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Innovation

SwiftKey X for Tablets: Great replacement for the Android keyboard

The SwiftKey X for Tablets application provides a powerful replacement to the built-in Android keyboard.
Written by Scott Raymond, Inactive on

Update: Originally this article was a less-than-flattering review of the news SwiftKey X for Tablets software. It was based on a beta version of the software. The version released to the public a week later had improved quite a bit, so I felt it was important to reevaulate the software.

I was contacted recently by the CMO of TouchType Ltd, Joe Braidwood, and asked if I would be interested in evaluating the new beta of SwiftKey Tablet X for Android. If you're not familiar with SwiftKey, it's a fairly popular onscreen keyboard replacement for Android smartphones, and has now been implemented for the large screen tablets running Honeycomb.

Please keep in mind that this evaluation review is for the tablet product, and does not reflect on the more mature SwiftKey X for smartphones.

First, the text prediction is excellent, and it learns my spelling and capitalization of words quickly. I like that it can learn from Twitter, Gmail and Facebook as well. The text prediction is almost scary; it guesses the next word you're going to type based on your previous history of language usage. That alone impressed me to no end.

That being said, I used the app for two weeks as my sole method of text input on my tablet, and in my opinion it's an excellent replacement for the standard keyboard that comes with Android 3.1.

There are some bugs, of course. Very rarely a word I had just typed will simply vanish when I choose the replacement word in the bar above the keyboard. At this point it's so rare and random that I cannot even be sure it wasn't something I was doing wrong. It's minor enough not to be a show stopper.

The app also auto-shifts the numeric keypad to uppercase when I'm at the beginning of a sentence or line and need to type a number within a text entry box. Normally this would be a welcome function when typing in a text editor, but it can become an annoyance when filling out web-based forms. Also, this glitch tends to be inconsistent; I suspect a lot of that has to do with the website form type itself, which can determine what sort of information should be entered into the text box.

Going back to correct a misspelled word leaves extra characters after the corrected word, which Joe Braidwood says they have discussed internally. He did not say if it would be fixed or not, but he has been working on the issue with the developers. Apparently it might have been by design, and if so, I think I know where it comes from. If the user types two words together and they need to be split into two, the default Android keyboard detects words like this and provides the option to split them up properly. SwiftKey X only occasionally detects two words stuck together, and uses the word replacement function to handle it instead.

Having used the default keyboard and SwiftKey, I'd say that the original android keyboard is the better method. I was able to get around this by placing the cursor after the last letter of the misspelled word; only then did it not leave excess characters. I should point out that the standard keyboard in Android 3.1 does not do this.

I've tried the Samsung XT9 implementation for word prediction and correction, but found the way it functions to be distracting. I'd really like to see Swiftkey incorporate some of the standard Android 3.1 keyboard behavior, and provide some more custom layour options. For right-handed people, some of the buttons to the right of the spacebar tend to get accidentally typed when you don't mean to. If I'm typing search words into my browser address bar, I'd prefer not to hit the .com button when I mean to hit the spacebar.

The three-word selection over the keyboard in Swiftkey's offering is much better than the default suggested word list in Google's native software keyboard; it's larger and easier to select the correct word. I really like SwiftKey X for tablets. In fact, it has now become my primary text entry solution on Android tablets when I am not using a physical keyboard. You could do a lot worse for $4.99, but you can't do much better.

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