Definitely one of the best aspects about the BlackBerry 10 OS, or most other BlackBerrys that came before, is the keyboard. Sure, in the good old RIM days with touchscreen experimentation, the virtual on-screen option failed to compare with the physical counterparts. This was the disappointment of the Storm 9520, Torch 9860 and Curve 9380 and RIM’s entry into the all touchscreen game.
Taking on a fresh new avatar, the all new virtual keyboard on the BlackBerry Z10 hasn’t quite completely dispensed the old school design, but has certainly upped the functionality. There’s life in this keyboard that will have your fingers flying every which way with mistakes seldom occuring.
We tested this on two levels – speed and accuracy – and also had a take on the design and layout of these virtual input options. We listed out a rather simplistic set of sentences, six to be precise, that featured all kinds of characters, symbols et al. Four of us tested the keyboards simultaneously with a timer running, and we also tested them individually to make doubly sure. We ran each test at least four times so that we had enough to get an average.
Do keep in mind that not everyone in this test group has had the opportunity to test all four keyboards in the past or to use them at length. Each one is well-versed with the one they use as their primary keyboard. For one user it was Swype, while the other one used SwiftKey as his primary Android keyboard. One was an iOS user and the fourth has been using the BlackBerry Z10 device for a few weeks. Also, all their keyboards pose unique fundamental design differences. While all may be QWERTY in form, each one is different in terms of functionality, layout and usability. Even their built-in dictionaries and word prediction features vary.
Here’s what we found:
Sywpe Keyboard – Those of us who used the Swype keyboard were able to complete the given writing task accurately under 60 seconds. We averaged out at 57.3 seconds.
Swype is great for single-handed use and proves very speedy once you get used to it
Swiftkey Keyboard using “type” – Without utilising the sliding mechanism, Swiftkey users also managed to get in under 60 seconds and were just as good, averaging out at around 58.1 seconds.
SwiftKey offers both sliding or regular typing action with large keys that take up too much of the screen sometimes
BB Z10 Keyboard – Z10 users averaged out at around 60.01 seconds using the on-screen keyboard.
BB10's keyboard is well-designed and neatly laid out but requires two thumbs for speedy work
iOS keyboard – iOS users also came in close to Z10's offering with an average of about 60.03 seconds.
The iOS keyboard works fine with one or two hands and is very responsive
The Bottom Line
So here’s the overall outcome. One of the major reasons why keyboards like Swype and SwiftKey tend to perform a little better is due to the option of having special characters available on the front. Long press settings allow you to add question and exclamation marks amongst others quickly without changing the page. Numerals are also available via the same setup attached to the upper keys.
Here's how you use Swype:
The physical QWERTY keyboards on older generation BB devices also simplified this system with a Shift and press function. With BB10, one has to switch the page to access numbers or characters. This slows you down by a few milliseconds compared to the rest, and that’s really no big deal. While it is swift enough, the BB10 keyboard isn't the fastest option while using it with one hand. This is again where the use of single-handed slide options like Swype and SwiftKey come out on top. To really get the very best out of the BB10 keyboard, two thumbs are what you'll need.
Here's a quick look at the BB10 keyboard in action:
Of course, in landscape mode, you'll need to use both hands for typing – swiping across the screen really doesn't help much here. However, SwiftKey does offer the option of splitting the keyboard into two halves, making things a little more interesting. Swype and SwiftKey also offer Speech-to-text functionality, which is lacking in both iOS and BB10. Moreover, Swype also offers handwriting recognition as an added bonus.
The swipe-up to complete words also takes quite a bit of getting used to and although you can quickly save more frequently used words, the learning curve is a tad higher. But having said that, Swyping isn’t all too simple either and will also require some practice.
Check out how you can use SwiftKey:
Apple’s keyboard is well laid out as well and faces similar page-swapping requirements as the BB10. However, the keypad is extremely responsive and intuitive just like the BlackBerry keyboard, making typing a speedy process.
Word correction and auto complete features on all the keyboards proved to be very intuitive as well. All things said and done, there really isn’t a real winner here. One will wind up sticking with what they’re comfortable with, or in some cases the lack of choice. Thankfully, both iOS and BB10 have well-designed keyboards that – although just a teeny tiny bit slower in this case – are still great options to use on a touchscreen handset.
While Swype or SwiftKey might seem like they have the most amount of features to offer, it's not always features that take precedence when typing. Speed and accuracy matter and comfort of use is at the top of the list.
There’s always room for improvement and we’re hoping that all of these developers will take things up a notch in newer devices and updates. How much better they’ll be able to make them is anyone’s guess.