SwiftKey Flow now available – we go finger-on

It's been interesting to watch the continued evolution of Android keyboards. Google's didn't start getting decent until the last year or so, but it lacked the excellent prediction of SwiftKey or the trace input of Swype. SwiftKey could read your mind, but Swype had -- well, Swype. The latter half of 2012 has seen parity come to your fingertips. Swype got itself some prediction. Google got itself some gesture typing. And SwiftKey found its Flow, which as of today is now available for download in beta form from SwiftKey's VIP forums. (More at swiftkey.net/flow as well.)

We've been using SwiftKey Flow for a couple days now, and our digits have been dancing ever since. Hit the break for our thoughts on the latest update to our 2011 Editor's Choice.

Here's the thing about SwiftKey Flow -- it brings trace input to the keyboard in a very unobtrusive manner. Don't like it? Simply don't use it. Or if it somehow does bother you, turn it off in the keyboard's settings.

SwiftKey's prediction remains as excellent as ever (and you can still personalize it by granting access to your Google, Twitter and Facebook accounts). The keyboard's layout is about as clean as any you'll see while still providing good secondary functions via long presses -- and the timing for the long press remains the best I've seen on an Android keyboard.

So how's the swiping work? Pretty well. Some of that will depend on your phone -- some displays present less friction than others. And some of that depends on your brain. Trace inputs are still a different way of typing, and it can take some practice if you're not used to it. But SwiftKey makes the entire process pretty painless. Just drag from one letter to the next. There's a cool neon trail that shows where you've been, and it fades away after a few letters. (Not unlike other gesture keyboards.) The setup process for SwiftKey Flow is the same as with previous versions of the app. You're walked through the steps necessary for enabling a third-party keyboard. It's a little painstaking, but it's worth doing right the first time.

But here's the really cool part about SwiftKey Flow -- you don't have to lift up after each word. Flow lets you trace down to the space bar  and keep one continuous movement through phrases. That takes a little getting used to as well, but it works pretty well, and it's a pretty neat trick from the same keyboard that lets you nearly skip the keyboard altogether when touch typing.

If all this looks a little familiar -- well, it should. Samsung actually implemented SwiftKey Flow in the Galaxy Note 2 using SwiftKey's SDK. It still uses Samsung's keyboard, but the prediction and tracing are SwiftKey Flow. (It was called "Continuous input" because SwiftKey Flow had not yet been announced. That's changed recently, and Samsung's listed "SwiftKey Flow" on the Verizon and Sprint Galaxy Note 2s.

For us, though, the bottom line is this -- SwiftKey was our Editor's Choice for keyboard of the year in 2011, and for good reason. It's grown up a bit in 2012, and the addition of gesture typing in SwiftKey Flow makes a great keyboard even better.

Phil Nickinson