Finding that perfect on-screen keyboard can be extremely frustrating. Some completely bypass the effort by just siding with a physical keyboard, but I love the immediacy that software keyboards provide. Plus, touchscreen phones tend to be a lot slimmer than their keyboard-toting brethren, and I’m all about the slim profile. So, the search continues. Recently, however, I was happily given the opportunity to test-drive TouchType’s SwiftKey 2 beta. What were my impressions? Find out after the break!
As indicated by its titular “2″ status, this is SwiftKey’s second entry into the Android space. For those of you unfamiliar with its predecessor (available on the Market for $1.99), SwiftKey does things a little differently than most keyboards by monitoring your daily texting style and basically beginning to predict what it believes you’re going to say. Over time, it gets uncannily accurate and there’s even an ability to let it “read” through your pre-existing texts to speed up the process. It’s always been one of my favorite keyboards (barring a few things that annoyed me which will be covered later) and I was excited to try out the beta.
Appearance-wise, something that’s changed in SwiftKey 2 is the emergence of themes. The beta came with two themes, a light and a dark, and it automatically defaults to the dark, sporting a dark grey with bright green accents that will work well for those using Gingerbread. Switching to the light theme (available in Settings > Themes) takes the keyboard to a look that’s practically identical to the original SwiftKey, which is definitely not a bad thing. This is a nice feature and I’m hoping to see some downloadable themes to add to the two currently available.
I tend to type pretty quickly on my keyboards. One of my main annoyances with the original SwiftKey was that at times its prediction could be a bit overzealous, and attempting to get around this could be frustrating. I couldn’t just fly by the seat of my pants, I had to make sure that it wasn’t choosing an incorrect word. Other times, it worked flawlessly for me. When I initially downloaded the beta of SwiftKey 2, I immediately noticed that they had made this system much better, but I still couldn’t type at my peak speed. That’s when I discovered the Prediction Mode setting. Under this setting, you’re given 4 different presets: Classic, Rapidfire, Manual, and Custom. Classic is set by default, focusing more on prediction. Rapidfire (my personal favorite) focuses more on correction than prediction and allows those with quick thumbs to type without fear. Manual turns off correction and prediction completely and Custom allows you to (go figure) customize any of the presets. With this feature alone, SwiftKey 2 has become quite a bit better than its predecessor.
Another thing that TouchType has included with SwiftKey 2 is the ability to add arrows to the keyboard. This may seem like a small nicety, but as Android phones are moving away from trackballs/trackpads, extra navigation through text is a definite plus. Android 2.3+ certainly helps with this problem with the tabbed cursor, but for those still on Froyo, the arrow keys will make text navigation much easier.
Lastly, while the previous version of SwiftKey would only import your text messages for increased prediction accuracy, SwiftKey 2 will import via text messages, Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, or an RSS feed for those wanting to do this. I did try the service, and it took a decent time for it to import from Gmail and Facebook.
I came away from this test feeling like this was an extremely solid product for a beta designation. “Came away” probably isn’t even a good term, considering that this is still my daily keyboard. I only noticed one minor bug during my use (when setting Haptic Feedback Duration and Long-press Duration it defaults to “0″ instead of remembering the current setting). That being the case, even in its present beta form, I would whole-heartedly recommend SwiftKey 2 to any Android user looking for an excellent keyboard. After its full release, I’m sure this sentiment will only grow to be stronger.