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SwiftKey 4 for Android review: The best Android keyboard we've reviewed

With its Swype-like Flow feature and multiple layouts, SwiftKey tops this reviewer's list of Android keyboards.

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Jaymar Cabebe Sarah Mitroff
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Jaymar Cabebe

Former Associate Editor

Jaymar Cabebe covers mobile apps and Windows software for CNET. While he may be a former host of the Android Atlas Weekly podcast, he doesn't hate iOS or Mac. Jaymar has worked in online media since 2007.

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Sarah Mitroff

Managing Editor

Sarah Mitroff is a Managing Editor for CNET, overseeing our health, fitness and wellness section. She's written for Wired, MacWorld, PCWorld, and VentureBeat.

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5 min read
Editors' note: This review was updated November 7, 2013, to cover features added in the latest version of the app.

The newest version of SwiftKey bears an impressive feature set, with an increasingly smart prediction engine, a bevy of languages, SwiftKey Flow, and a convenient option to sync data with the cloud. While the virtual keyboard does cost $3.99 to download, the powers under its hood make it more than worth the money.

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9.2

SwiftKey 4 for Android

The Good

The <b>SwiftKey</b> virtual keyboard has a scary-smart prediction engine, multiple languages, and a Swype-like integrated Flow feature. Cloud syncing keeps typing consistent across devices.

The Bad

At $3.99, it's one of the more expensive keyboard apps out there.

The Bottom Line

SwiftKey is, quite simply, the best Android keyboard we've used.

SwiftKey 4 adds Flow feature (pictures)

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If you're not familiar with SwiftKey, it's an Android keyboard replacement that also happens to be a Google Play Editors' Choice app and winner of the coveted Most Innovative App award at the Global Mobile Awards in Barcelona, Spain. What sets this keyboard apart from others in its category is that it's capable of understanding not just patterns in your typing, but also how words work together. This makes it scarily good at predicting not only the next letter you need to type, but also the next word, sometimes even before you begin typing it. What's more, SwiftKey can continue to learn from your e-mail, SMS, and even social-media accounts (if each of these options is enabled), so it gets noticeably better at making predictions as you use it.

One keyboard for all devices
On November 6, SwiftKey updated its app to version 4.3 and introduced a new feature called "Layouts for Living" which puts three different keyboard layouts in the app so you can use SwiftKey on any size screen.

Previously, there were separate SwiftKey apps for Android tablets and phones, meaning if you owned both kinds of devices, you'd have to buy two apps. Now, there's only one app for all of your typing needs.

Swiftkey
Swiftkey's thumb keyboard layout makes it easier to type on large screens. Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

The original SwiftKey tablet app included different keyboard layouts to make it easier to type on larger screens, and now those new layouts are now available in version 4.3. You can undock the keyboard and move it around, choose from five different sizes for the full-width keyboard, and pick from two different layouts, thumb and compact.

The thumb layout splits the keyboard into two columns so you can use each thumb to type while holding the sides of your phone. Compact shrinks the size of each key and pulls it to one side of the screen so you can type one-handed (you can switch sides by pressing and holding the arrow that appears in this mode). In my testing, both the thumb and compact modes made it easier to type on both a tablet and a phablet, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 2.

SwiftKey Cloud
With SwiftKey Cloud, the keyboard app can now sync your personal typing profile with the cloud. This makes it possible to have a perfectly consistent typing experience across all of your devices, all without having to train keyboards on your multiple devices. The feature works seamlessly in the background, and it requires you to enable it in the Settings menu before it transmits any data.

Another cloud-based feature, Trending Phrases, adds to the app's prediction engine a daily log of trending terms on Twitter. This makes it easier to, for instance, type out terms that everyone else is talking about, like names from the latest episode of "Game of Thrones" or terms from a current news story.

Smart Space
One of SwiftKey's most useful features is Smart Space, an almost magical feature that can tell when you accidentally omit or otherwise screw up spaces in your typing. With Smart Space, you can actually tap out an entire sentence without spaces, and SwiftKey corrects you as you go. We find ourselves inadvertently taking advantage of this whenever we accidentally hit the "b" or "v" keys instead of the spacebar.

Swiftkey
SwiftKey has Swype-like Flow feature that lets you type with gestures. Screenshot by Jaymar Cabebe/CNET

SwiftKey Flow
And then, of course, there's Flow, SwiftKey's take on the gesture-based input scheme that Swype has made so popular over the last few years. Just like Swype, SwiftKey and its new Flow feature let you type by dragging your finger across letters in a single continuous motion. Flow even lets you glide through the spacebar key, so you can type out several words without ever lifting your finger off the screen. If you manage to incorporate this into your natural typing style, you'll be amazed at how fast you'll be able to input words on your screen.

One thing we like is that enabling Flow doesn't necessarily mean you have to type with gliding gestures all the time. In fact, you can always easily switch back and forth between the Flow style of typing and the traditional finger-tapping style, and SwiftKey won't even blink.

Just like previous versions, SwiftKey 4.3 makes predictions as you type, even if you're using Flow. If you see one that's right, you can simply lift your finger off the screen mid-drag, and that word will automatically be used. This blending of predictions and Flow-style typing may seem a little unnatural to use at first, but with some practice, it can be an incredibly speedy way of entering words.

SwiftKey statistics show you how the app has improved your typing accuracy. Screenshot by Jaymar Cabebe/CNET

Settings, statistics, and more
More than just a new set of keys, though, SwiftKey offers a full set of tools for improving the efficiency of your typing. Under the settings menu, you'll find a list of how-to videos, prediction settings, and layouts. The app also has a statistics section where you can see how many keystrokes SwiftKey has saved you and how many typos it's corrected. Plus, there's a nifty "heat map" that shows how accurately you type and on which keys you tend to make mistakes. You can even share these statistics via Android's share menu, if you'd like, though this feature is probably more useful to SwiftKey's marketing team than it is to you. Lastly, you can customize the keyboard for your typing style, change the color scheme, and even adjust key height to suit your tapping needs.

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You can undock the keyboard and move it around on the screen. Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Conclusion
With all its customization options, scary-smart technology, and newly integrated Flow feature, we can't recommend SwiftKey highly enough. It is, quite simply, our favorite keyboard replacement app on Android. And now that there's one app for both tablets and phones, which can sync your saved words and typing profile between devices, SwiftKey becomes even more valuable. Sure, it costs $3.99, which might be a bit steep for some people, but we think it's well worth the price.

swiftkey4.3_thumb.png
9.2

SwiftKey 4 for Android

Score Breakdown

Setup 10Features 10Interface 10Performance 9
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