PhatWare CalliGrapher 8.0
PDAs are primarily designed as a means to interact with data that has been transferred from another source. For example, we sync our Pocket PCs using ActiveSync to get our PIM information (i.e. Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, etc.) from Outlook. Many programs that require extensive input come with a desktop version, where it is easier to input information. The truth is, a full-size keyboard and mouse are much faster than the typical stylus-driven methods that we use on our PDAs. Even some of the newer devices that have thumb-boards take a back seat when it comes to the speed of input and simplicity of a full-size keyboard and mouse.
Along comes PhatWare and the newest version of their CalliGrapher application, 8.0. This application claims to make text input as natural as possible by offering an impressive array of features. I’ve seen various reviews and user reports around the web saying that version 8.0 has made CalliGrapher a "must have" addition to any Pocket PC. The last time I checked out CaliGrapher was version 6.x so I decided to take the latest version out for a spin.
reviewed CalliGrapher v7.1. The reviewer found that, "Overall
the program seems fairly useful. It takes a little while to warm up to, maybe
about a week or so."
There are lots of new features in version
8.0 that could help raise that opinion, including:
Pad Soft Input Panel (SIP)
handwriting recognition engine
- WM 5.0 support
Setup is pretty straightforward. You can download CalliGrapher as an .exe file and from there it will launch the standard ActiveSync add/remove programs tool. Since I didn’t see any warnings not to do so, I installed CalliGrapher into the non-volitile memory on my device instead of main memory. The main reason I did this is because CalliGrapher requires 3.2 MB of memory! Yikes! Once the files are transferred over to your device you will see this screen:
I chose Install Write Anywhere and Write Pad SIPs. Notice you can also remove Transcribe from the SIP menu. This is because Transcriber is actually based on an older version of the CalliGrapher recognition engine. Click Install and the process finishes by prompting you to soft reset your device. After the soft reset, you are ready to go.
PhatWare claims that you can start using CalliGrapher right away without any configuration and that’s just what I decided to do. There are two basic ways that you can use CalliGrapher to input text into your Pocket PC. The first, is called Write Anywhere. This is pretty much what it sounds like… with Write Anywhere active you can just write on the screen and CalliGrapher translates your writing into text.
Despite my medicore handwriting, CalliGrapher transcribed correctly… even the capital "G" in the middle of the word. Also note the toolbar that CalliGrapher installs at the bottom of the screen which I’ll talk more about the toolbar in the options section.
I didn’t have quite the same luck with cursive handwriting out of the box. I’ll admit, however, that my cursive writing is pretty awful. One neat feature in CalliGrapher is that you can quickly correct words that are incorrectly recognized by highlighting the word and then drawing a check-mark on the screen. This will bring up a correction screen where you can choose the correct word. Not only is this easy to do, but it also helps CalliGrapher "learn" how you write certain words and characters. Over time, CalliGrapher becomes much more accurate.
The second way that you can input text into CalliGrapher is through the Write Pad. The Write Pad is new to version 8.0 and may be more comfortable for people who are used to writing in the normal input area at the bottom of the screen.
I had good luck with regular handwriting in the Write Pad. If you run out of room, you either hit the return button, make a return gesture, or keep writing to the left of the little arrow under the writing area.
I had better luck with cursive in the Write Pad mode. Notice that you can see above your writing what CalliGrapher is interpreting it as before it is sent to the document.
CalliGrapher lets you specify the way you write. You can go through each letter and number and deselect the ones that do not represent the way you write. Note that PhatWare advises you should only do this if CalliGrapher consistently recognizes certain characters incorrectly.
CalliGrapher offers a wide variety of gesture commands in both input methods. For example, in Write Anywhere mode, you can highlight text with your stylus and then write the word "cut" with a circle around it on the screen. This will perform the cut function instead of using the standard tap and hold. Other gestures include a check mark for correcting text, a quick up and down motion for undo and of course return and backspace. These gestures are incredibly useful although it does take some time to learn them all.
After trying my hand at inputting text, I decided to take a look at the options.
I navigated to START > SETTINGS > INPUT and was greeted with two new input methods to choose from, Write Anywhere and Write Pad. In the second screen shot above, you can see that my installation of CalliGrapher is configured for English. CalliGrapher is also available in other languages as add-in packs.
The General options tab lets you set either Write Anywhere or Write Pad to activate after a soft reset. You can also turn on or off the intro screen, which I will show later. In the Write Anywhere options tab the most important options are for showing the toolbar and smooth ink mode.
The screen shot above and the right is the options screen for Write Pad. On the left is the Margins options screen which lets you tell CalliGrapher how large of a margin you want for the recognition area on your screen.
I mentioned earlier the toolbar that was visible in Write Anywhere mode. Here is the options screen that lets you decide what buttons you would like displayed on the toolbar. I think it would be best to use the program for a while and learn which commands you will use most often before changing these around. The first button visible on the toolbar (an up arrow) is the orientation button. If you want to hold the device in a different direction than up, you can tap this arrow and CalliGrapher will adapt to it. This is helpful if you hold the device at an angle when writing. The 6th button on the toolbar (paper with pen) is the launch PhatPad button. If you have PhatPad installed on your device, CalliGrapher will integrate with it.
These are the last two options screens. You can assign a hardware button to the PenCommand function, which I will explain in the next section. On the Advanced options screen you can control which orientations and recognition modes are available.
CalliGrapher offers more than just text input. PenCommand lets you create commands that are executed by CalliGrapher when you draw the associated shape. For example, you could shorten "Attend department meeting" into just the word "meet" with a circle around it. Calligrapher will recognize it and insert "Attend department meeting". That is a relatively simple example of the true power of PenCommand. You can also create functions similar to macros like you would use on your desktop computer. It would take an entire article to fully explain all the features of PenCommand, but suffice it to say that this is definately a feature that you can grow with and continue to customize.
There are several other features integrated into CalliGrapher including a spell checker which is available in all applications, quick correction functions, and even a handwriting recognition calculator function! What I really appreciate is that PhatWare went well beyond providing just a great handwriting recognition tool and gave advanced and power users lots of extra functionality to play with. Over the course of time, you can really maximize the benefits of these features to gain productivity from your device.
CalliGrapher includes a 121 page .pdf user’s guide! PhatWare is to be congratulated on the level of documentation that is provided with CalliGrapher. Very few Pocket PC software companies document their products to this level of detail. Included in the guide are very useful tutorials that every CalliGrapher user should try. These tutorials provide "basic training" on using the Write Anywhere and Write Pad input methods and also get you used to using the various gestures that are an important part of the program.
CalliGrapher also has an intro screen (which can be turned off) reminding you of some of the gestures.
CalliGrapher 8.0 supports Pocket PCs running Windows Mobile 2003/SE and 2005 including Phone Edition devices. It does not support Pocket PC 2000 or 2002 devices. You are also required to have ActiveSync 3.8 or higher to install the program. As I mentioned before, the program requires 3.2MB of storage space on your device, however I was able to successfully install the program into non-volitle memory instead of main memory with no problems.
BUGS AND WISHES
The only bug that I was able to find in the program revolves around selecting CalliGrapher as the input method. I found that to get Write Anywhere to work, I had to select it from START > SETTINGS > INPUT instead of just being able to choose it in an application. Once it was selected from the settings screen, it worked just fine. The other main issue that I experienced during my limited testing was incorrect recognition. Recognition did get significantly better over the week that I tested the product. It is true of any new input method that you will need to adjust to it. The neat thing about CalliGrapher is that it also adjusts to you over time. I would like to see PhatWare work on the amount of memory required and general system performance. I did feel that CalliGrapher slowed down my Pocket PC somewhat. This was mainly noticable during a soft reset and upon initial use. I wouldn’t say that this is a deal-breaker by any means, but if you have a device with a slower processor it is something to think about.
You can purchase CalliGrapher for $39.99 here.
There is also a 30-day trial version available which I highly recommend
that you try. If you own an older version of CalliGrapher, you can
purchase an upgrade for $24.99 from the PhatWare
website. The prices are a little steep for Pocket PC applications,
but considering the amount of functionality that you are getting, I
think it is worth the price.
- Natural handwriting recognition… you don’t need to learn a specific way of writing
- Recognition gets more accurate over time
- LOTS of advanced features to grow into
The program takes a while to fully understand
Requires a significant amount of memory
My overall feeling is that CalliGrapher is far and away the best handwriting recognition input method available today. The question you need to ask yourself is, "How much input do I perform on my Pocket PC?" If the answer is, "A lot," then you definitely owe it to yourself to try CalliGrapher. I think that people who input a lot of text will find CalliGrapher to be "must have" software. Personally, I find that I still prefer the thumb-board method of text entry, but that is not an option for everyone as most devices simply don’t have thumb-boards built-in. If you decide to try CalliGrapher, make sure you take the time to go through the tutorials that are in the user’s guide. These tutorials are CRUCIAL to understanding how to use the product effectively. If you don’t spend the time going through the tutorials, you will most likely end up frustrated. If you are willing to invest some time in learning how to maximize it, CalliGrapher is second to none and a truly impressive piece of software.