Don’t write off SwiftKey like I did.AntonioGuillem/Getty
If like me, you own a Huawei, the chances are that your phone came pre-installed with Microsoft’s keyboard app SwiftKey. My initial reaction was revulsion, it was a mess and it made me grumpy.
So, after 24 hours of being saddled with what I thought was an inferior keyboard app, I downloaded Google’s equivalent, Gboard. In its default form, Gboard feels way more intuitive and user-friendly than SwiftKey, which just seemed too busy and clunky.
I have stuck with Gboard ever since. Until this week.
Intrigued by why there was such a gulf between the two apps, I decided to give SwiftKey another go. The results completely surprised me.
To begin with, SwiftKey looks a mess
Swiftkey is on the left, Gboard on the right.Isobel Hamilton/Business Insider
In its default setting, Swiftkey definitely loses out to Gboard. It’s way too busy and just feels clunky to use. It also takes up more screen space.
Having the symbols lumped in on top of the letters is confusing and the keys are all bunched in way too tight.
Often, I would hit the wrong character and the predictive words were not at all what I intended. I lost patience with it very quickly.
But then I tried something new…
By hitting ‘themes’ you can pick a much more pleasing pre-build.Isobel Hamilton/Business Insider
That screen-eating bar at the top of the SwiftKey keyboard actually gives you a shortcut to pick a new theme. It might sound superficial, but it makes a world of difference to the interface.
Let’s get personal
To customise your keyboard you just choose a picture, set background darkness, then pick whether you want key borders and/or symbols.Isobel Hamilton/Business Insider
The pre-builds are already way better to use than the default, but why not tailor it even further? I made a custom set-up using a picture of a whale as background, and got rid of the key-borders and symbols that had annoyed me in the default build.
So now, not only is my SwiftKey more intuitive, but it has a personal touch. You can do the same with Gboard, but SwiftKey just felt that little more stylish.
Pick the right size for you
Be like Goldilocks, find what works.Isobel Hamilton/Business Insider
SwiftKey’s keyboard can look pretty bulky, but it has five sizes you can choose from. Try them all out to see which one suits you best. I’m a fan of “small” personally.
Punctuation and symbols
Less is more when it comes to quick punctuation.Isobel Hamilton/Business Insider
At first, I found SwiftKey’s placing of punctuation and symbols to be baffling, but after re-jigging the settings and familiarising myself a bit, it became slicker than Gboard.
The exclamation mark, question mark and comma are all quickly accessible by swiping on the full-stop.
Gboard has a similar feature but with more options, which kind of negates the point of being able to select frequently used punctuation quickly.
Time for a speed test
Including time taken to correct false text predictions, SwiftKey edged out Google by four seconds.Isobel Hamilton/Business Insider
I knew I liked the way it looked, but now it was time to find out if it was actually faster. I timed myself typing out verses from “Les Misérables.”
They came out pretty much even, with SwiftKey winning “One Day More” by a few seconds and Gboard pulling ahead on “Stars” by one second.
A point against Google: Voice command
Although I’d previously been a Gboard devotee, its voice activation can be ever so slightly trigger happy. I’d be happily typing away and then a careless thumb swipe would mean clumsily having to reverse out of the voice typing.
SwiftKey places it over on the left and requires more of a hold, meaning doesn’t pop up and interrupt typing.
Battle of the backspace
Who’d have thought a backspace could make such a difference.Isobel Hamilton/Business Insider
Gboard’s backspace is more of a traditional glide, whereas SwiftKeys cuts words as units. At first I thought this would be unwieldy, but in fact it just speeds things up.
For more fiddly deleting the glide function isn’t particularly useful anyway, and for bigger chunks it just slows you down.
And the winner is…
SwiftKey is a bit of an ugly duckling, but with some artful customisation, it becomes a really slick app.Isobel Hamilton/Business Insider
To my great surprise, I am now a fully-fledged convert. SwiftKey is officially my keyboard app of choice. The whale stays.
Gboard has the better default build, but once you tinker around with the settings and take a moment or two to familiarise yourself with it, SwiftKey looks and handles better.