Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Android Soft Keyboard & Predictive Text

I waited a long time for the Cupcake update. As well as improving performance, UI tweeks and adding video playback, it introduced a soft keyboard (SKB). No longer would I have to flick open my G1 to email, text or twitter! Word completion and predictive text would make my life easier again!

Did it?

A few weeks on and, to be honest, I’m only just starting to use the SKB more. Like the iPhone, the G1 SKB in portrait takes a bit to get used to and can be tight. The accuracy of keyboard is very good, however it’s the accuracy of my thumbs that’s in doubt. This makes typing slow. The proximity error correction is ok and does help but it doesn’t help enough to stop me from bashing away on the hard keyboard instead.

Auto screen rotation is the Android SKBs saving grace. The keyboard instantly becomes thumb friendly. It takes up just over half the screen but doesn’t look cramped. Even when the predictive text kicks in, there’s still enough room up top to see what you’ve written for a few lines. Additionally, you can switch on haptic feedback. It’s a love it or hate it feature but personally I love it. It’s nice to “feel” a soft key being pressed.

The best thing I like about using the SKB is the predictive text input - my spelling safety net. It’s not the best I’ve seen but for a person who has used predictive text most of their mobile life, it was good to get it back after typing blind for a few months. Suggestions don’t appear till you’ve typed a couple of letters, then a bar pops up on top of the keyboard. Suggestions are generally ok. I guess they’re using the same statistical model that T9 operates with. For longer words it’s easier to type the full word than mess about scrolling right trying to find the word you started typing with it ending in “ed” or “ing”, for example. At best, I think the predictive text is only saving me from typing a few keystrokes here and there.

The SKB hasn’t quite made my life easier. I still flick open the keyboard, particularly if I’m typing a long email or text. Don’t get me wrong, the SKB is great and works well but I think that in wanting a SKB for so long has made me realise, once I had one, that I wouldn’t trade in good old hard keys for anything else.

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