Many years ago I was the proud owner and user of an Apple Newton. I had played with the early Newton 100, and to say that the handwriting recognition was bad was an understatement. But not one to give up hope, I watched progress of this platform, and eventually purchased a Newton MessagePad 120.
They must have pulled some magic between generations, as from that point on, I was a believer. The built-in recognition engine, Calligrapher by ParaGraph, was incredible, and after a short while was recognizing at least 90% of my writing perfectly. I moved up to a MessagePad 2000 and wrote profusely until being forced to move to the early Windows CE platform with the end of the Newton product line.
That’s where the pain began all over again. Early WinCE devices had the Jot character recognizer built-in, which was sort of like Graffiti on the Palm OS, but slightly less cryptic. Whilst it did the job, it wasn’t until the eventual release of Transcriber for CE that we were able to write “free style” anywhere, and have a good chance of having it recognized.
Transcriber, initially a downloadable add-on, but later built-in, was not a full port of ParaGraph’s Calligrapher, and I found it severely lacking. It worked, but it didn’t have anywhere near the accuracy I had experienced on the Newton, and I found I had to re-learn how to write more clearly (maybe a good thing!).
Enter PhatWare, who got inspired by the Calligrapher technology and taken it to new heights of functionality and accuracy on the Windows Mobile platform.
The current release of 172193 Phatware Calligrapher 8.1, comes with great out-of-the-box recognition, continuous learning of your handwriting, and a 100,000+ word dictionary. It also adds a truckload of helpful features, some of which we’ll look at later in this review.
Once installed, Calligrapher’s two input methods become available in the Soft Input Panel (SIP) menu.
The software has the standard “write anywhere” input method that I have come to love. It just works. You write, it recognises. Most of the time anyway. When using write anywhere, a customisable tool bar can be shown, giving you quick access to whatever shortcuts you prefer.
Or you can use the “write pad” input panel. This is no ordinary letter input panel, but a full set of input tools squeezed into a small part of the screen. It accepts letter or cursive input, gives an instant preview of its recognition as you write, and allows quick and easy correction.
This feature alone may be enough to convert hard core “on screen tappers” into at least occasionally adventuring into handwriting recognition!!
Write Pad has an on-screen keyboard option if you need it also.
And at all times Calligrapher provides a handy spell checker which can be called upon in any context, no matter how or when the text was entered.
As it was with the Newton, Calligrapher allows you to create and use multiple profiles, so if you share or lend out your device, its learnings of someone else’s handwriting won't interfere with those it has stored for you.
Pen Commander is a neat feature which allows you to use symbols to initiate commands such as cut, paste, select all, or even launch Excel or Inbox.
One frustration with handwriting recognition software for so long is the trouble it has handling special characters such as @ and /, commonly used in Internet email addresses and URLS. Calligrapher, like Transcriber, has a button you can tap to change the input mode from standard letters, to upper case, and to numbers, but then goes one step more and has a “@” option, which is ideal for entering email addresses, and other text with special symbols.
It even has a built in calculator you can use simply by ending with the = symbol.
Advances specific to 8.1 over 8.0 are an improved Write Pad SIP and support for Windows Mobile 5.0.
To give you and idea of the power and feature richness of Calligrapher compared to the standard Transcriber, the software installs onto your PC a 120 page pdf file with a detailed user guide showing how to get the most out of it! 120 pages!! A bit more than I had expected, but PhatWare have gone to great lengths to make sure you know how to make your Pocket PC fly, with lots of screen shots, and also including quick and easy tutorials.
So overall, I was impressed. It’s powerful, it goes far beyond Transcriber out of the box, and will constantly adapt to your handwriting.
It’s worth noting however that Transcriber over the years has also got better. And while it doesn’t really offer too much beyond the core recognistion engine and a dictionary, it works pretty good if you write semi clearly. I’ve been using Transcriber for years, so can get by pretty well when note taking and doing calender entries.
But I do find Calligrapher a breath of fresh air with some very handly features, and I have noticed the improved accuracy.