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Swype vs. SlideIT: Battle of the Android keyboard swipers

SlideIT vs. Swype
When you've got an itty-bitty touch-screen and need to pound out a quick email, the last thing you're going to want to do is type. I mean, tapping out a text message is fine every now and then, but when you're forced to type more than a couple of lines when you're on the go, sliding is definitely the way to go.

Sliding keyboards utilize the fact that each word, as it is typed, tends to create a unique pattern across the keyboard. So rather than tap-tap-tap, you just touch the screen and drag across the keys you wish to type on. The keyboard then uses the resulting squiggle to figure out what it is you were trying to type.

So far, so good. In theory it sounds great, but in real life things aren't always so silky-smooth. For example, what happens when you need to type a word the keyboard doesn't know, such as a name? Or when there's more than one possible interpretation for the squiggle you just drew?

That's where the differences between different sliding keyboards come into play. In this review I'll be focusing on the two best-known products: Swype and SlideIT. Continue reading after the fold to find out which one is better!

Swype vs. SlideIT


Swype overview

While Swype isn't the first sliding keyboard for Android, much of its allure comes from tendency to only be available as a limited beta. In the past, Swype was offered on a limited beta basis. The offer was then discontinued for quite a while, but it is now available again.

Swype also comes bundled with the default firmware for several Android devices, such as the myTouch 4G Motorola Defy and others. Apart from Android, you can also get Swype on Symbian S60 and Symbian^3 devices.

SlideIT overview

As far as I can tell, SlideIT was actually there first – according to Wikipedia, the first version was released in 2007. It's available for Symbian, Windows Mobile and Android. The company behind SlideIT, Dasur, does not seem to have PR chops on par with Swype: They are quite low-key, even mysterious. For example, the company's contact page includes no physical address or phone number – just four email addresses. Still, the product itself is solid and works very well, as you will soon see.

Accuracy

As long as you type words the keyboard already knows, both systems seem comparably accurate. They're both a joy to use when typing a message full of "common" words. However, there's a difference in the way both systems handle (and learn) unfamiliar words:

Swype seems to have a bigger dictionary, recognizing more words than SlideIT. Swype also scans your address book and adds the names of all your contacts to the dictionary, which is very handy indeed.

On occasion, Swype may identify a word incorrectly. When this happens, you just have to press the Swype button in the lower-left corner. You then get a pop-up with several alternatives, probably including the word you were trying to type. If the pop-up doesn't include that word, simply tap it out, and Swype automatically remembers it for the future.

Another key Swype advantage is the way it handles double letters: to indicate that a word has a double letter in it (such as the double-t in "letter"), you only need to make a tiny "circle" on the double letter when you draw the word.

SlideIT uses a different UI – rather than display a popup, there's a "word bar" which is constantly visible, and shows you all possible alternatives for a given path. It doesn't seem to have Swype's learning capabilities, however – I tested it using the same unfamiliar words and contact names I used for Swype, and it didn't recognize them.

One accuracy-boosting feature SlideIT has over Swype is "slide to complete": You can tap out the first few letters of a word, and then slide the rest. SlideIT also shows predictions while you're still sliding, so once it hits the correct word you can just tap the prediction.

Speed

Speed of recognition seems to be comparable for both input methods. They both take a while to load on first use (when you switch to that input method right after boot), but in regular use, recognition is pretty much instant on my Acer Liquid E.

Number entry

Entering numbers and accented characters is done similarly on both keyboards: Many of the letter keys are mapped to numbers and accented characters. When you long-press such a key, you get a popup letting you enter the associated number or character. Both keyboards also have a dedicated "symbol keyboard" you can switch to if you have a whole bunch of numbers to enter.

One extra SlideIT offers is a Palm-like "graffiti mode", that lets you enter digits and symbols by simply drawing them on the screen. I find that a tad slow, but some people may like this style better.

Language support

Swype supports thirteen languages, while SlideIT supports thirty one. I'm spelling it out so you wouldn't think it's a typo – the disparity is that big here.

Swype supports Korean, Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Norwegian, Russian, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and Chinese (simplified).

SlideIT supports Arabic, Bulgarian, Czech, Croatian, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian ... and the list goes on.

This is one category with a very clear winner. I've tested SlideIT's Hebrew support, and it works just as well as the English – in other words, it's great.

Looks

This is highly subjective, but I think most users would say Swype is definitely slicker. There's a "glow" animation when you touch a button, and the word selection pop-up is decidedly futuristic. You can see for yourself in the gallery accompanying this post.

Cost

For now, Swype is still in Beta, so it's free. But if you want it, you'd better grab it right now – who knows how long it will remain available for.

SlideIT offers a free trial version, and the full version costs $6.17. It's not very cheap for an Android application, but the keyboard is one of the most frequently used apps, and SlideIT is very good indeed.

Bottom line

It all comes down to language support: If you're using one of the many languages only SlideIT supports, there's really no question here. That was the case for me, since Swype offers no Hebrew support. I bought SlideIT for my own use, and have been happy with it ever since.

If you only need English text input and the word "free" sounds appealing, Swype may very well be the way to go. It's far slicker, and seems to be more open about its origins (its contact page has an actual address). Just remember it's a free beta -- which can expire! -- so don't get too attached.

Tags: android, apps, comparison, features, handson, IME, input method, InputMethod, mobile, on screen keyboard, OnScreenKeyboard, OSK, productivity, review, slideit, swype

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