How swift is your smartphone?

When it comes to texting, are you a tortoise or a hare? How long does it take you to type a letter? To discover the quickest way to get his message across, Simon Usborne tests the speed limit
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The Independent Tech

Keying, thumbing, scrawling, jabbing. Tracing, pushing, swiping, tapping. Turning thoughts into letters and words used to be simple. You picked up a pen, grabbed a piece of paper and you wrote. But then some clever bod knocked up a keyboard, which went on not only to spawn generations of hapless handwriters but also a bewildering array of new ways to create text.

And in the age of emails marked "urgent" and texting at the traffic lights (not advised), seconds count. But whether you're a salami-thumbed button basher or a lighting-fast digital demon, what's the fastest way to type? To find out, I've built up an arsenal of devices with eight different ways to input words – from handwriting recognition to digital dictation – for the ultimate typing test.

But first I need something to type. I put in a call to a secretarial school founded by the original speed texter, Sir Isaac Pitman. His system of shorthand, developed in 1837, is still in use today but today Pitman Training also teaches typing. Elly Hyde, its training manager, sends me some of the texts she uses to get students up to speed. I combine four sentences, each of which includes all the letters of the alphabet, into a 100-word (nonsensical) set text, below.

The next task is to memorise my passage – I don't want to lose time reading while testing less-familiar gadgets. Then, clock ticking, I'll take each device and enter the text three times, dividing the number on the watch by three to get an average time. I will also divide the total number of mistakes by three, and add that number to the average time to adjust it for accuracy. Finally (stick with me) I'll convert that time into words per minute to establish the speed I can achieve using each method.

Of course, this is a semi-scientific method at best. My job involves a lot of typing, so I should have a head start on my keyboard. The same goes for my iPhone and the alphanumeric keypad on my old Nokia. For the other methods – and this includes pen and paper – I have spent as much time as possible practising to try and make the comparison fair. Right then, I've flexed my fingers and clipped my nails. Let's do this.

The text: "Joan Faith quickly jumped over the burning boxes and walked away from the scene of the disaster with dazed feelings. If she makes a determined and real effort, we are quite sure she will very quickly be enjoying a high place with the experts and may win a valuable prize. As the young musician, who wore a jacket of vivid colouring, strolled slowly round the piazza, the quaint sounds from his guitar and his relaxed manner reflected the evening calm. His extra blazer was made of the finely woven jet black cloth and a quaint colourful badge adorned the pocket."

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