One of the things I've long loved about Android phones is, if there is something you don't like, you can change it.
Take the keyboard for example. Apple’s iPhone keyboard performs very well, but if you don't get on with it, your only option is to buy a different phone. With Android you can simply visit the Google Play store and download a different one. There are some very imaginative solutions out there now, but my third party keyboard of choice has to be SwiftKey.
SwiftKey has been through some big changes since I first purchased it. Behind the scenes there have been some very clever developments in how the predictive text works to iron out the inevitable typos. For example you can give the app access to your Gmail and social network accounts and it will analyse them for information on your writing style. It's also learning all the time, working out what your next likely word will be.
There are two ways to type in Swiftkey. The first is the traditional hunt-and-peck method, with Swiftkey’s excellent predictive text ironing out most typos on the fly. You really don’t need to be all that accurate and sometimes it feels more like it’s reading your mind, rather than the keys! I expect a later version may well do that, ooer. The second method is called ‘Swiftkey Flow’. Switch on or off in the settings, after a brief play, I’ve left it on and I love it! Rather than tapping away at the touch-screen, simply trace your finger from letter to letter and the word will be built in front of you. Swiftkey is using pattern recognition to work out what you’re typing and it’s amazing. Yes, Swiftkey weren’t the first to implement this method, but they’re definitely at the forefront of the technology.
I've been thinking a lot about my blog recently. When I first started, I wondered if I would struggle for things to write about, but as I've progressed, I've found there are far more ideas than there seems to be time to sit down and put fingers to keyboard. To tackle this, I'd been thinking about how I might be able to write spontaneously when out and about. The iPad is okay and with the Logitech keyboard, it's even better, but I don't always have those gadgets with me. What I do always have with me is my phone, and these days that's a big-screened, powerful Nexus 4. Alongside beginning some research into portable folding keyboards (something comfortable to type on, but small enough for a coat pocket - suggestions welcome) I started wondering if the touchscreen keyboard alone might suffice.
This post is effectively a live experiment to see just how good SwiftKey is. As I write, I'm sitting in the middle of a shopping mall, whilst my wife tries on clothes. Normally at a time like this, I stand round with the other husbands looking bored, but I’ve realised it’s potentially a productive time. After all, if the tools are up to scratch, why not blog right here, right now?!
To be able to write a post successfully, any solution must be fast enough to keep up with one’s thoughts and easy enough to use that it doesn't come between the user and what they're trying to write. Early adventures into cheap ebay keyboards for the iPad taught me that too much compromise and the solution fails.
So how have I been getting on?
First impressions are that I could, with practice, write at least a short post without the device getting in the way of my thoughts too much using Swiftkey. It's still significantly slower than typing on a normal keyboard. I type at about 85 words per minute on a full sized keyboard, not even close here; but for those times where a normal keyboard is not to hand, I may have found a viable alternative.
Document review is handled well, tapping back into existing paragraphs automatically starts suggestions for alternative words, so those missed mistakes won't take long to rectify and I’ll learn to ignore them whilst drafting, knowing I can review later.
The predictive text really is working, I swear on occasion I'm all over the keys searching out a letter and it's still getting it right, but there are still times when I'm trying and failing. Right now I cannot achieve the word ‘it's’ with a swipe, with the word ‘is’ being chosen for me instead. Mildly annoying! Still in 10 mins I've happily bashed out several paragraphs which should mean after a few weeks I'll be literally flying!
On returning home I went back to my post written in that mall and found it needed quite a bit of review before I felt it was up to scratch, BUT, I’m very pleased to say that in SwiftKey I’ve found a keyboard that I can type VERY fast on (for a phone) and I’ll continue to use it to make some of that dead time more productive when I’m out and about. Even for those who aren’t looking to write an essay on their phone, this keyboard saves time and effort over the stock Android one and is well worth considering.