Android this week: 4.1 for Nexus; Galaxy S III reviewed; Swype and SwiftKey improve

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Google’s annual developer conference is next week, but some Android news is leaking out in advance. For a brief time period on Thursday, anyone purchasing a GSM Galaxy Nexus direct from Google got the tip: The Jelly Bean version of Android is definitely 4.1 and it will first appear soon on Google’s Nexus. Details of what Jelly Bean will contain are still a mystery but Galaxy Nexus owners will have the initial look at the software.

Similar to the Nexus is the Galaxy S III, although it shows many improvements both in the hardware and software. Both are made by Samsung, hence the similarities, but those looking for cutting-edge performance in a thin 4.8-inch high-resolution smartphone should certainly check out Samsung’s new phone. My own experiences show a device that many people will be happy to use for quite some time, even if they purchase on a 2-year contract. I don’t think Samsung’s competitors will catch up that quickly on the software front.

The trick is, however, finding a Galaxy S III. Even though the device is launching on five U.S. carriers, it’s already playing hard to get. This week both Sprint(s) and AT&T announced they were experiencing inventory shortages due to high demand.

Verizon never planned to deliver the phone until early July, possibly expecting or planning for such a situation. T-Mobile does have the Galaxy S III in limited markets, but is charging $80 more per handset; even after a $50 mail-in rebate. Still, I think the phone is worth the wait. And if it weren’t for fast Android updates direct from Google, I’d likely buy one myself.

One of the appealing features of Android as a whole has two updated options this week: Both Swype and SwiftKey improved their keyboard software for Android devices. Swype gained XT9 predictive text technologies to improve the keyboard’s ability to guess the word you’ve swiped. It does so through sentence context. Even better: The keyboard learns to better predict phrases by scanning your prior communications, helping to automatically insert the right text.

SwiftKey actually offered that same learning technology last year in a similar fashion, but now improves with a range of small, but useful features: smart spacing, two new themes — including the Android 4.0 “Holo” look — larger spacebar, dedicated comma key, and faster access to common punctuation.

I’ll go back to try the new Swype, but I find SwiftKey to be a better option for my fingers. You can findĀ SwiftKey in the Google Play store forĀ $1.99 (half price this week) while registering for the Swype beta will get you a free direct download.

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