Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Swype

It is no secret that Swype has become one of the most universally loved and acclaimed apps for Android phones. The release for the Symbian touchscreen platform was unexpected, but very welcome. (On a side note, using the Swype keyboard on a Nokia touchscreen phone is one of the few ways that a QWERTY keyboard can be used in portrait mode, on those phones) Every Samsung Android mobile phone, and many Motorola Android mobile phones are preloaded with Swype. For the others, Swype ran a beta early last year. When the beta closed, everyone who didn’t have Swype was left to their own devices – to try and hack Swype onto their phones. Thankfully, the powers that be have spoken – and the Swype beta opened again, a month or so back. We’ve been using this extensively, and figured that you – our readers – may find it useful to understand what the hype is all about. We wanted to let you all know that this useful keyboard app exists, and to urge you all to download it before this version of the beta goes “bye bye” like the last version. To that end, we’ll be looking at how to download and install the App, and then a full-fledged The Indian Geek App Review. Read on.

Download and Installation

The Swype App uses a slightly different method to download and install itself onto your phone. So we thought it worthwhile to mention the few steps involved.

1. The Swype app is not available in the Android market. You would need to allow the installation of non-Market apps. From the homescreen, tap Menu > Settings > Applications > Unknown Sources (ensure that this is checked to allow the installation of non-Market applications)
2. Visit http://beta.swype.com/android/get and wait for the installer file to be downloaded to your SD card. If you don't have an unlimited GPRS plan, you may want to use Wi-Fi to download this file. (It's only about 75.3 kb, though)
3. Once it has been downloaded, tap the file to install the Swype installer app on your phone.
4. When the installation is complete, open the App Drawer on your phone, and start the Swype Installer app.
5. Follow the onscreen instructions to download the actual Swype keyboard. (Again, you may want to use Wi-Fi, but the file size is small)
6. When the download and installation is complete, use the Swype installer App to select Swype as the default keyboard input.

Swype InstallerThe Swype installer homescreen

And you're good to go!

Note : Step 5 is missing from the following video, since we already had Swype installed on the phone when capturing the video. Also, if you have a Nokia touchscreen phone (running Series 60 v5) and you want Swype – head over to the Nokia Beta Labs.

Look and Feel

It’s a keyboard, so there’s not much to the look and feel. It doesn’t look as polished as the stock Android keyboard on Android 2.2, but it definitely looks more polished than the competing SlideIt keyboard, which is available in the Market. The TouchPal keyboard is comparable to Swype’s in terms of looks. The blue squiggly line that follows your finger around is really pleasing to look at, and that’s all there is to it.

General Usage

Swype’s reason of existence is to provide an easy way for text input on mobile devices – and it accomplishes this by a very advanced internal mechanism. As you drag your finger across the keyboard, the software is automatically (and instantly) calculating the possible words that could be conjured up along the path that your finger takes. The thing that still surprises us, is that it’s highly accurate. True, words like “or” and “our” are nearly impossible for software to differentiate if you are Swyping really fast (or even otherwise, since you begin at ‘o’ and drag your finger in a straight line to ‘r’ for both the words) Apart from such words, Swype handles everything with ease. It makes typing on the go quicker, and less painful/stressful. In fact, our entire New Year’s article, Happy Glue Year! was typed using Swype (or should we say “swyped using Sype” ?)

Text input – Symbols and Numbers

The above video details the input of numbers and symbols. Actually, both methods demoed in the video can be used to input both symbols and numbers – the difference is that the second method is useful to enter a greater variety of symbols. The first option to enter a number/symbol is to press and hold the key which has the alternate number/symbol on it. For example, pressing and holding the ‘F’ key would input the number ‘5’. Or pressing and holding the ‘M’ key would input the question mark ‘?’. Not all symbols are available here, though. To input a symbol that isn’t available here (such as *, which we commonly use in chat) tap the SYM key to the left of the space bar. This takes us to a set of full symbols and numbers. We find this view to be easier when entering a series of numbers, such as calculations. Check out screenshots of both the standard and the SYM keyboard layouts below.

Swype - Main keyboard layout

Main keyboard layout

Swype - SYM keyboard layout

SYM keyboard layout

Text input - Capitalization

Capitalization is achieved by swyping (dragging your finger) above the keyboard after touching a letter. For example, in the above video, to type Indian, we started swyping on the letter ‘I’, then swyped above the keyboard on our way to –n, and then continued with –d-i-a-n. This is such a simple concept, and it makes capitalizing any letter in a word easy. To capitalize a letter in the middle of the word, you would need to simply swype up above the keyboard after touching that particular letter. Very simple. Very nice.

Text input – Double letters

As must have been evident from the above video, to key in double letters (such as “Geek”), you would need to start swyping from ‘G’, move on to ‘e’ and either swype a circle on it, or just a squiggle, and then move on to ‘k’. This may be a little difficult for some at the beginning, but you’ll get used to it as you swype more often.

The Best Bits

Changing bottom-right icon – The icon at the bottom-right corner is context sensitive. If you look at the screenshots above, it’s a “Go” button. While entering data in online forms, it takes on the “Next” button till the last field, whereupon it becomes a “Go” button. In Google Talk, it becomes a smiley icon that inputs a standard smiley Smilewhen tapped, but shows other smiley options if you press and hold the button.

Contacts data – This was something that totally surprised us – in a good way. Swype has access to your full Contacts list, which makes typing your contacts’ names very easy. This is a problem that is usually not addressed in most phone platforms we’ve seen, and is especially an issue in India, where you might have a contact named Chandrasekhar Nagamuthu (name made up on the spot – no resemblance to any person, living or otherwise) and if you try entering it, no mobile phone dictionary would be able to recognise it. Of course, you could always type it and enter it into the dictionary, but where’s the fun in that?! Since Swype has access to your contacts list (somehow!) if you swype any name from your contacts list, it picks it up. Brilliant, we tell you, this feature is.

Tutorial – If you noticed in our screenshot of the Swype Installer homescreen at the start of this article, there’s a button for a Tutorial. If you’re unsure of how to swype – this is the best way to get started. You can also view some online videos, but we strongly recommend that you go through the tutorial atleast once. Here’s a screenshot of how it starts.

Swype Tutorial

Swype tutorial

Minor Niggles

How can a software not have some limitations? Every single one does. And in a keyboard app like Swype, these minute flaws become magnified, and very prominent – since the keyboard is always in use on the phone.

Press and hold – The feature that enables you to input alternate numbers/symbols actually has a slight downside to it. We never know how long to press and hold. This becomes an issue since a long press opens up a menu with four character entry options – something that we wouldn’t want to bother with when swyping real fast. Too short a press, and you don’t get to input the alternate character. This didn’t happen very frequently, but it did happen quite a bit, and we felt it was worth mentioning.

Contacts list – Yes, the same feature that awed us, also has a downside. If, like us, you have an orkut account (which Indian doesn’t?) and again, if like us, you have friends who befriended you when they had crazy orkut names (such as “I’m offffff to the Himalayas… Wooooooooooooot!”) then the fact that Swype pulls in their names causes a few problems. We never got why Swype simply refused to input the simple word “off” – it instead always ended up entering “offfffff”. Then we got it – our contacts list. This isn’t really Swype’s fault, but we had to mention it as you might end up being as bewildered by us on seeing some swype input results.

Non-persistent smileys – The smiley icon that we simply love having for Google Talk conversations disappears completely everywhere else. We dig the concept of a context-sensitive button – we really do. But why can’t we have smileys for our SMS messages and our e-mail conversations? After being used to swyping at lightening speeds, trying to key in a smiley the traditional way (for want of a better word) sucks. Swype definitely needs to address this. We did check in settings, but were unable to find anything to allow the smiley icon to be persistent.

Final Thoughts

The few niggles mentioned above are just that – a few niggles. Overall, the app gets a double thumbs-up from us. We’ve used several stock and replacement keyboards on Android – and by far, this is the one that makes text entry effortless and painless. If you have an Android phone, and you aren’t already using Swype, by all means – do get it. If you’re already using Swype, and know some tips and tricks that haven’t been mentioned in this article, feel free to add it in the comments below. Happy swyping!

Note: Having used the Swype keyboard on a Nokia X6 and a Nokia 5230, we know that there are a few differences in the way certain features and functions work. However, this article is mainly a review of the Swype app for Android; the videos available at the Nokia Beta Labs website for Swype are very useful in understanding and using Swype on the Symbian Series 60 v5 platform.

4 comments:

Shahnawaz Khan said...

Nice and detailed post, Please let me know, Should Spice MI 300 is worth a money to buy? What's your experience about using it, like gaming, apps and web browsing? Should I buy it or get LG Optimus one P500? What is the current price?

Thanks!

The Indian Geek said...

Hello Shahnawaz,

We're glad that you stopped by our site! We see that you're undergoing a dilemma that haunts most folk out there - which phone should I buy, and which would give me the most value for money for the longest time?

It's not a simple question, and we can't give you an outright answer. However, we will say this. If your budget CANNOT go above Rs. 10,000/- do go ahead and buy the Spice Mi-300. Many of our readers have purchased it after reading our in-depth review (See here http://www.theindiangeek.com/2010/09/spice-mi-300-full-review.html ) and it IS a very good value-for-money phone. We consider it to be the cheapest and best Android phone in the Indian market today.

On the other hand, if you have Rs. 12,500/- at hand, then the LG Optimus P500 is a very good buy for two reasons - it is the ONLY phone in this price range (below Rs. 20,000/-) which has 512 MB of RAM, and it is the ONLY phone in this price range to come with Android 2.2 and an official (future) upgrade to Android 2.3. Having used Android 2.3, trust us - it's worth the extra Rs. 2,000/- or so.

If you still can't make up your mind - you could wait for our full, in-depth review of the LG Optimus One P500. One of our geeks has been living with it for the past two weeks, and we're currently in the process of reviewing it. Watch out for the review to come out over the course of the next few days.

Thank you, and all the best for your new smarpthone purchase!

Shahnawaz Khan said...

Hey you said LG P500 comes with 512 RAM, it's true because on LG website itself didn't mention it, however GSMArena have said it but I didn't convinced, If it's so then definitely I would buy LG Optimus One P500 and waiting for your in depth review...

Please upload video on Youtube with complete review.

Thanks!

The Indian Geek said...

Sure. We'll take photographic proof.

Do let us know if you have any other specific questions that you'd like us to address in the review - we'll try to look into it.

You're welcome!

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