Hardware

Get the most out of the Swype text-entry technology

Deb Shinder offers tips and tricks for using Swype, a fast way to enter text in smartphones' on-screen keyboards.

When it was time to upgrade my smartphone last December, I gave the decision a great deal of thought. Samsung phones had been good to me for a long time.

My first smartphone was the Samsung i730, and I had used the Samsung i760, and at that time I was using the original Samsung Omnia. There was a lot I liked about the Omnia, and a few things I hated. The touch interface was great when it worked, but it didn't work as well as it should, especially in comparison to the iPhone. I loved the idea of the homescreen widgets, but there weren't many to choose from and some of them weren't implemented well. And although I was able to use my semi-long fingernails to work around the problem, the Windows Mobile Start menu and X button were impossible for someone with large fingers and no nails (like my husband) to navigate without a stylus (and inexplicably, the Omnia's stylus wasn't built into the phone).

When I checked out the Omnia II, I saw that Samsung addressed some of these drawbacks. The stylus is built in, the Samsung UI overlay makes everything far more touch-friendly without the need for the stylus, the touchscreen is more responsive, and some improvements have been made to the widgets. But Swype is the primary reason I ended up going with the Omnia II instead of the Motorola Droid (which was my other top contender). Swype is a new and fast way to enter text in the on-screen keyboards on smartphones; it's currently available on the Samsung Omnia II, and it's coming soon to Android phones. (The Android version of Swype is still in beta.)

I was mightily impressed with a presentation I saw that showed how the Swype technology worked and how you could enter text at 50 wpm or more by using it. I played around with it on the demo phone at a Verizon store and, even though it would obviously take a little practice, I could see its potential. When I got the Omnia II home, the first thing I set out to do was learn how to get the most out of Swype.

Why Swype instead of type?

I use my phone for many purposes (many of which take priority over making voice calls) and keeping up with my email is number one on the list. I often need to formulate replies (sometimes fairly long replies) to messages, and doing that on a phone had always been slow and clunky at best and sometimes downright impossible. I wasn't satisfied with any of the solutions I tried for entering text on a phone: physical "thumb" keyboards (both vertical and side-slide horizontal models), virtual on-screen keyboards, and even add-on Bluetooth keyboards. I hoped Swype would make it easier.

How Swype works

With Swype, instead of touching each key and lifting your finger to type the next one, you slide your finger (or nail, or cursor) from one key to another, lifting it only at the end of a word (Figure A). Figure A

With Swype, you trace the path from letter to letter to spell out a word, as we've done here with the word "Omnia." (Screenshot by Deb Shinder for TechRepublic.)

It doesn't look like it could possibly work, but it does work amazingly well, especially after you learn a few simple tricks of the trade. Many users are slowed down at first by the belief that they have to be precise. In practice, even if you come close to the correct letters without actually touching them, more often than not, Swype will get it right.

What if you need to enter a double letter? That's easy, too. Just make a little squiggle motion on the letter, and it will be entered as a double, as shown in Figure B when swyping the word "letter." Note the little circular squiggle on the letter "t." Figure B

"Typing" a double letter is as easy as making a squiggly motion on that letter. (Screenshot by Deb Shinder for TechRepublic.)

Enabling and configuring Swype

Swype is enabled on the Omnia II by default, but if it has been disabled, you can turn it on by tapping the small up arrow at the bottom center of the on-screen keyboard and selecting Swype from the list of input methods (Figure C). Figure C

To turn Swype on, select it from the list of input methods. (Screenshot by Deb Shinder for TechRepublic.)
You can set Swype options by selecting Options... . Then you can specify whether to make the display of the trace action longer or shorter, using the slider. You can also tell Swype whether to automatically put a space between words (when you lift your finger), to predict words when tapping, to disable audio warnings, or to enable the tip indicator (Figure D). Figure D

You can configure your preferences to control Swype's behavior. (Screenshot by Deb Shinder for TechRepublic.)

Additional settings include:

  • Faster Response vs. Sloppier Input: Sloppier Input refers to Swype's ability to discern the word you meant even when you don't follow a clear path to each letter. Swype often does an incredible job of figuring out what you mean even if you only come close to the correct letters.
  • Show Word Choice Window - Never ßà Always: This setting determines when/whether Swype will pop up a window showing you choices. For instance, if you swipe across from the letter "t" to the letter "p," you might mean "tip" or you might mean "top"; Swype can pop up a window with those choices where you can choose the word you want. If you choose to never show the word choice window, Swype will type the word that the software determines is most likely what you meant.
  • Auto-Insert 1st Word After Sec: This setting allows you to set the time after which Swype will automatically insert its first choice into the text if you don't make a choice from the word choice window. Thus, if the first choice in the window that pops up is the word you intended, you don't have to pick it -- you can just wait 10 seconds (or whatever length of time you have set here), and it will automatically be inserted.
These options are shown in Figure E. Figure E

You can configure settings to control Swype's operation. (Screenshot by Deb Shinder for TechRepublic.)

Swype tips and tricks

With a little practice, you can get pretty fast with just basic knowledge of how to use Swype, but there are some tips and tricks that will help you go even faster.

  • You normally don't have to enter spaces with the space bar. When you lift your finger at the end of a word, a space is entered automatically. You can turn this auto-spacing feature on or off in the Swype Options dialog box.
  • You can include punctuation marks in a word (for example, apostrophes within the word or commas or periods at the end). To enter "it's," you just glide from the "i" to the "t" and then to the apostrophe (which is the same key as the "n") and then the "s." Swype will recognize that you intended an apostrophe rather than an "n."
  • For other punctuation marks or number characters that appear at the top of the keys, hold that key down for a second or two and the character will appear in a box. Let go of the key and that character will be inserted. This is much faster (once you get used to doing it) than hitting the SYM button and going to the second screen to enter punctuation and numbers.
  • Swype will automatically capitalize the first letter in a sentence, as well as words that are always capitalized (such as "I"). You can make capital letters either by tapping the Caps key first and then swyping the word, or by gliding your finger above the top of the keyboard window after you swype the first letter, and then back down to the keyboard for the next letter. The latter method can be faster when you want to capitalize several letters in a row. If you want to capitalize all of the letters in a word, you can use the "all caps" gesture by starting on the first letter of the word, gliding up above the keyboard window and making a loop (a complete circle) above the keyboard, and then proceeding to swype the rest of the word. This trick takes a little practice, but it works well after you get the hang of it.
  • If you want to enter a word that Swype doesn't recognize (such as an unusually spelled name), just type it in one character at a time as with a traditional on-screen keyboard. The next time you want to enter it, you can swype it because Swype learns the words that you type in this way.
  • You can enter one-letter words (such as "a" or "I") either by tapping the letter and a space, or by entering the letter and then swyping to the space bar before lifting your finger.
  • You can even enter accented foreign words with Swype. Swype's autocorrect feature recognizes many words that include accents and adds the marks automatically. For example, if you swype the letters "cafe," Swype will enter it as "café." If you need to enter an accented word that Swype doesn't recognize, you can add it to the dictionary by typing it in one character at a time. When you get to the letter that needs the accent mark, tap and hold it down until a window pops up that contains accented letters that are associated with the key. Tap the one you want, finish tapping out the whole word, and tap in a space. Swype will learn the word with the appropriate accent marks.

Correcting errors is easy with Swype, too. If you entered a word incorrectly, double tap it and the Word Choice window will pop up. Choose the right word and tap it to automatically replace the word. If the right word isn't one of the choices, swype the correct word, and it will replace the incorrect word. The cursor automatically goes back to where it was before you double tapped the incorrect word, so you can start swyping from there.

You can add non-standard words (such as a phone number) to the Swype dictionary, too. Tap it in, then tap it to highlight it, and then tap the Swype key.

Another nice trick is that you can switch from English to another language. Tap the SYM key, and then tap and hold the key that shows the current selected language (e.g., EN for English); now you can then select the language you want to switch to from the window that pops up. The Omnia II offers English or Spanish as the language options.

Swype contains a Help file (Figure F) that you can turn to for more extensive how-to information, as well as a video tutorial that shows you exactly how to use Swype's features. Figure F

The Help file contains detailed information about all of Swype's features and functions. (Screenshot by Deb Shinder for TechRepublic.)

Summary

Swype is a text-entry technology for handheld devices whose time has come. For the first time, you can easily and comfortably enter text on a mobile phone at speeds comparable to those attainable on a full-size keyboard.

I like Swype so much that I would not buy a new smartphone that doesn't support it, and it's at the top of my wish list for my iPad or any future slate device that I buy. Everyone I know who has used Swype has used the same word to describe it: amazing.

Get smartphones tips and news in your inbox TechRepublic's Smartphones newsletter, delivered each Thursday, features tips on how to deploy and manage smartphones in your enterprise, product reviews, news updates, photo galleries, and more. Automatically sign up today!

About

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

10 comments
Graham@TheWhiteDragon.co.uk
Graham@TheWhiteDragon.co.uk

i have access to the swype beta for nexus, and i love swype, its soo good and fast, i tried shape writter but that was utter crap compaired to swype.

saygoodby1
saygoodby1

My phone has swype and it's not a samsung, it's a mytouch 3g slide from tmobile, so samsung is not the only phone with it, but it does ROCK!!

jinxygirl
jinxygirl

I have a Droid and have used Swype for months now. I love it!

Jayedw3
Jayedw3

Try SlideIT, it is the same as Swype, free, currently available for android.

yojinbo
yojinbo

Shapewriter for iPhone has been out for a while. What took you so long?

noah212
noah212

I'm using Swype beta for android. I love it. But here is my one complaint. When composing a message Swype sometimes displays the word choice window if it's confused which word you meant. Most of the time it guesses right. But if the last word of the message is the word that's confusing Swype, the word choice window appears. You see that it's guessed the correct word, so you just click send. Oops...Swype sends the message but didn't include that last word. You have to actually select the word then hit send. Noah Wolff Online Tech www.onlinetech.com

Graham@TheWhiteDragon.co.uk
Graham@TheWhiteDragon.co.uk

im on swype beta for nexus, and its brillant. cant wait for the actual product as the beta is brillaint.

Graham@TheWhiteDragon.co.uk
Graham@TheWhiteDragon.co.uk

i tried slideIT but i couldnt get on with it, took far too long to get it working properly, with swype it worked perfectly almost instantly, check out the driod forums and you will see that the nexus owners have started an online petition asking google to include swype in basic droid.

Jye75
Jye75

Swype is currently being developed to work with more than one platform. Shapewriter is only available for Apple, whereas Swype is going to be available for WinMo, Windows Phone, and Android.

Graham@TheWhiteDragon.co.uk
Graham@TheWhiteDragon.co.uk

shape writter is out on andriod and has been for a fairly long time, but shape writter has nothing close to swype. until swype release the driod version as open beta you cant try it but trust me and the many other beta testers, swype kicks all over keyboards to the floor and destroys them..

Editor's Picks