How fast can you type on your smartphone?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: August 10, 2012

Yesterday, I wrote a post-challenge follow-up for my Voice Input Challenge series that, frankly, I'm sure some of you are tired of hearing about already. Don't worry, I'll let the topic go soon enough. But in the piece, I noted that even four days (and now five days and counting) after the end of the challenge, I'm still using dictation. Despite only having used it a handful of times before the challenge, I willingly kept using it after the challenge was over.

But why? Why keep using it if my conclusion was that mobile dictation software is seriously lacking some core features? The answer is one word: speed. In general, and with very few exceptions, people can speak faster than they can type. In the article, I said:

"Something I (briefly) noted during the challenge was how much faster than typing dictation could be, especially for short, simple messages. Speaking a short sentence may only take a few seconds, whereas typing it out might take upwards of a minute. Even with having to edit a transcribed message, it can often be faster to speak your text rather than type it out."

However, my poor choice of words and estimation were quickly pointed out by a commenter. Maybe I should have omitted "short" before "sentence", or maybe I should have written "typing it out might take 10 to 20 seconds" instead of "upwards of a minute." I don't know. Either way, my estimation skills weren't firing on all cylinders that night (it was, after all, 4:30 in the morning) and the commenter had a good point. He said:

"What 'short sentences' take you over a minute to type? No offense, but you must be a really slow texter. Even with an onscreen keyboard, I can crank out 25 wpm with a few typos."

Them's fightin' words, boy! I may not have the world record for being the fastest texter and I may not hold a candle to how fast Aaron types his quick brown fox test, but my thumbs work just fine. And they move pretty quickly.

But that's not all. Just yesterday, in our PhoneDog Election 2012 parody series, Aaron published a video titled PhoneDog Election 2012: Just say YES to physical QWERTY keyboards. Although it was a parody, QWERTY keyboards are on their way out; HTC said so themselves, and I wrote a piece about it asking if anyone actually cared back in April. No less, it made me wonder just how much faster I actually used to type when I had a smartphone with a physical keyboard, one of my dozens of BlackBerrys.

I have always assumed that I'm much slower at typing with a soft keyboard, mainly because it has only recently started to feel natural and less alienating. But both software and my on-screen typing skills have greatly improved over the last several months, so I wanted to do a simple little test to see exactly how fast I type … and to see where the commenter's estimated 25 words per minute (wpm) stands. Is 25 wpm with a on-screen smartphone keyboard fast? Slow? Average?

Unfortunately, I didn't have a BlackBerry or any other phone with a QWERTY keyboard laying around to test last night. So I used my MacBook instead as a reference. I used one of the first sites I came across, typeonline.co.uk. Typing a short paragraph (and reading it at the same time), I managed to score 70 wpm with one single mistake. (I spelled what was supposed to be "Magesty's" with a "j" instead, which is how it is typically spelled anyway.)

I also installed an application called Words per minute to my HTC One X, which offered an array of typing tests. The first one I tried was the "Quick Test" you can see pictured at the top. I typed 60 wpm with one (unidentifiable) error. I also tried the "Longer Test" last night, in which I scored 45 wpm with one error. This morning, I tried the "Quick Test" one more time and scored 70 wpm with yet again a single, undetectable error.

Considering I was reading and typing in the "Longer Test", I imagine I generally tend to err on the faster side of the results as I typically know what I'm going to type. Not to mention, when I'm using SwiftKey, I tend to type much faster. After running the "Simple Test" one or two times, SwiftKey remembered it and predicted every word. Using SwiftKey for the "Longer Test", I scored a staggering 152 wpm. That said, it considered the predicted words to be errors, totaling to 74, and adjusted my wpm down to 115.

None of this is to say I prefer typing on a smartphone with an on-screen keyboard to, say, my MacBook. But it does go to show that – at least with modern software – typing on an on-screen keyboard can be done pretty quickly. I wouldn't go as far to say I'm by any means the fastest at typing anything, on a computer, tablet or smartphone, with or without a keyboard. But I can hold my own. And I'm content with anywhere between 50 and 70 wpm, especially on a smartphone.

So, readers, tell me. How fast can you type on your smartphone? On your computer? Do you feel you could type faster with a physical QWERTY keyboard? Dictation? Or is on-screen typing fast enough for you?

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