SwiftKey Tablet Keyboard for Android ($3.99) swaps out your tablet’s existing keyboard for one that’s better designed for thumb-typing, makes smart predictions about what you’ll write next, and introduces a Swype-like input method called Flow, which makes firing off quick messages a breeze. I was blown away by SwiftKey Keyboard for smaller devices, and was equally impressed with the tablet version.
However, I am dismayed that the two versions—one for Android smartphones and a separate one for Android tablets—are sold separately. I would rather see them bundled together, or the tablet version be made an optional freemium download at a lower price. Either app can be installed on any device, but the tablet version is optimized for large screens and appears to function handsomely on smaller ones as well. The developers concur that it should render correctly, but did caution that using the tablet keyboard on a smaller screen might not be an optimal typing experience.
SwiftKey goes one step further than autocomplete by attempting to deduce your words based on context and your habits. The app presents its predictions in three slots above the keyboard; the center is what it believes is the most likely, and the ones to the left and right are the runners up (see the slideshow for examples). I found SwiftKey’s predictions to be uncannily accurate, and much more useful than autocorrect. The catch is you have to train yourself to look at the suggestions and pick one before you complete a word.
In practice, SwiftKey could change the way you type. For instance, if you’re frequently firing off the phrase “see you later,” those three words are more likely to appear in succession in the app’s predictions. Instead of typing out those 11 characters, you may eventually see a suggestion for “see” followed by “you” followed by “later.”
SwiftKey’s CMO Joe Braidwood explained that the company started with an advanced language model scraped from the largest repository of novel utterances available: the Internet. When you fire up SwiftKey for the first time, it downloads this default database and uses it to power its suggestions. The more you use SwiftKey, the more personal data the app has to draw from, and the more accurate the predictions.
During setup, you can give SwiftKey access to your Twitter, Facebook, and Gmail accounts to fine-tune its prediction engine to your unique mode of speech. This step is entirely optional, but doing so definitely affects the suggestions the app presents.
Admittedly, the app accumulates a remarkable amount of information about how you speak, but for now that information stays on your device. However, the app ignores password fields, and users can easily delete specific suggestions from SwiftKey by tapping and holding them, or the entire language model from the app’s settings menu.
SwiftKey also makes changing your default keyboard painless, walking you through each step and providing useful advice like reminders to hit the “back” button when necessary. What’s more, the app’s default grey on black keyboard with tall, slightly curved keys looks fantastic. SwiftKey also has additional, more brightly colored keyboard themes.
The Words Must Flow
On small screens, I was impressed by Flow, a feature that lets you drag your finger over keys to spell words instead of tapping them out. Releasing my thumb selected the suggested word, hovering over a letter added a double letter, and swirling in the middle canceled. I was even more impressed by Flow on tablets, as the extra screen space made it easier to see what letters I was selecting.
Optimized for Tablets
Compared with SwiftKey for Android phones, the SwiftKey Tablet Keyboard has several tweaks for larger screens. For instance, the keyboard automatically splits in landscape mode, placing clusters of keys on either side of the screen within easy reach of your thumbs. This option is available on the phone version as well, but is not the default. Strangely, if you install the phone version on a tablet, this option is not available.
When in landscape mode, the tablet version can toggle between split key and an enlarged contiguous version of the keyboard. In my testing, I disliked thumb typing on the contiguous landscape keyboard because the tablet rocked back and forth as I strained to reach keys in the middle. However, it was particularly useful for Flow since the are keys closer together.
The tablet edition also includes optimized graphics for larger screens. I installed the phone version on my Nexus 7 for testing and noticed that it didn’t look nearly as sharp as the tablet version.
Made for Multilingual
SwiftKey supports 60 languages, including several that use non-Latin character sets. You can select up to three languages at a time, toggling between different keyboards by holding down the space key, surely making life easier for polyglots everywhere.
However, I did notice some quirks on the small screen version. When I activated a Cyrillic keyboard for testing, two of my friend’s Twitter user names appeared as top suggestions in SwiftKey. While these would surely disappear with time if I trained SwiftKey by using it more, the app appears to have confused the “@” character at the start of their Twitter handles with a Cyrillic one.
Polished for Prime Time
SwiftKey is one of the few apps to take full advantage of Android by changing something as fundamental as the keyboard, and it looks great doing it. With its smart design, powerful engine, and an array of options, SwiftKey seems as perfect a mobile keyboard as there can be.
Unfortunately, by offering two apps, the SwiftKey developers present a confusing situation to customers. While you can install the small-screen version on a tablet, the app doesn’t look as good without the large-screen optimization and lacks the alternate horizontal keyboard format. If you only want to purchase one version of the software, the Tablet version looks good regardless of the device on which it is installed. However, the developers warn that the keyboard may not function optimally.
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc