Recently, one of the best known third-party keyboard apps, SwiftKey, removed the up-front charge from its keyboard inside the Google Play store, and changed to a freemium model. This has opened the app up to a wider audience, and may end up being many Android device users first experience with a different keyboard app to the one installed from the factory.
Your phone comes with either the standard Google keyboard or the one created by the device’s manufacturer installed. While the Google option has improved considerably over the years, manufacturers keyboards sometimes leave a lot to be desired. If the keyboard isn’t very good, accuracy is drastically reduced, leading to frustration and a typo-filled message. Installing a keyboard developed by someone else is a great way to avoid this problem.
SwiftKey has been around for several years, and used to cost £2.99 after a free one-month trial. That’s all changed now, and it’s free to download, with only the themes remaining a pay option. Now there’s no excuse for not having the app installed on your phone.
Is it really any different? We’ve been trying it out on LG’s new G3 smartphone, primarily because LG made a fuss about its own new keyboard when it launched at the beginning of June. It’s actually one of the best manufacturer options out there, and LG has put real thought into making it as user friendly as possible. However, much of its functionality can also be seen in SwiftKey’s app. It’s not without problems either, and the accuracy can still be frustrating, particularly with the autocorrect aspect. We love the upward swipes to select a pre-typed word though, it’s a true timesaver. The ability to adjust the height of the keyboard, and to shift to one side of the screen to make one-handed operation easier are also both very welcome.
Similarly, SwiftKey comes with a variety of features. Many will already be familiar with Flow, its Swype-like system of sliding a finger across the screen to type words, instead of picking out individual characters. This is a fast way of typing, but takes some getting used to. If you’re a newcomer, then stick with it for a few days before deciding whether to continue using it or not. LG also has a slide-to-type system, but it’s slow and annoying,
SwiftKey comes with various resizing and position adjustments. It can be aligned to the left or right side of the screen, split in two for fast thumb typing, or the position of the keyboard can be shifted to anywhere on the screen. By using the SwiftKey Cloud, which integrates with your Google account, the app will learn your writing style and word preferences, then sync them across any other SwiftKey devices you may own. A Trending Phrases option will help add any crazy hashtags or refer to major news stories without any irritating autocorrects.
Typing on the keyboard is a pleasure. It’s large enough for the G2’s big 5.5-inch display, and even before it had learned about my style, it was perfectly accurate. SwiftKey likes to talk about its prediction engine, and it is really impressive, with the app making sense out of even the most haphazard misspellings. A list of three alternative words are presented above the keyboard, and can be tapped to insert one into the message, or a tap of the space bar can be configured to automatically do the same.
When SwiftKey cost £2.99, it represented good value, but not everyone likes to pay for Android apps, and may have been passed by. Now it costs nothing at all, that doesn’t need to happen any more. The benefits are huge, regardless of what Android phone you use, and it should be downloaded right now. Expect further in-app purchases to appear in the future, as the themes aren’t all that tempting, and SwiftKey may need to come up with another revenue stream. That aside, it’s a must-own.