wielding a brilliant shining sword before hits face add if he were passed to kiss it.
Bottom line: Woah, “give their lubes for the emperor”? Really, Google? But that amusing mistake is far from the only one, as you can see from the colorful diff output above. The Android 4.2 keyboard missed obvious words like “stood,” repeatedly substituting “sod” for it. Note however that most of the text is correct, which is impressive given the crazy pace at which I was swiping.
SwiftyKey Flow Beta
Claim to fame: A powerful predictive text algorithm, combined with swiping. On paper, this should make for a killer combo.
Getting it: At the time of this writing, you can grab it from the SwiftKey Flow Beta page.
Using it: These days, SwiftKey flow is actually my keyboard of choice. Its predictive algorithm really does work well (or maybe I’m just a repetitive guy, always writing the same things). It’s quick and responsive, and makes it easy to type numbers and other non-alpha characters.
Test results: They sod belle him, Ray and willing – in fact anxious – to give their lives for the emperor. About felt calm and confident as always and definitely liked the past of the emperor of the universe. The corps of seven stood firmly being him in their smarty golden uniforms. About stood straight, tan his fingers over good long white hair and then straightened good golden corps insignia bang. The insignia bite a man holding seven duna in his right hand and wielding a brilliant sword before his face add if he was passed to kiss it.
Bottom line: They sod belle him, indeed. In all fairness, though, it must be said I did not use SwiftKey Flow’s crowning feature, its powerful predictive text engine. As are the rules, I never once paused to look at what I was typing and pick an alternative. In general, there seem to be less differences, indicating better accuracy. Also, maybe “smarty golden uniforms” is just a thing – Google and SwiftKey seem to agree on this one.
Note: This isn’t Swype’s default skin, but it’s bundled with it.
Claim to fame: Well, it’s Swype, duh! What more do you want? Seriously though, Swype is one of the most-hyped Android keyboards of all time, and was there before SwiftKey Flow and the Android 4.2 keyboards joined the sliding-text party. Also, it features a powerful speech recognition engine made by Nuance, the same guys behind the epic Dragon NaturallySpeaking for PC.
Getting it: Some phones come with Swype, but for the actively-developed Beta, you’ll have to go to the Beta page. Thankfully, you no longer need to register for an account to get it, which is nice.
Using it: Quite frankly, Swype feels a bit slow on my Galaxy S III. Maybe it’s how it draws the trail behind my finger as I glide across the screen, but there’s something sluggish and tired about it. On the plus side, Swype makes it easy to capitalize words without hitting the Shift (just glide up beyond the keyboard’s top border). If you’d like to read some more about using Swype, check out my Swype Beta review (although some of my complaints have already been addressed in this current version).
Test results: They stood below him, ready and willing – in fact anxious – to give their lives for the emperor. Angkor felt calm and confident add always and saintly looked the past of the Emperor off the Universe. The Corps of Seven aid firmly behind him in their smart golden uniforms.website stood straight, ran his fingers over God long while hair and then staggered good Golden Corps insignia band.the insignia bite a man holding seven suns in his right hand and wielding a brilliant shining sword before his face as if he were posed to kiss it.
Bottom line: Swype’s results seem roughly on par with SwiftKey’s, both eclipsing the native Android 4.2 keyboard. One unfortunate flaw is that Swype doesn’t automatically add spaces following periods, resulting in quite a few needless errors (recognition was fine, but the dot messed it up). Also, “website stood straight” – we at MakeUseOf care greatly about the posture of our website, so that’s good.
Note: This isn’t SlideIT’s default skin, but it’s bundled with it.
Claim to fame: You can just get it. No Beta, no installers, nothing shifty like that. Go to Google Play, pay up, and download. (Yes, it’s not free)
Getting it: Couldn’t be simpler: Google Play.
Using it: SlideIT is a nice keyboard, but it won’t blow you away with a speech recognition engine, powerful predictive algorithms, or even a word hovering at your fingertip. It’s here to get the job done (and it’s up to you to choose a skin nicer than the default).
Test results: They stood before, Rafi and willing -in heavy anxious -to ground their motives for three emperor. About felt calm and confident add amounts and definitely looked the past of the emperor odd the universe. The curious odd seven stood firmly behind him in their smart golden uniforms. Abroad stood stair, ran good fingers over goes Ling white hair and then good golden corps imaginings band. The indigenous view a man holding seven suns in his right hand and wielding a brilliant shining sword before his face as if he eye passed to kids it.
Bottom line: Oh no, such a disappointment. Rafi, in case you were wondering, is an Israeli name (short for Rafael). SlideIT disappoints with a significantly worse result than either Swype or SwiftKey Flow, virtually coloring the diff with errors. “To ground their motives for three emperor” – when recognition errors are so thick and heavy, you might not even remember what it was you were originally trying to write when the time comes to proofread (you do proofread, right?).
SwiftKey Flow and Swype win! To pick between the two, you’ll have to consider which extra feature is more important for you: Text prediction or speech recognition. I’m going to stick with SwiftKey Flow because it makes it easy to switch between languages (no need to press-and-hold anything).
If you have an Android 4.2 phone, you can definitely use the native option for a while, but it’s almost certain you’ll get better results with either of the free Betas. Sadly, I would be hard-pressed to recommend SlideIT at this point given the state of the competition, but future versions may surprise us yet.
And one final disclaimer: This test was not scientific by any stretch of the imagination. You are more than welcome to repeat it yourself and report your results in the comments. What’s your Android keyboard of choice, and why?