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Sunday, January 2, 2011

How To Master Typing with Swype Keyboard for Android

Since it is that time of year, the fine folks at Swype have reopened their ongoing beta for Android devices. That means you can have yourself some gesture text input for absolutely free. Swype is unlike most other text input options. Instead of tapping, you draw a line passing through the necessary letters. It's been imitated, but if you ask us, not yet duplicated. Some users aren't sold on Swype just yet.

With a little tweaking, and some helpful tips, Swype can be better than what you're using. We'll tell you what you need to know so you can take advantage of that new open beta.

Download the beta, and get started

Head over to the Swype Beta program site, and sign up. If your phone came with Swype, don't try to use the beta. After you are accepted, you'll get an email. Open it on your phone, and the beta installer will download. When it is done, you will need to install the APK. AT&T users will have to do some legwork to enable non-Market apps. Once the beta installer is compete, you can launch it.

You will have to log in with your Swype Beta credentials to get the actual keyboard APK. In this new version, you will be asked if you want the full version (10MB), or the lighter one (2.5MB). The only difference is that the full version has a lot of languages, and the lite version is only English/Spanish. More than likely, the 2.5MB download will do.

Now just go to your main system settings and enable Swype. The installer should actually provide a link. If not, go to Language and Keyboard in your settings. Tap the checkbox for Swype to enable it. Now, in any text input box, long-press and select Input Method in the popup. Choose Swype, and you’re off to the races.

Getting comfortable, and learning the tricks

The first thing to be aware of with Swype, is that accuracy is secondary. People can feel out of control as they try to pass through the center of each key, drawing the perfect word. That's not important. You only have to approximate it. If you change direction too soon, or miss a key, Swype may well still understand you. In fact, the longer the word, the more mistakes you can make. The longer you are swiping, the fewer words could possibly match.

If Swype does not understand exactly what you are trying to type, it will pop up a suggestion box. The top option is the most likely word. In our experience, that word is almost always right. But this is another pain point for people that stops them from enjoying Swype. This box is right in the middle of everything. You may feel like you have to interact with it, but you don't. Just keep going and that top word will be inserted. The suggestion box is only there if you really mess up.

At any time you can double-tap a word to pull up the correction window for it. Also, don't tap on the word box, swipe across it instead. Just pass through the choice you need if you need to manually select a word there. If worse comes to worse, you can still tap on keys in a traditional way to enter a non-dictionary word.
Swype will auto capitalize the first word in a sentence like other keyboards. If you need to manually capitalize, you don't need to stop with the gestures and tap the Cap key. How old fashioned that would be. Just drag up off the keyboard from the letter you need capitalized. The keyboard will change to all caps to let you know you've gone far enough. The continue swiping and the rest of the word will come up as normal.

Punctuation is a little strange with Swype. When you intend to add a period or comma, resist the urge to tap that key. If you do, you also have to hit the space bar to get the next word started in the right spot. Instead, you can draw a line from the period or comma, to the space bar. That gives you the punctuation followed by a space in one step. You need to get used to not taking your finger off the screen mid-word. Another example of this is words with double letters. Swype will sometimes have trouble guessing what you mean if you just pass through the 'o' once in 'cool'. To ensure double letters are detected, try doing a little loop on the 'o' key. This ensures it is detected twice.

On other feature we like is the Editing keyboard. Draw a line from the Swype key to the Sym key, and you get a great layout with cursor control, text selection, and copy/paste controls. This is excellent for devices that don't have hardware trackpads or trackballs.

Changing settings to suit you

If you go into the settings for Swype, there are few ways to tweak the experience to best suit your style and device. You can change the frequency with which Swype shows the Word Choice Window. If you find the popup distracting, you can move the slider to Never. You won't get that option to change words as you go, but we think it's faster to just finish your thought, then go back with the double-tap editing. We recommend you turn this down.

The other big option to look at is the Speed vs. Accuracy entry. This slider has Fast Response on the left, and Error Tolerance at the right. If you move the slider to the right, you can be sloppier with your typing. Swype will spend more time trying to discern your meaning. This takes processing power, so if your phone is a little slow, Error Tolerance might not be the best option. Sliding to the Fast Response side means a few more errors, but faster input on slower phones.

Follow these tips, and you should find yourself flying through text entry in no time. Swype is almost instantly usable, but you need to do a little digging to find all the amazing things it can do. If you've been using Swype, let us know how you like it.

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