One of the coolest features of the Android OS is the ability to change out different keyboards to enable different ways of typing. SwiftKey 3 (Left) just came out of beta with an even smarter auto-prediction database. In the same week, Nuance revealed the next generation of the Swype keyboard beta (right), labeled as build 18.104.22.16809 that added auto-prediction that is similar to the SwiftKey 3. We tested both keyboards, and here is what we found.
SwiftKey 3 is a third-party android keyboard available through the Google Play store for $3.99 that will start predicting the word you are typing as you tap out each letter but it will also use sentence structure to make some smart guesses about what word you need next. After you type the word or if you tap one of the suggested words for auto-complete, it will immediately give you 3 words that might be the next word in the sentence. You can also hook up SwiftKey to your Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail accounts and SMS messaging for a better analysis of how you type.
The word prediction is very impressive –especially if you are logged into any of the accounts described above. I had participated in on online virtual fundraiser for some dog rescues and there were some very specific words that I had to type– like “pawsome”, “Shiba-Inu”, “ShibaProm” and “bitey.” I tried to type “pawsome” on the phone and it did not come up. I cancelled it so that it wouldn’t learn it. Instead, to see how fast it would actually learn from what I type on Twitter, I typed the word “pawsome” in a Tweet in my computer that said “I hope everyone has a pawsome day!” I then synced that Twitter account with my phone and “pawsome” came up after I had finished typing “paws”. We saw the results instantly.
Swiftkey 3 boasts that it offers word prediction and auto-correct technology based on the context of the sentence, and not just grammar rules. After using it for a couple of days and being able to use the space bar to auto fill sentences, we believe that to be true. For example, in the screenshots above, I was trying to type “I hope I didn’t send it to another person.” and when I started typing the letter “p” in “person” the Swype keyboard suggested the word “people”, where as the SwiftKey 3 correctly recommended “person” after realizing that the word “people” wouldn’t make sense as the next word.
By default, SwiftKey 3 gives you three next-word suggestions and fills in the first one if you hit the space bar. However, we recommend setting space bar to “always insert a space” in the settings, because otherwise you will get word predictions even when you innocently and correctly attempt to put a space after a comma or a period.
SwiftKey 3 added new shortcuts for the punctuation button that takes away the need to press and hold. You can swipe right on the punctuation button to insert a question mark and swipe left to insert an exclamation.
In the SwiftKey 3 preferences, the software gives the user a summary of how many keystrokes it saved, how many words its predicted, and even a heat map of how accurate your mobile typing skills are (pictured). SwiftKey also offers 6 different color themes. We loved the neon theme, because is has a cool look factor that the Swype Beta does not have.
Interestingly, SwiftKey 3 helps you predict the current and next word, even if you are using a phone with a physical keyboard. So this application is also helpful to owners of the Droid 4, Samsung Stratosphere, myTouch 4G Slide or other sliders.
The new Swype Beta adds next word prediction to the keyboard’s already-useful auto correction feature and auto-complete, but the prediction database is slower to learn than SwiftKey 3′s. Next word prediction suggests 3 of the most common next words so you can choose to use the first recommended word by pressing the space bar or you can tap on one of the other 2 suggestions with your finger. The auto correction feature is used when you swipe a word and maybe you missed a letter or you mis-typed a letter during the swiping motion. The auto-complete feature starts to predict the word as you start manually type the word letter by letter — which SwiftKey 3 also has the ability to do.
Like its competitor, Swype can connect to Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, and text messages (pictured above). We tried the same test with the word “pawsome” and it did not come up as a suggested word even after syncing twice with that Twitter account. It finally learned the word after we typed it manually a couple of times. After syncing with the different social media accounts, SwiftKey 3 knew my name “Chao” immediately, where as with the Swype Beta, the first choice was always “Chai” instead of “Chao”. I had to manually type it 3 times before Chao popped up as the word after the gesture (pictured).
The new word prediction feature on the Swype Beta is a little clunky. When you swipe a word and it comes up correctly, you can lift your finger up and start swiping the next word or you can press the space bar and see which word it auto predicts for you as the next word. We found that the suggestions are very much based on grammar structure instead of context of the sentence. Swype Beta is great at suggesting phrases like “you”, “are”, and then giving you “awesome” as the third word. Many times this is not accurate or maybe we just do not have as many awesome people in our lives as the keyboard had hoped that we did.
In the example above, we typed the same sentence with both keyboards. Each keyboard correctly predicted “are you” and “to be” but in each case, SwiftKey 3 correctly predicted the next word after tying in the first letter where as the Swype Beta only correctly predicted the next word after typing in 2 letters.
With Swype, you can type in 2 ways– by swiping or using the space bar to predict the next word. For example, you can start to type the word “where” and tap to auto complete or you can swipe the word instead. You can lift up your finger after swiping the word and swipe another word and it will automatically add a space between the 2 words. If you keep swiping, the phone will not show you the next word prediction unless you press the space bar after swiping a word. If you tap the space bar and it did not predict the next word, you will have wasted an extra tap on the space bar. With the SwiftKey 3, on the other hand, sometimes you come pretty close to typing the whole word before it suggests it, which can also make you wish that you had swiped it with the Swype keyboard.
Swype also has some shortcuts you can practice to make typing capital letters and copying and pasting very easy and fast. The above pictures show the shortcuts for capitalizing, selecting all of the text, copying and pasting. Although this is a special feature that this keyboard has, we found that the shortcuts were hard to remember and sometimes we just simply forgot to use it even when we did know it.
Both keyboards will take a couple of days to get used to. The bottom line is that Swype Beta is better at typing whole words from scratch and Swiftkey 3 is better at predicting both current words and next words.
SwiftKey 3 is the easier keyboard to use –especially after it collects some data about the way you construct your sentences and the special words you like to type. The downside is that sometimes you do have to end up typing almost the entire word manually. This keyboard is a faster learner than the Swype Beta– especially with special words like “pawsome”, and it has some pretty cool looking themes.
There is a steeper learning curve for the Swype keyboard but if you are well-versed in all the shortcuts and the QWERTY keyboard layout, you will eventually be able to type faster by tracing. The downside is that the word prediction is not as intuitive as with SwiftKey 3.
Either way, both keyboards make the stock Android keyboard seem boring and slow.