Much is made about the “openness” of the Android platform, but to many people that term has no meaning. They might assume that an “open platform” is only relevant to the “geeks” who like to install custom kernels and overclock their phones.
But it goes far beyond just goofing around with your phone, and is more about getting it to work the way you personally want it. After using an Android phone or tablet, then switching to iPhone or iPad, you will immediately know what difference an “open” platform makes (jailbreak notwithstanding).
Don’t like your keyboard software? Download one of the dozens that are available on the market. Choose from an alternate QWERTY like Swiftkey, or go for something crazy like Thumb Key or Swype beta. Don’t like your phone’s interface? Easily replace it with something like LauncherPro, and give it a whole new look. Do you find your default music player lacking? Then check out Music PlayerPro. It goes on and on, all the way to the way you dial your phone. And that’s what we’re going to look at today – an alternative phone dialer/contact manager app.
Of all the on-screen keyboards I have used in my 10-or-so years of using PDAs/SmartPhones, one stands out as my clear favourite. TouchPal by CooTek for Windows Mobile 6.5 used an innovative “T+” keyboard layout that put two letters on each key. This made it easy to type with thumbs on smaller screens, and having two letters per key presented the opportunity to use swiping gestures to make writing of words not found in the dictionary extremely easy.
Swipe left or right on a key to choose one of the letters, swipe up for capitalization, and down for symbols. It’s a genius design that I have yet to see duplicated, even by their own Android version, which pales in comparison to the original English version of TouchPal for Windows Mobile. Yes, sadly the world’s best on-screen keyboard app is for an obsolete mobile platform.
It looks like instead of focusing on making a great version of TouchPal Input for Android (something I hope they do get around to), CooTek has been working on other areas such as the dialer. You may not think of it, but considering your SmartPhone is actually a phone, the dialer is a pretty important part of the system. Not only is it used to screen incoming and outgoing calls, it is also the interface used to handle contacts from the phone itself.
The main “dialer” screen looks like this – a nice simple design custom keypad, with a quick-lookup contact list showing the latest incoming and outgoing calls at the top. Typing in a number uses both the numbers and letters on the keys to find contacts. The best part of this is that it is very fast compared to HTC’s dialer on the Desire HD that I use.
There is also a quick-search function built into the contact list, giving you another custom keyboard which prevents you from having to load the phone’s default keyboard. As you know, keyboard loading causes a delay of a second or more, depending on software and hardware. Even on the Desire HD, SwiftKey can sometimes take a moment to load, which can be a hassle.
There is also a Favorites list, giving quick access to the numbers you call most.
There are quite a few settings that give the user some control over their dialer.
This is going to be a quick review, because really there isn’t a lot to talk about right now. The goal of TouchPal Dialer is to be quick and efficient, and an alternative to big bloated dialers/contact lists that often come with Smartphones. After a day of use, TouchPal Dialer takes up about 20MB of space in memory. To me, it succeeds in that realm, and is perfect for medium-range phones that may come with dialer apps that are a bit too bulky for the hardware they’re installed on. If your phone can handle something more robust, it might be worth staying with whatever it came with if you already like it.
The best thing is that this software is FREE for now, which tells us that they are still in the process of improving it. If you want to try it out, you can grab it from the Android Market or AppBrain now. With some improvements, such as screen swiping gestures, landscape support, custom sorting, etc, this will be a real contender against even the best branded dialer apps out there. Users of CyanoGenMod will definitely want to check it out, as will Sony Arc users.
I’ll close with CooTek’s demo video of TouchPal Dialer being used in action. This shows you just how efficient it is at finding contacts quickly and easily: