Hands on with SwiftKey for Tablets, first keyboard app for Honeycomb

Summary:SwiftKey users for Android devices should note a private beta is now active for a special tablet version of the keyboard app. SwiftKey for Tablets is designed for better use on larger screen devices.

SwiftKey users for Android devices should note a private beta is now active for a special tablet version of the keyboard app. SwiftKey for Tablets is designed for better use on larger screen devices, and works on Honeycomb and Froyo as tested. This first look at SwiftKey for Tablets shows why it is already becoming my keyboard of choice on both the Motorola XOOM and Samsung Galaxy Tab.

A strength of Android is the abundance of alternative keyboard apps in the Market. These apps cover a wide range of text input utilities that take advantage of the small screen of the smartphone. One of these apps, SwiftKey, brings sophisticated text prediction capability to a good on-screen keyboard. This prediction uses sophisticated technology that learns from the text the user enters, and over time achieves an uncanny ability to predict the next word to be entered. This prediction is so good that SwiftKey has long been my favorite keyboard app for Android.

The SwiftKey folks announced earlier this year that they were hard at work on a version of the app that is optimized for devices with larger displays. The private beta is now active, and access requires applying for acceptance with Swiftkey through the web site. Once accepted, they email a link to download the APK file for download to the test device.

I have been using the beta version for a couple of days on both the Motorola XOOM running Honeycomb and the Galaxy Tab running Froyo. It has worked without issues on both devices, but it is a beta and I expect problems at some point.

SwiftKey for Tablets incorporates a new key layout in landscape that splits the keyboard into 3 sections: the QWERTY keys are in sections in both lower corners for thumb access, and a section with the numeric keys is in the middle of the screen. This layout makes it possible to type with both thumbs, and with a little practice typing speed is pretty impressive. This split layout can be swapped for the more familiar QWERTY layout for those who prefer that format. The famous SwiftKey text prediction is still there and works as in earlier versions.

The beta version of the app only ships with one theme, Neon, but it is a great use of the tablet display. Keys are black with neon blue borders, and the interface makes good use of highlighting keys when appropriate. The interface is designed to give good feedback when it is needed, but stay out of the way at other times. This is a good method for heavy text entry, something not usually a good experience with touch keyboards.

It is great to see the SwiftKey folks jumping on the tablet form for optimizing their app. This beta app may be the first keyboard app built especially for tablets, and it is a good alternative to the native keyboard app on the XOOM. There is no word how long this beta program will be open, nor an expected date for this app to hit the Android Market.

Topics: Tablets, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility


James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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