My little disappointment upon parted with my Samsung Galaxy and opt to use HTC Salsa as explained previously, was due because to the absence of Swype application on HTC Salsa.

Swype is the on screen keyboard application which enables user to “swipe-typing” texts instead of the conventional screen tapping, hence making me believe that swipe-typing is among the most useful feature available today on Android based mobile devices.

User Experience wise, swipe-typing is also excel because of following reasons:

  1. Unlike touch-based/on screen keyboard commonly used on Android devices and most mobile devices, swipe-typing felt natural, thus is intuitive. While not natural in the way we usually hand writes, it feels as the most proper way of interaction with touch screens
  2. Paired with the word predicting features, swipe-typing app is able to anticipate mistypes and give its smart guesses, which translated as a good usability feature
  3. Different with physical keyboard which applies a physical feedback upon touching, on screen keyboard does not have such sensation, thus it eliminates an important feedback to the user to determine whether she has put her finger on the correct spot of the key. Swipe-typing on the other hand, while still lacked such physical feedback, substitutes it with error-friendliness which enable users to makes mistake, and easily corrects them
  4. Swipe-typing reduces the fear users have toward mistypes which are prone of occurring with on screen keyboards — to the extent that some people still prefers to have a physical keypad on their mobile devices than intrigued by the senselessness on screen keyboard
  5. With the type swiping method, users don’t have to put too much effort on precisely tapping the screen to input letters, thus users can do the text input much faster

With such significant advantages, it is of great relieve that shortly after I made my move, Swype released their standalone Swype app which can be installed on 2.2 (Froyo) and 2.3 (Gingerbread) devices.

Installing Swype on HTC Salsa (Android 2.3 – Gingerbread)

HTC Salsa has no problem upon installation of the standalone Swype app, and it worked perfectly after following its installation procedure. However as the standalone Swype app is still in Beta, so bugs and issues are expected to occurs. Indeed right from the start, there are already some issues in Swype that needs to be carefully addressed:

  1. The application requires about 11 Mb of internal memory, which makes it a tough choice to have on Android phones with relatively small internal memory size
  2. The User Experience (UX) of the app is about on par with the pre-installed Swype available on Samsung Galaxy, however it both occupies a large real estate which on smaller Android phones makes it difficult to read what you’ve been typing in
  3. Limited options of supported language; unlike the pre-installed Swype on Samsung Galaxy which in my case already has a working Indonesian language dictionary
  4. Installation requires 2-steps of downloads; first the installer, then the actual app itself. However probably it’s just due to its Beta version nature

While the UX issue is relatively small, the issue discovered later on was quite horrifying. It was discovered when the license period of the installed Beta expired, and we must update our app installation. What happened that the app is simply stop working, and so I tried to follow the instruction as precisely as I could to update Swype Beta to its latest version, and turns out it requires app uninstallation, instead of incremental updating.

What it didn’t inform however, that I was about to lose hours of work used to grow my Swype’s custom dictionary. So when my HTC Salsa popup a warning that I’m about to uninstall Swype, I got hesitated but see no other option; the app was dead and auto-deactivated, and the smart helpful people on the internet forums have no idea as well on how to back-up Swype’s custom dictionary — unless I rooted my HTC Salsa first. Therefore there’s no way around.  I just assumed that the good folks at Swype have think about migration management a lot, and have taken care of user data migration process as well.

However the assumption did not validate.

So when Swype returned to life on my HTC Salsa, I noticed that all of my precious custom dictionary entries were gone; it’s a generic app once more.

Furthermore with the new Swype Beta (3.26) there are couples of additional technical & functional issues arise:

  1. The application now requires 11 Mb plus 8 Mb for its installer program
  2. The keyboard is enlarged, and fills up about 2/3 of the entire vertical screen, which makes reading what you’re typing on is now impossible
  3. There’s still no way to backup or export Swype’s custom dictionary

As the size has now grown ridiculously big, worse UX, and still without custom dictionary data management, i.e.: backup, export, import, I got nothing to loose by starting over, and look for Swype’s alternative with similar features.

Swype’s alternative: TouchPal Keyboard (free)

So when I came upon this Swype-like TouchPal Keyboard free app from TouchPal , and learn that they’re about as good as Swype, I happily jumped the ship. What I found impressive from this Swype alternative for Android is the size that’s just 4 Mb! And about 3.3 Mb of it can be moved to the external SD storage!

So what’s the hidden disabilities behind the almost 16 Mb size differences with the Swype Beta installation?

Surprisingly, very little. And after several tries with moblo (mobile blogging), I found several differences where Swype excel while TouchPal lacked behind:

  1. With its default setting, Swype is better at interpreting swiped words, while TouchPal Keyboard often fails at finding out what I was trying to write, hence I have to type slower and more precise
  2. Swype keyboard has the most-used symbols printed as secondary characters on its keyboard, which can be accessed easily by long-pressing, while TouchPal Keyboard only addressed some of the most common used symbols, which makes mixed text-symbol typing process is rather cumbersome

However beside of what it lacked behind, TouchPal also has its superiority over Swype:

  1. TouchPal keyboard has quite small app size: 4 Mb and 3.3 Mb of them can be moved to external SD storage
  2. TouchPal keyboard offers choices of non-English dictionaries as separate installation (which might explain it’s small app size compared with Swype)
  3. TouchPal keyboard has next-word prediction feature
  4. TouchPal keyboard occupies relatively small real-estate

There are also other interesting features like choices of unconventional keyboard layout, however for moblo (mobile blogging) all of those features mentioned above have already provides significant advantages.

As with the User Experience (UX), I’m thinking that on overall both Swype and TouchPal are about on the same level of quality. There are some ways which I am more accustomed to Swype than to TouchPal, however they’re easily learned thus not an issue. For its complete features visit TouchPal website, or go directly to TouchPal app on Android Market to give it a try.

Other Alternatives

At the moment there are also other swipe-typing keyboards available on the market which you might want to try as an alternative:

  • SlideIt (paid) – Android Market Editor’s Choice, with about 10,000+ users
  • 8Pen (paid) – It’s an innovation works well on Android devices with smaller screens, and smaller internal memory. However since it uses a custom keyboard layout, it requires a steep learning curve which might become a big turn-off for casual users

(byms)

Note: At the time of writing, version compared are TouchPal Keyboard 4.8.3 vs Swype Beta 3.26.

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4 Responses to On screen keyboard alternative to Swype

  1. WarProfiteer says:

    Skimmed your article, but saw you didn’t mention: SlideIt keyboard input application, the Android Swype-style app that was available well before Swype was integrated into whichever Android release. I purchased it and got accustomed to its settings, so I decided not to switch and still prefer it. The features are very similar and I have done comparisons but it has been a while. It is definitely worth a look and perhaps a quick revision of your product analysis.

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