Nate's Straight Talk Express: Swype for Android

Nate Allen
Columnist from Indianola, IA
Published: March 17, 2010

I spent most of this week trying out a couple of new apps for my HTC Droid Eris.  The most interesting one was the Swype keyboard, which can be used as a replacement for the stock keyboard that comes preloaded on the Droid Eris.  Swype works very differently than the phone's standard keyboard because you don't pick up your finger after each keypress, instead you drag your finger across the screen, stop on your intended letter, then immediately change directions and drag your finger to the next letter, and so on until you are finished with your desired word.  

Swype first appeared on Verizon's Omnia 2 in late 2009, and during the several months since Swype's debut, I've read a few articles and seen a few videos of it in action on several different phones, even the Droid Eris.  For average users like me, Swype has been unavailable...until last weekend.  I read an article about a beta version of Swype for Android that was available from Swype's website, so I immediately signed up to download it.  A couple of minutes after receiving an email with installation instructions and a download link, I was in business.  I was like a kid at Christmas playing with my new toy!  You can't yet download Swype for the Droid Eris from the Android Market, but if the beta is still open, you should be able to sign up and get a download link just like I did.

After a week with Swype, I can honestly say that I have very mixed feelings about it.  I typically use my phone in portrait-mode using only my right thumb, so with any keyboard the letters will be very close together and a great error correction and word prediction system is a necessity.  I think the Droid Eris' standard HTC Sense keyboard does a great job.  I was pleasantly surprised by Swype's error correction/word prediction system.  Like the Sense keyboard, Swype will "learn" words that are not in its database, but instead of 'Swyping' them in, you've got to type them in like you would on a normal keyboard.  Once you acknowledge the word by touching it in the popup box, it will be added to the database for future use.  I found that acronyms and email addresses were the items that I most often needed to add into the database in this way.  I'm still having trouble with words that contain two of the same letter in a row, for example the words "mood" and "telI' show up as "mod" and "tel".  I'm sure there is a trick to be used here, but I haven't figured it out yet.  Because of quirks like this, I'll give the edge for word prediction/correction to the Sense keyboard.

I think Swype bests the Sense keyboard in sheer speed.  I've never formally timed my text input with each, but after a week of getting accustomed to the awkwardness of sliding my thumb around the keyboard. Typing out a couple of words long Google search string, or a short email reply or Twitter update, Swype feels very, very fast.  Interestingly, because I'm right-handed and my thumb covers a big portion of the right side of the keyboard, it's hard to see the location of the next letter in the word that I'm 'swyping'.  Part of the learning curve with Swype is committing the location of each letter to memory so that after awhile, you feel confident about getting the word right even though you can't see the letters that your thumb touches.  I haven't tried yet, but I would bet the process of learning Swype will help make typing letters on the regular Sense keyboard faster, which would in turn make any speed increase I experienced with Swype less pronounced.

So, which keyboard reigns supreme? There is no clear winner for me, and that's why I'm torn as to which keyboard I'll continue to use.  The Sense keyboard has that tried and true, familiar feel to it, which is very comforting.  Swype is very fast and fun to use.  Luckily, switching default keyboards is extremely easy with Android, because I'll probably switch back and forth for awhile until I feel more confident with one over another.  So, anyone else out there using Swype?  If so, hit me up with your comments let me know your thoughts.

Swype in action on the Droid Eris (via: MobileCrunch)


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