Despite beating a netbook in our rally car typing showdown, using the virtual keyboard on a touchscreen phone can still be a pain. The Swype keyboard aims to soothe your irritated fingertips with a whole new method of typing, and it's available to all Android users as part of a short and sweet beta right now.
Swype is an alternative keyboard that lets you run your finger all over the keyboard in one continuous movement, rather than pecking out individual letters. Then it uses some kind of black maths magic to figure out which word you were trying to spell.
We've used Swype on the Motorola Quench and the Samsung Galaxy S, and loved it -- it's fast, amazingly accurate, and easier to use when you're on the run. But so far, it's only been available built-in to phones, rather than as an app from the Android Market, for example.
We hope we'll see it in the app store eventually, but in the meantime, a lucky few can access a beta version direct from Swype. You can't use it on a phone that already has any version of Swype on it, and it only has English, Spanish and Italian dictionaries on board. Swype also says on its Web site that the beta version will expire after three months, but it will provide periodically updated versions with new features and functionality.
In our tests on a Google Nexus One running Android 2.2, Swype has been a pleasure to use. It takes some practice to get out of the habit of tapping each letter, but once you're used to it, swyping is definitely faster and easier than typing -- and it's also oddly fun. Longer words seem to be the easiest for it to recognise, which is helpful, and if a word is too unusual for Swype, you can still tap the letters one by one.
Most of the time, Swype had no trouble spitting out the word we wanted, even doing a good job with people's names. When it's not sure, it pops up a list of options in a menu -- you can select the right one, or cancel to try again. Although the software is in beta, we had no trouble using it all over the phone, from searching the Web to typing a text message, and it hasn't crashed yet.
We found it slightly awkward to use our thumbs with Swype, although that may point to our poor digit control. A dextrous finger does a better job of whipping around the keys.
Swyping may not be for everyone -- some people may prefer the good old hunt and peck method, because it's more like a physical keyboard. But we're sticking with Swype until it takes it off us.
If you've got a phone that runs Android, pop over to the Swype beta Web site to grab your copy for free -- but hurry, because it's only available for a "few more days", says Swype.