Siine: A Decent Keyboard for Frequent Texters

It seems like every week a new contender stands up in an attempt to dethrone the two kings of the Android keyboard hill, Swype and Swiftkey. Given the sheer number of keyboards available, it’s hard to imagine what new apps can do to differentiate themselves – and yet there are many that stand up to the challenge.

The Siine Keyboard Splash Screen and Tutorial

The Siine Keyboard Splash Screen and Tutorial

One such recent entrant into the arena is Siine Keyboard. Rather than focusing on the usual word completion or prediction features, though, Siine focuses on helping you type entire phrases with just a few taps. If you find yourself typing similar words or phrases again and again – greetings, quick questions, and so on – Siine might be just right for you… as long as you’re not keen on doing a lot of regular typing. Let’s take a look.

Unique Features

Given how much we have shifted from communicating via voice to communicating through text messages over the last few years, there’s no lack of compulsive texters who live and breathe on their mobile phone keyboards. And as any compulsive texter will quickly tell you, there’s a lot of repetition in what you end up typing in your messages over time. The same conversation starters in the same style, repetitive busy messages, invites and questions – Siine tries to ease the repetition by providing all of your most-used phrases with tap-to-insert icons.

Time and Date entry UI

Time and Date entry UI

Along with the regular QWERTY keyboard layout, Siine adds a couple of blue buttons: one for time and date entry and the other for phrase shortcuts. The time entry button pulls up a clock along with regularly used words when talking about time, like “at”, “around”, and “in”. Select the word and tap the time, and the phrase gets added to your message. Same goes for the calendar.

Quick access to phrases and sets available for download

Quick access to phrases and sets available for download

But the real fun and power of the app lies in the shortcuts. Hit the hand icon and you’re greeted with a grid of icons that each represent a set of frequently used phrases.

Tap an icon a few times to cycle through all the phrases in that group. The “Soon” icon, for example, will let you cycle through “See you soon”, “Hope to see you soon”, and “Let’s catch up soon”. There are also shortcuts to quickly add your name, your e-mail address, your Twitter handle, and so on, plus sets for weekdays and day references like “today” and “tomorrow”.

The sets are also extensible, so you can create your own phrases and sets to add to the library, or simply download new packs from the Google Play store. I found the extra packs pretty wacky and not much in line with what I would use – but then I’m not much of a text messaging user myself, so what do I know? What I really liked about this feature are the icons, which help you associate them with the messages and enhance retention.

Core Typing Experience

Although the shortcuts and time savers do have their value and reduce your typing effort quite a bit, there are always going to be times when you need to actually type something in using the QWERTY keyboard. For Siine, that’s where a bulk of my concerns stand.

The regular typing experience with the keyboard leaves a lot to be desired. First and foremost, you don’t have a number row on the keyboard – not even as secondary keys that you need to long-press for. Long-pressing a key enters a caps version of the letter, which seems to be the only way to do that in the absence of a dedicated ‘Shift’ key. This is a deal-breaker for me, having to jump to the numeric layout every time I need to add a number!

The less than impressive qwerty experience

The less than impressive qwerty experience

The second most important feature of any self-respecting keyboard these days – the auto-completion – is flaky at best. It doesn’t bother to show a lot of very common words as I type, and it doesn’t learn from my typing over time to make frequently used words appear first. Sure, I’ve been a SwiftKey user for too long and probably expect a lot of intelligence from the keyboard, but this is still pretty standard fare.

Okay, there are some very nice touches, like the ability to long-press the ‘Backspace’ key and slide around to delete entire messages, and the ability to type accent characters by long-pressing on a key. But lots of minor niggles take the credit away from these enhancement pretty quickly. Like the fact that to type a capital ‘A’, just long-pressing the ‘a’ key is not enough. I then need to actually choose the ‘A’ from the grid of special characters that appears. Or the most irritating layout decision of them all – the ‘Enter’ key is in the bottom-left corner instead of the standard bottom-right corner. I simply can’t for the life of me get used to this one!

Wrap-Up

For regular texters, there is a lot to like about Siine. The quick access to common phrases, the ability to create your own frequently used phrase sets and the easy access to date and time will make it worth it for the most part. Unfortunately, the regular typing experience on the QWERTY keyboard is not much to write home about, and in some cases feels like a step back from the stock Android keyboard even on Gingerbread.


Summary

Although it brings a unique twist to the regular Android keyboard with its sets of often used phrase shortcuts and can be extremely useful for some, the regular typing experience leaves one less than impressed with the overall utility of the app.

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