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Move fast: Speedy Swype keyboard for Android now in limited public beta

Would you type quicker if you could trace your text on a virtual keyboard instead of type? You can test the theory yourself with a free, limited-time beta download from Swype.

Swype on Android
If you're all thumbs on the virtual keyboard, try Swype.

Like Shapewriter for the iPhone, Swype is a gestural alternative for the virtual keyboard that spells out words when you trace them with your fingertip. The software senses a finger press to mark the beginning of a word and a lift to denote the the end, then works out one or more possible combinations to make sense of the jumbled letters in between.

Most of the time Swype gets it right, and if you're a slow touch-screen typist for whom the hunt-and-peck method isn't going so hot, now's your chance to try out Swype.

Swype hasn't traditionally been open to the public (it is, however, preinstalled on some handsets,) so if you're interested in sampling the beta, you'd better make your move. The very limited-time beta offer began on Wednesday and will last "probably a few days," according to Swype's beta site.

Swype beta will work on HVGA and WVGA Android phones in English, Spanish, and Italian (with more to come.) You may experience some limitations since Swype requires complete integration with the phone for all its features to work. However, skip this download if your phone already came with Swype, because you'll find that it just won't work. Light support will come from the forums.

Swype in action
As useful as it can be, Swype isn't for everyone, particularly if you're heavy into slang, technical terms, and personal names. Depending what you write and how disciplined you are about contractions (me: extremely,) some aspects of Swype's previous version may have left you yearning for the built-in keyboard.

Over the time I've been beta-testing it, I've received errors about the words I wanted being "hidden" behind other words, words capitalizing in the middle of a sentence, and inconsistent acknowledgment of contractions, the latter two of which Swype's team says this new beta has solved, though we find that it's still flummoxed by some contractions. Double letters also present a challenge, but jogging twice over the letter of choice usually fills in both letters. You can't double-tap the space bar to get a period, but you can swipe out a period and the space bar as a workaround; and the standalone version of Swype doesn't make it immediately known that you've added new words to the dictionary (which it does after you type a word and hit Space.)

Stickler that I am with spelling and punctuation, distrusting Swype slows me down as I compulsively check each word before moving on to make sure the swipe worked. I've witnessed enough mistakes to carry on this editing practice, especially after one humorously ribald interpretation of a swipe involving an x-rated alternative to the word "gelato."

Interestingly, using Swype has made me aware of some idiosyncrasies in the English language, such as how often we use contractions that double as complete words, and the abundance of words containing double letters.

There are daily aggravations, sure (why, oh why, can't the consumer version tap into phone's the dictionary? However, I knew that Swype had become my preferred method of text entry when I caught myself tracing out words on the iPhone's standard touch-screen keyboard. Unsurprisingly, I didn't get too far.

Swype's latest beta is compatible with any Android-powered phone running OS 1.5 or up that also has an HVGA, WVGA, and FWVGA (480x320, 800x480, or 854x480) screen resolution--including (but not exhaustive to) the Droid family, Sprint EVO and Hero, and the Nexus One.

Update, 5:50 p.m. PDT: with more details and a correction about feature capabilities.