Advanced Hand Writing Recognition for PDAs; PhatWare’s Calligrapher and PhatPad Reviewed

When the first Apple Newton hit the market back in the early 90’s, people were astonished by the handwriting to text recognition capabilities; it really made us understand the possibilities of these little computer gadgets we call PDAs. Till this day handwriting recognition software keeps evolving with features and supporting even the sloppiest handwriting out there, yes even mine. If it can translate the mess I call writing into text, then it should have no problem with other peoples. Sometimes I can’t even read my own writing, I mean the only time I write is to sign a for a package or take a phone number down, and for Calligrapher to pick this up makes me wonder if it has a bit of Artificial Intelligence technology in there, maybe its reading my thoughts before I write it down so that’s how it knows?

The software we are taking a look at has been developed by PhatWare Corporation and is called Calligrapher 7.5 and PhatPad 2.1 for Pocket PC, and yes, their wares are pretty hot and tasty.

Calligrapher, in a nutshell, supports cursive, print or mixed handwriting styles, it will analyze your pen strokes in any window and send the recognized strokes to the application. It comes bundled with an application called Pen Commander, it has amazing shortcut features, for example; if you write the word “sign” then draw a circle around it, Pen Commander will send your preset signature to the current application you are in. These are all customizable and you can add any shortcut to the system easily.

After installation, Calligrapher adds a pencil icon along with a letter and block recognizer option along side your standard Keyboard. When selecting “Calligrapher” the handwriting recognition is enabled and you are ready to go about writing your text. When you are in letter or block recognizer mode, you can write single letters and numbers, auto-completion searches it’s database for words to try and guess the rest of the word so you do not have to write it.

The toolbar added to your application is easy to modify in the settings, I use the default so this is what we will discuss. From left to right, we first have the orientation icon of how you write on the screen, I use straight up, this can be changed to landscape or even some whacky angle depending on how you hold your device. Next is the button to switch between the styles of writing you would like to input, either lowercase text, uppercase, numbers or symbols. After that is the language, English is included but Danish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish can be purchased at $14.95 each. Calligrapher also lets you cheat, and easily switch its own internal keyboard mode, it looks much nicer than the Windows Mobile default.

Spell check is next, it will switch to spell checking view, with words unrecognized underlined in colour. You have many options from here, they surely didn’t leave anything out, it offers similar suggestions, Auto Corrector (this auto corrects that word if you happen to misspell it again, in my opinion you should learn how to spell it properly not accept your ignorance and move on), Add to dictionary, Case Switch, Add Space or Cancel out of spell check.

If you have PhatPad installed, a shortcut option is added to allow you to select it from the Calligrapher toolbar, I will get to PhatPad later. Then we have the Character recognizer list, it shows you how the system wants you to write a letter, and shows you the accepted variations. This is really impressive, you can disable variations, delete them or even import/export your own Letter Shape Files (*.LSS). When you select a specific character it will animate the letter being written the way it should be. Finally we get to the settings, from here you add, delete or edit your language configurations. General settings let you check sound options, menu modes etc, margins allow you to change where your first stroke should begin, after that you can write anywhere. Then there is the Toolbar configuration; you simply drag the icons around to modify your toolbar to the way you like it and the options you prefer to use. The hardware button configuration will let you assign your Pen Commander shortcuts to your PDA buttons, this may also be handy for fast repetitive actions. Advanced options lets you enable/disable various features, I won’t get into that since it’s basic. Finally the last two options by default are the Pen Commander shortcut and help screen, no need to discuss them since they are straight-forward.

Now on to the PhatPad, picture PhatPad as a large drawing board or clipboard with some major graphical assistance, an unlimited size drawing area, 49 different colour markers with 9 different size tips, that wouldn’t be fun at all to carry around, so PhatWare put them into a program. For example; if you are a Football coach and create team plays you can draw them on on the Pocket PC or Desktop application, add notes to the plays, then carry them with you on your PDA, you can even print them out and give copies to the team.

PhatPad let’s you draw shapes of all kinds, lines, maps, write text or anything else you can think of in any colour and point size, if you can draw it, PhatPad will store it. Or even import a photo of some sort, add your notes to it or a description. A helpful feature is the “Shape Corrector” option, when selected, you can draw perfect triangles, squares, circles or whatever other shape you want. Animations can be created between pages, more of a slideshow effect if anything, it can be set to cycle in a certain timed interval. When installing PhatPad, it will install a desktop version of the software, it is essentially the same but with a larger surface area to work on, easier access to options and you have a comfortable mouse to draw with.

All of PhatWare’s applications are excellent tools to add a more interactive aspect to your digital workflow. If you would like to make digital notes, draw charts and graphs, even create presentations with diagrams for groups or simply write on your PDA rather than type, PhatWare has a solution for you.

PhatWare sent us both Calligrapher 7.5 and PhatPad 2.1 for review, these can be purchased separately from PhatWare at a price of $29.95 each or save $10 if you buy them together. Pen Commander used to sell separate but is now bundled with Calligrapher. They all run on Windows Mobile 2000 to 2003SE and CE 3.0+, PhatPad desktop version will run on Windows 98SE, 2K and XP as well.


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