Calligrapher v7.4 for Pocket PC

Reviewed by: Paul Schneider, Ph.D., February 2005, send e-mail
Published by: PhatWare, go to the web site
Requires: Windows CE 3.0 or later; CPU: SH-3, ARM, MIPS, XScale; Devices: Pocket PC 2000/2002/2003, Pocket PC 2002/2003 Phone Edition; 2.8 MB of free storage space
MSRP: $29.95 USD

Over the years, I've had the opportunity to use a number of PDA devices, and while they all had their pros and cons, inputting information has always been a weak point. Sure retrieving the latest movie information is great, but what happens when you want to enter some notes from a meeting or a conference? Before I got my first Pocket PC, I had a Palm PDA. Although you could argue which was better, data entry via the Palm’s Graffiti language is at least tolerable. With the Pocket PC, well, let’s just say that it gives new meaning to the phrase hunt & peck. Using the Pocket PC’s built in keyboard or letter recognition tools are enough to make you want buy an add-on keyboard. I was moving in precisely this direction until I saw PhatWare’s latest version of Calligrapher, and decided to give it a try on my Dell Axim X5.

Calligrapher is a handwriting recognition program whose express purpose is to enable you to write, print, or use a mixture of both to enter information into your Pocket PC, all without any training period. If that isn't enough, Calligrapher also has a number of additional options including a configurable keyboard, user defined preferences, quick entries, its own dictionary, and multi-lingual support. Sounds pretty good doesn't it? At this point you are probably thinking the same thing I was right before I got Calligrapher: it all sounds fine and good, but how well will it really work with my handwriting?

Handwriting programs, like voice recognition, rely on a number of factors to accomplish their goals. However, the most important factor is indeed the quality of the input, which in this case is your handwriting. As good voice recognition is judged by its handling of slurred speech, so handwriting recognition can be judged by its handling of a doctor’s script. It doesn't usually work, no matter how good the program. While I don't have the worst handwriting in the world, my script certainly presents a challenge.

To assess Calligrapher’s capabilities I used my Pocket PC over a number of weeks, entering things such as meeting notes, shopping lists, blood pressure readings, searches, and some general writing. What I found was that Calligrapher could recognize even my handwriting and print, at least to a point. My handwriting is probably the worst of the two, and not surprisingly Calligrapher’s success was quite mixed. While at times I was shocked with its perfect interpretation of my writing, generally speaking it was off by several characters. To be fair, a lot of people have the same problem understanding my writing! When using mixed writing and print my results were considerably better. When printing, I found I could write several words in a row with Calligrapher, achieving near perfect recognition a majority of the time. Of course there were also a number of times I managed to get a sentence full of gibberish.

So does it work or does it not? Well the verdict on this one isn't exactly cut & dried. Over time I did notice a general improvement in recognition, which I tribute to a combination of my greater conscientiousness towards my writing combined with a better understanding of the nuances of the program. While Calligrapher recognizes natural writing, there are some characters such as m and n which required a slight modification to the way I would typically print the letter. Fortunately, Calligrapher does provide an easy to understand guide with various examples of the best ways to write letters and numbers when using the program. It even allows you to indicate a preferred way from any of the presented options.

Besides simply writing, Calligrapher comes with a whole slew of Gestures that enable you to perform common tasks such as deleting a character, entering a space, and making a correction or adding a carriage return. There are also a number of configurable options you can invoke by writing a specific word and then circling it. Want to add a smiley to your document? Write "smile" then circle it. How about adding a signature to the end of your letter or e-mail? Write "sign" then circle it and watch your entire signature appear.

In addition to the handwriting recognition tools, Calligrapher provides a number of other useful features. The configurable auto-complete tool and spell checker is similar to the ones found in Microsoft Word and works equally well. The configurable keyboard also proved to be a necessary friend at times. Although Calligrapher’s character and number recognition is strong, entering characters such as slashes or single quotes, although possible, are often easier to do with the built in keyboard. Finally, you can also add multiple language support, change scripts and add new pen commands for common things like bold, web addresses, and so on.

If you want to start using your Pocket PC for information retrieval as well as more extensive data entry, then you should probably consider Calligrapher. The advertisements are accurate; it does indeed operate out of the box without extra training. What it doesn't do is, make up for the lousy handwriting you may already have. Still, the worst of us will find decent results with just a little extra care in our script combined with a bit of practice.

In using this program I couldn't help but recall that commercial where a guy is standing on the platform in a subway station. He sees a girl on a stopped train and their eyes lock. They have a moment, and then the girl breathes on the window glass and writes down her phone number with her finger, but the poor guy doesn't have anything to write with and then she and her number are whisked away down the tracks while he stands on the platform with a devastated look on his face. Now if he only had a Pocket PC and Calligrapher, we would have quite the different ending!

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