Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Swype vs Google vs Wnn. The best Android Japanese input method?

To summarise this needlessly long blog post:

Google Japanese Input
+Excellent intelligent 12-key keyboard
+Integrates with other apps
+Japanese style emoticons
-English autocorrection non-existant

Wnn Keyboard Lab (best for phones?)

+Good intelligent 12-key keyboard
+Good English autocorrection/prediction
+Integrates with other apps
+Japanese style emoticons

Swype  (best for tablets? Or if you always have 2 hands on your phone)

+Superior English autocorrection/prediction
+Superior Japanese handwriting recognition
+Copy/paste functionality
-Costs money
-Writing Japanese time consuming with 1-hand
-Quirky Japanese autocorrections

(EDIT: Other input methods summarized at the bottom of this post)

I've used a few Japanese input methods for Android both on my tablet and my phone, but having recently had to use these on a daily basis for messaging friends and looking up words, I wondered which method was the fastest.

I've seen others using the 12-key "flick" systems, which I suspect is the main contender to the QWERTY layout. Other layouts exist, such as those that display ALL the hiragana (but this necessitates a lot of buttons, and I've shied away from them because of the tiny screen on my phone).

I've used lots of input methods of the QWERTY and 12-key layout, my favourites when I started this were the Swype keyboard for the former, and Google Japanese Input for the latter. I also added the Wnn Keyboard Lab halfway through, since it had a nice blend of features from both of these. But which is faster? I did a little test on the following sentence:


Computer QWERTY keyboard: 40 s
Samsung Galaxy Fame
    Swype Keyboard (2-handed): 115 s
    Swype Keyboard (1-handed): 161 s
    Google Japanese Input 12-key (1-handed): 126 s
    Google Japanese Input 12-key (2-handed): 107 s
    Wnn Labs 12-key (1-handed):  118 s

Turns out that Google is just a tiny bit faster, especially for 1-handed input. I should point out I was NOT using the swiping method, but was punching the Swype keypad, because the swype functionality is actually pretty awful for Japanese. Also, there are probably some fairly large error bars on these figures (no, I didn't do this test in triplicate!), so no input method is really standing head and shoulders above the rest.

Most people reading this far will probably also be doing a lot of typing in English. So I thought I'd do another test with the following text, typing each word in full..

The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.

Computer keyboard: 26s
Samsung Galaxy Fame

    Google Japanese Input QWERTY (2-handed): 96 s

    Google Japanese Input 12-key (1-handed): 119 s

    Google Japanese Input 12-key (2-handed): 107 s
    Swype Keyboard (1-handed): 63 s
    Swype Keyboard (2-handed): 50 s
    Wnn labs QWERTY (2-handed): 67 s

Here, on what I guess is its home ground, Swype keyboard puts Google Japanese Input to shame, mainly because English for Google Japanese Input has no autocorrect! Ouch. Of course, you could argue that for English I should be using the English Google input (which would probably fair similarly to Swype), but switching between input methods has always been a bit clunky on Android, and with the 2 programs above, I don't need to change input methods. The additional advantage of this is that I don't swell the RAM usage (which is a critical point for a budget phone like mine). Noteably, Wnn labs' keyboard performed almost as well as Swype in this instance, just a few seconds behind due to the less accurate autocorrection.

So speed-wise, Wnn labs and Swype are pretty much tied.

What about other functionalities?

Swype has superb Japanese handwriting recognition. Possibly the best handwriting recognition for Japanese on Android, in my experience. For looking up unknown characters, this is great stuff, and having it built-in to the keyboard, and thus usable within just a second or two, makes it great at quickly looking up words. Great if you're reading a paperback, or especially if skimming new words from the TV, since they'll only be around for a very short time in most cases.

However, if you're not in a rush, there are other handwriting recognition programs that will get the job done. Google translate can be coerced into this role by copying text, as can kanji draw (which will do so without an internet connection). Neither of these options are quite as nippy as Swype, though.

Both Wnn Labs and Google have the Japanese style emoticons, which are missing from Swype. I have to admit to missing these on Swype..

Swype makes some strange autocorrect choices. Swype's autocorrect is the best (overall); however, there are some quirks that you wont find when using the other available options, such as "mo" never wanting to be converted into "も". You can choose "もう" instead, and delete the "う", or add a newline, but it seems very strange, considering "も" is a spectacularly common particle, for it not to default to the hiragana upon pressing the space bar... Additionally, the proximity of "u", "i" and "o" to each other on the keypad makes autocorrection very difficult for Swype in some cases. Using Wnn labs or Google's 12-key keypad mostly negates the need for autocorrection, because the keys are big enough that you'll not miss a button. Nonetheles, Swype's English autocorrection is near flawless.

Wnn Labs and Google can launch external apps. For me this means aedict3. Your current text gets sent automatically to whichever programs you have set up to receive, effectively turning any textbox into a dictionary shortcut when you need it.

Wnn Labs and Google have intelligent 12-key keypads. 12-key keypads (as shown above) are actually pretty fast for Japanese input. This is facilitated by intelligent prediction of characters, so that one can type "しやない" instead of "じゃない" (which would require 50% more keypresses to change the し into a じ, and to make the や small), and pull the correct phrase from the predictions bar. Swype has a 12-key keyboard hidden in the settings under "日本語", but is not intelligent. For Swype, you're better off with the full keypad.

Swype has easy copy-paste functionality. You can swipe from the swipe button to C (to copy) or V (to paste). Intuitive and effective, perhaps occasionally saving you a second or so?

To conclude, I recommend both Swype and Wnn Keyboard Lab. Swype is spectacular for English, and handles Japanese fairly well. Additionally, Swype will make character look ups a breeze with its superior offline character recognition. Wnn Keyboard Lab is great if you're using a phone to write Japanese 1-handed, and certainly isn't a sloth when it comes to English either (which is where Google Japanese Input fails pretty badly). On top of this, it integrates into aedict3. I can see myself using Wnn Keyboard Lab for my phone, which often gets used 1-handed, and Swype on my tablet, where 2 hands is a given.

P.S. You know your procrastination is getting really bad when you spend the best part of an hour typing the same thing into a phone again and again and again.. Still, maybe this will be of use to someone. (^^;

Here are some other input methods I tried at a later date.

Simeji 2015/03/03 - looks great, and integrates into the aedict dictionary (nice!) but the predictive text isn't as good as Google's and Wnn lab's
IQQI 2015/03/03 - Intriguing - has a full hiragana/katakana keyboard in addition to the normal keyboards; however, the "predictive text" again doesn't match up to Wnn or Google.
Go Keyboard 2015/03/03 - Pretty standard, same criticism as above.
I'll also add the criticism that Swype seems to load up much slower than the other keyboards.
KK Keyboard 2015/03/03 - Not bad; has advanced predictive text like Wnn and Google, but no flick input, and the English prediction is fairly terrible, like Google's
Swiftkey 2015/03/03 - Comes up in searches on the play store for Japanese keyboard, but doesn't actually have Japanese support (there is a beta, but you have to sign up - I don't have the time right now)
Multiling/O-keyboard 2015/03/03 - a complete pain to install, as you need to install each of the dictionaries individually (so 3 packages if you want multiling, and an EN dic and a JP dic - a 4th if you want handwriting.. I understand the desire for modularity, but this is a little awkward for the user) Has advanced predictive text for the 12-key JA keypad, as well as highly predictive text for the 12-key EN keypad

Still, as of March 2015, Google seems to be the only input method that can guess how to dice a Japanese sentence so if you type "かつこうにいく",  "学校に行く" appears as a candidate. Add to this the fact that the Google keyboards seem to be switching more fluidly between each other now, and it seems that going with the Google keyboards is the way forward now.


  1. in the end you mentioned Google keyboards switching fluidly... how does one get from Google Japanese Input to English easily? When I tried out Google Japanese Input, I could not find an easy way to switch between the two. With the Google English keyboard and Wnn, I can easily switch between the two by pressing the "globe" icon next to the spacebar.

    1. Apologies for the delay. In case you didn't find out on your own, you can bring up the input methods selection dialog by long-pressing the space key. This works for both the Google English keyboard and the Google Japanese keyboard. By "fluidly" I just mean that changing input methods no longer takes as long as before (for people with faster devices, maybe there was no difference between the newer and older versions of the keyboards)

  2. how does one switch between the Google keyboard and the Google Japanese keyboard easily??