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Typing on a tiny touchscreen is not an inherently fun activity. I can’t remember the last time I heard someone say “Gosh, I love how I keep making embarrassing typos with this tiny keyboard!” Thankfully, there are some very smart people who are working to make typing on a portable device a more bearable experience. A while back I told you about the fantastic, multi-lingual SlideIT and today I’m back with another keyboard, slightly less multi-lingual, but with powerful built-in speech recognition. Meet.
First, you should know that like SlideIT, this is not a free download. It currently retails for $5 on the Market. But for those $5, you get four input methods (speech, tracing, writing, and tapping) and five languages (English, French, German, Italian and Spanish). “But wait!” I hear you say, “I thought Android already has built-in speech recognition?” And you know what – you’re right, it does. But did you ever try dictating a lengthy email using Android’s own speech recognition? It’s really not workable. It keeps stopping after every sentence, and the quality of the recognition isn’t always amazing. So while the built-in speech recognition is nice for search queries or navigation, when it comes to dictating a complete email, you may want to check out FlexT9.
Okay, talk is cheap (pun intended), but now let’s see how the app performs. Here’s a dictation test:
I dictated these three sentences in one shot (saying “full stop” in-between sentences), and that’s the result I got on the first take. In other words, perfect. I did not enunciate super-clearly or speak slowly. I was, however, sitting in a quiet room without any music or background noise.
Now let’s play a mellow Ben Folds track in the background, and see how well FlexT9 handles text speaking even with the noise:
I forgot to say “Full stop” between the two sentences (right before “I wonder“), so that’s my fault. It worked surprisingly well, but it did mess up at the end. I said “I wonder how well it’s going to work“. So if you’re working in a noisy environment, you might want to try one of the other input methods. Which brings me to….
Other Input Methods
Let’s look at the now-familiar sliding:
I love the typography and the general look-and-feel of this keyboard. See how nice the suggestion strip at the top looks; very classy. Sliding works well, on par with SlideIT (not better, though). Other than “tapping” (woah, I can tap!) there’s one other input mode, aimed I think mainly at people who really miss their old Palm Pilots:
That’s right – graffiti! Remember those happy days? Now you can relive it, just using your finger instead of a stylus. Graffiti input actually does work, but it’s quite slow. Not the keyboard’s fault – that’s just how it is (drawing letters with your finger one by one takes time).
FlexT9’s speech recognition engine does have two other major issues which you should know about before buying:
- Limited device support: When I first bought this app, it was for my Acer Liquid E. Speech recognition just didn’t work on that device, no matter what I did. By the time I gave up on troubleshooting, the Market’s 15-minute refund period had elapsed, and I was left stuck with a purchased app that didn’t work. That was a bummer; good thing I got a new phone and I can now use it.
- Losing your text: This is a far more major issue. Most devices have a screen timeout period, usually around 20-30 seconds. If you hold your device without touching the screen and just dictate for longer than those 20-30 seconds, the screen will just turn off and everything you typed will be lost. That’s right! FlexT9 doesn’t keep the screen from turning off, and there’s no setting for enabling this. You’ll just have to adjust your device’s power-saving policy manually, or learn to dictate in shorter bursts (which would still be longer than what the built-in speech recognition engine can handle).
This is the best speech recognition engine I have yet tested for Android. FlexT9 comes from Nuance, makers of NaturallySpeaking speech recognition software, and it shows. It’s far from perfect, but the issues holding it back are not inherent to the engine. If you like text speak dictation better than typing, this is a very compelling option.