This software review is on PhatWare’s CalliGrapher which has to be on the “must-have” list of utilities for any serious PDA junkie’s collection. Setting aside the Casio B.O.S.S. I used only briefly, I consider my first handheld to be the Apple Newton MessagePad. What was the big attraction of the MessagePad device? It was its handwriting-to-text translation, the earliest ancestor of today’s CalliGrapher. The inventors of that software was not Apple but actually some creative Russian programmers and the company they eventually formed called Paragraph International.
CalliGrapher was and still is a revolutionary piece of software, well ahead of its time in terms of ability but lacking the hardware at that time to adequately support its functionality. Here was a utility that permitted you to actually input data via handwriting versus a keyboard which up to that point had been the only accepted method of input beyond the early punch-cards method or teletype machines front-ending those DEC/IBM mainframes.
Unfortunately, the marketing hype heralding the arrival of the Apple Newton MessagePad was actually much greater than the handwriting recognition software’s performance. Fair or not, this perception of a problem with handwriting recognition continued to dog the Apple Newton despite improvements made in subsequent releases of the Newton OS, so much so it would be ridiculed in the popular media of the day. Some of you may remember the Doonesbury cartoon strip lampooning the Newton’s handwriting capabilities with the word translation of “egg freckles” while the Simpson’s TV series character Dolph wrote on his Newton MessagePad to “Beat Up Martin” but it translates it to “Eat Up Martha”.
While the Newton was ultimately killed by Steve Jobs upon his return to Apple (don’t get me started on that swift move), the good news for all of us is that the developers at ParaGraph always kept the faith and continued to further develop the technology behind the application. Over time, Bill Gates and company saw the potential by licensing its use in the Tablet PC OS and of course, Windows CE. In 2001, PhatWare announces a development, support and management agreement for ParaGraph’s CalliGrapher and PenOffice so the rest seems to now be history.
A Better Mousetrap?
As I have alluded, the beginnings of handwriting recognition were shaky at best but thanks to the continued efforts of ParaGraph, we are blessed to have the fruits of their labor today. There are really two basic schools of thought behind handwriting recognition: 1) Interpretation of actual handwriting or digital ink input and 2) Interpretation of predetermined specific hand strokes or gestures.
Many people are familiar with the Palm Pilot and its history. The basic premise was to take the MessagePad, shrink it down to a more pocket-able size and permit hand gesture input in which the user mimics the internal database of predefined pen gestures. The software was called Graffiti and was developed by Palm. This software was eventually sold also as an add-on alternative to the MessagePad’s handwriting software and licensed by Microsoft as a “block recognizer” in the early CE days. For a quick look back on the rich history of Graffiti, you can check out the Palm Graffiti Wikipedia page for more information.
With PhatWare’s CalliGrapher, instead of relying on the brainpower of the user to learn the correct hand gestures, CalliGrapher went about putting that processing power back into the handheld device where it belonged. CalliGrapher is based on fuzzy logic that looked into a dictionary and statistically “guessed” the correct translation. Not only that, but the software improved the handwriting recognition engine and CalliGrapher’s own Statistical Analyzer (CSA) began to learn your handwriting over time and auto correcting it for the intended word output. While this is a rather simplistic description of the roots of CalliGrapher and how it works, I am glad to say that the old days of “egg freckles” are now long in our past.
CalliGrapher’s Description and Features
Here’s a brief description of CalliGrapher and its features from PhatWare’s web site…
CalliGrapher is an award winning natural handwriting recognition software that supports all handwriting styles – cursive, PRINT or MIXed. In addition to handwriting recognition, CalliGrapher offers PenCommander (an easy-to-use PC navigation tool), ink color selection and customizable ink width, and a “Quick Correct” window for fast correction as the user writes.
CalliGrapher analyzes pen strokes written in any application window or on the designated Write Pad area, converts the pen strokes into text and sends the recognized text to a target application. Employing advanced fuzzy logic and neural net techniques; CalliGrapher recognizes arbitrary alphanumeric strings as well as words from its integrated dictionary.
CalliGrapher also offers a comprehensive spell checker for all applications on your mobile device. The application also includes PenCommander – a utility that allows users to create and execute command scripts by simply writing a word command and drawing a circle around it. CalliGrapher gives you the freedom to enter information quickly and efficiently into your mobile device. You can find the detailed information about CalliGrapher in the User’s Guide (PDF).
Optimized to work with the latest Microsoft Windows powered Pocket PCs details
Write Pad Soft Input Panel (SIP) details
Write Anywhere SIP details
Improved handwriting recognition engine reliably recognizes cursive, print or mixed handwriting
Ready to Go Without Training
Seamlessly Integrates with most Pocket PC applications
Includes Spell Checker with Customizable User Dictionary
Enhanced handwriting recognition engine details
Full on-screen keyboard with 13 pre-defined layouts for 10 Western European languages and autocomplete feature details
Built in vocabulary editor
CalliGrapher Statistical Analyzer
Customizable 24-key keyboard
Letter Shape Selector
Ink Color Selection and Customizable Ink Width
Enhanced Screen Orientation
Separate Letter Mode
Quick Correct Window
PhatWare CalliGrapher continues to be the leader in handwriting recognition software for handhelds for a reason…it is very intuitive in its ability read your handwriting and continues to improve as you use it with the CalliGrapher Statistical Analyzer “learning” your handwriting. As with all my reviews, I think pictures are always worth a thousand words in demonstrating any software and with CalliGrapher, that means so much more.
Upon Installation, CalliGrapher creates a folder in the “Programs” area with these four items: The Configuration Manager, Pen Commander and the two digital input mode preferences of Write Anywhere and Write Pad.
I always find that that the best place to gain some understanding of what a program can do is to look at the settings/options selections for that program. With CalliGrapher, you will see that you have a lot of settings to choose from!
This is the first tab for the CalliGrapher settings. US English is included with the CalliGrapher software package but English (UK) , Danish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish Language Packs are available for an extra fee. That’s ten languages, eleven if you count UK English as a separate language!
Tab two for the settings. For old dogs like me, I prefer the “Classic” menus versus the Mobile 5 and newer version 6 menus. I also don’t like to take up valuable today screen space so I turn off the SIP icon.
I’ve got this set to show me the toolbar when CalliGrapher is active. I like the option to access parts of the program at a click or twos notice which you’ll see a little later.
More settings to customize your experience with CalliGrapher. I told you there were a lot!
Here’s where you set the margins where CalliGrapher can recognize your “scribble”. Note that CalliGrapher will continue to work once you go over the set margins. For those of us that couldn’t color within the lines, this shows you the thought that PhatWare has put into this programs long development history!
As I alluded to early on in the review regarding the toolbar, I like to have the toolbar up when CalliGrapher is active. Here’s where you can customize which toolbar buttons appear as well as put those useful tools that CalliGrapher provides the user within easy reach once active.
I rarely reassign the buttons on my unit but for those that do (and you know who you are), here’s the place to do it.
Here’s where you start to customize CalliGrapher to your own writing style. I’m mostly a print versus cursive writer as well using acronyms common in the IT world. I leave this all checked (as default) but enabling or disabling can speed up or slow down as well as the output quality of the recognition engine.
Depending upon how you write on your device, unless you are always oriented in one specific direction when you write on the screen, it’s best to leave this one as is with all being “checked”.
The last tab is the typical “About” screen. Here’s the version and build I’m testing with. I started out writing this review earlier in March with version 8.4 but about the time I was about to send it in…a new 8.5 version came out. The changes didn’t really impact my use but it did open up CalliGrapher to the new Mobile 6 OS and the various display screens types/size on those new devices.
This is the screen you see when you activate CalliGrapher. Note the use of “quick gestures” which I found essential in using the program. Kind of reminds you of Graffiti a little doesn’t it?
Tuning Up CalliGrapher’s Recognition Engine
This section is found under the options sections once CalliGrapher has been activated. This is the heart of the handwriting recognition engine and you can tweak it to your own individual preferences. By modifying these settings, you can definitely speed up or slow down the recognition. For the most part, I used the default settings but if you know your style better, you can change it to your heart’s content!
Setting English (US version) as my language of choice.
Here’s where you can set output characteristics but more importantly the amount of delay between the time of input to it going through the recognition engine.
Remember that CalliGrapher not only recognizes your scribble, letter by letter but it also statistically determines via it’s “fuzzy” logic what that word might be based on words found in your dictionary.
More customization of the recognition engine as well as the Auto Corrector enabler. Auto Corrector replaces a word that is misspelled by the user with the correct one and it even allows you to add to that list of correctable words. There are just some words where I want to put “a” before “e” and vice versa when it’s not correct so this is where I can instruct CalliGrapher to correct my grammar!
As I mentioned early on in the review, The statistical analyzer is key to CalliGrapher “learning” your handwriting over time. This feature corrects those continual incorrect readings of your printed characters on the screen, like a “S” being recognized as an “2” because of my lazy handwriting skills. Over time (2 to 3 weeks of continual use recommended by PhatWare), it will understand the error of your ways and interpret the scribble as you want it be interpreted. On a side note, the developers suggest that you will get more out of the CSA when using the Write Pad versus the Write Anywhere mode.
CalliGrapher still allows those who still need the crutch of a keyboard access to one.
Here’s the settings on the output of your pen on the screen.
This is accessed via the CalliGrapher folder in Programs. PenCommander allows the user to predefine a set of characters to represent specific text input much like the old-fashioned shorthand writing from years past. This next screen shot basically says it all…
PenCommander turns a word literally into one with a thousand meanings!
CalliGrapher In Use
Here I’m in the Write Anywhere mode using the Mobile Word program. Note the toolbar that provides me instant access to certain functions within CalliGrapher like the keyboard (4th button over) or accessing correcting function (5th button, the green checkmark). Again, this toolbar is customizable to the specific users’ needs.
CalliGrapher’s translation of my handwriting.
Here’s the same document in Mobile Word but I’m now using the Write Pad input mode. I prefer this mode most of all since it gives me a line to write and access to “tell” CalliGrapher what type of writing I’m doing, like all caps, print or cursive, numbers, etc. I also have quick access to the keyboard button which I still use as a crutch from time to time.
As you input your handwriting, the text translation is shown above it. If acceptable, then I hit the return key and that printed line is entered on the screen.
Once you hit the return key, it takes you back to the original CalliGrapher Word Pad screen.
Using the keyboard in CalliGrapher, the program shows you the possible words for my input. All you have to do is tap the correct word if it appears and it is entered on the screen.
Lastly, this screen shot is of the correction area of CalliGrapher. This is where you can assist CalliGrapher in learning your handwriting with the auto correction feature. There is so much more but I think you get the idea on the depth of this program.
The PhatWare CalliGrapher installation setup .exe file (6.7MB) is easy to use and they also have installation packages via ZIP and CAB files. The program will take up approximately 2.37MB in storage upon installation. The RAM used for this program looked to be around 800KB on my device and I’m sure there’s some CPU pull as it does it’s handwriting recognition but it did not seem to slow down my JasJar. In my testing, CalliGrapher was installed on both internal memory (my preferred method) and on my 4GB SD card, neither setup presented any problems.
I have used PhatWare’s CalliGrapher for years and I am still amazed by it’s ability to translate my “chicken scratch” into the words I intended to be displayed on the screen. Do I use it all the time…I go through spurts where I use CalliGrapher exclusively and other times, not at all. I find myself using CalliGrapher more with short notes or other short data entry work where I do not want to hunt and peck out the details. Where I don’t use CalliGrapher is in text entry that is either too long, complex or outside the normal dictionary verbiage. There I pull out the old BT keyboard or use SOTI Pocket Controller Professional remote control for longer entries.
I highly recommend CalliGrapher for those that take notes on their PDA, which is really where the PDA excels or where it really is impractical to use the keyboard whether on the device or on the screen. You just cannot get any better handwriting recognition software on the market today than PhatWare’s CalliGrapher!
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I only wish ParaGraph would come off the Windows-only bandwagon and finally port their software to Linux. I currently own three Linux PDAs (an Archos PMA430, a Nokia 770 and N800) and two tablet pcs (a Fujitsu Stylistic 3400 and a ST4120), all of which have amazing operating systems but extremely sucky “HWR” (I’ve put it in brackets, because Linux doesn’t actually have any HWR, only Palm knock-off character recognizers).
I’d gladly pay money for PenOffice for Linux, but I won’t pay money for PenOffice for Windows anymore.