Hands on: New Swype update adds gestures, other new features

By JR Raphael (@jr_raphael)

Swype Android Update

Need a break from all the Google-Motorola merger talk? Here's a hands-on look at a brand new release from Swype, makers of the very cool (and very popular) swipe-based virtual keyboard for Android.

The update, launched Tuesday morning, is available initially only on Sprint's Nexus S 4G phone. I had a chance to check it out a day before its release. Among the app's most noteworthy new features:

• Support for gestures.

The updated Swype has seven built-in gestures that let you launch programs and perform text-editing functions right from the keyboard. You can move your finger from the Swype key to "t" and then "w" to launch Twitter, for example, or to "f" and then "b" to launch Facebook. Also included are gestures for launching Google Maps, selecting all text, cutting and copying text, and pasting text.

In my experience, the gestures worked flawlessly and were a nice addition to an already robust keyboard. The text-editing gestures in particular seem like they could come in handy for an interruption-free typing experience. The app-launching gestures strike me as more of a power-user type of feature; if you're the kind of person who uses hotkeys on a PC, you'll probably enjoy being able to jump directly to an app after inputting some text. Of course, only three apps are available as gestures at the moment, but even so, having that kind of functionality in a virtual keyboard is a novel addition -- and one with some interesting implications for the future.

• A Swype-specific personal dictionary.

Swype Android Update: Personal Dictionary

In addition to Android's own personal dictionary -- where you can add custom words that'll be recognized while typing -- Swype's latest version offers its own personal dictionary, accessible via the app's settings. Best I can tell, previous versions of Swype recognized and respected the OS-level dictionary without any issues, so this change seems to be more about streamlining your keyboard settings into a single, app-specific place.

• Better noun capitalization.

The new Swype automatically capitalizes proper nouns as you type -- a welcome touch that was oddly absent in past editions.

• New "toast"-based tips.

For users still learning the ins and outs of Swype, the updated app provides "toast"-based tips that pop up on screen when needed and automatically disappear after five seconds. Fear not, though, Swype veterans: You can turn these off with a single tap in Swype's settings.

• A new look (for the Nexus S 4G, at least).

This latest Swype introduces a bit of makeover for users of Sprint's Nexus S 4G. The app has a fancy new skin designed specifically for the phone, featuring a sleek dark background with blue and white characters. (The standard Swype interface uses a somewhat less striking gray and white design.)

Swype Android Update Nexus S 4G

Nexus S 4G users can download the updated Swype app free right now at sprint.swype.com.

Android Power Twitter

So what about everyone else? Swype tells me the update will reach its beta customers (i.e. anyone who uses Swype on a phone where it didn't come preinstalled) sometime soon. As for users of other Swype-preloaded devices, it'll presumably be up to each manufacturer as to if and when the update rolls out.

JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

Article copyright 2011 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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