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Blue Nomad
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The Price:
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The Pros:
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  • Decent Macintosh support

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  • No MS Word .doc file support or font converter for Macintosh

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WordSmith 2.0 Review
By Ed Hardy
8/2/2001


Overview
WordSmith 2.0 is a word processor that allows documents to be shared with Microsoft Word on a PC or Mac. It is both a Memo Pad replacement and a DOC editor.

DOC Editor
The de facto standard for documents stored on the Palm is the DOC format. This is a fairly simple format that doesn't include any formatting capabilities; there is no way to put something in bold or italics, for example. This served the Palm community well for years and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of books available in this format.

But to be a word processor, an application needs to be able to do at least basic formatting. WordSmith does this and so much more. It can save files in DOC format or it has its own format that includes, well, formatting.

You can do just about anything formatting-wise you can do on a desktop word processor. You can use bold, italics, and underline. Pick any size font you want. You can center, right, and left justify paragraphs. You can double space your lines, and set spacing before or after paragraphs. The list is long and, frankly, gets tedious. Trust me, if it's formatting you want, WordSmith can probably handle it.

The latest version even includes support for adding and displaying comments, footnotes and endnotes. These show up as small icons that, when clicked on, display their text. And you can create your own bookmarks.

WordSmith has been designed to work very well with the Stowaway keyboard, also called the Palm Portable Keyboard. Working with these together is remarkably like writing on your desktop or laptop.

It isn't built in to WordSmith, but I wanted to at least mention that you can get Bachmann's PrintBoy Documents and print your files in WordSmith and DOC format directly from your Palm on any infrared enabled printer, which is most office laser printers. Bachmann also sells adapters for home printers.

Microsoft Word
One of WordSmith's greatest strengths is its strong connection with Microsoft Word. And this is true for both the Windows and the Macintosh version. You can have the conduit copy a Word document onto your Palm as a WordSmith document or vice versa.

WordSmith also handles documents in Rich Text Format (.rtf), which means that you can use any word processor that can save its files in RTF, which is just about all of them.

When moving a document on the desktop onto the Palm, the actual desktop file isn't copied over. It is converted into the WordSmith format. I think this is a lot smarter than the approach taken by Pocket Word. Let's face it, desktop files are a bit bloated. I ran a quick test and a 33 k Word document became an 18 k WordSmith one.

The latest version of WordSmith preserves all the formatting of the original desktop document, even if you edit it on your Palm and copy it back. This includes formatting that isn't used by the Palm, like margins and page size. Images are even preserved, though they don't appear on the Palm. Maybe someday...

There is even rudimentary support for tables. If your desktop document has a table in it, a small icon will appear in WordSmith. Tapping on this icon will open the table. Tables viewed in WordSmith aren't great but they are readable. All the formatting has been removed, though. Sadly, columns aren't lined up. I think this feature is useful, but barely. Small tables are OK but really big tables are pretty much useless because it almost impossible to tell which column an entry is supposed to be in. Also, table data isn't editable. Still, Blue Nomad has already promised to improve this feature in the future.

Adding a file to your list of to be HotSynced is a snap. If a document is created on the Palm, it is synced with the desktop by default. To add a document from the Windows version of Microsoft Word, pull down the new "WordSmith" tab and choose "Add". Or you can run the WordSmith desktop app and manually add the file to your list. Mac users don't get the MS Word tab; they have to add files through the WordSmith app.

But WordSmith has another limitation that is a killer for many Macintosh users: it can't sync with files in true MS Word format. That is, files with the .doc extension. Instead, documents must be in Rich Text Format, with the .rtf extension. This is true only for Mac users.

FineType Fonts
The best improvement in WordSmith 2.0 and the feature that puts it head and shoulders above its competition is its greatly improved method for displaying fonts on the screen. WordSmith now allows Windows users to convert their favorite TrueType fonts to FineType ones, which can then be displayed in WordSmith.

And better than that, the app takes advantage of the fact that on color screens each pixel is actually made up of three sub-pixels. It uses these to improve the perceived resolution of the fonts, tremendously improving the appearance of text, even on the 160 by 160 resolution m505. On the Sony N710C's screen, FineType fonts look even better.

This isn't the first app to make use of this trick and they shouldn't be the last. In fact, I think Palm should add this to the OS. But possibly they have considered it and decided there might be a performance hit. Some users have complained that using FineType fonts has slowed WordSmith down. This hasn't been my experience, though.

You have to create your own FineType fonts and copy them onto the Palm. This is easy enough, if you are a Windows user. There is a button in the WordSmith app that lets you make FineType fonts from your TrueType ones. If you are a Mac user, it is a whole other kettle of fish. As far as I can tell, the only way to get any FineType fonts is to beg a Windows user to make some for you. That's what I had to do. This is an unpleasant switch in what is otherwise decent Mac support.

The differences in screen resolutions between the m505 and N710C really show up in WordSmith. The smallest font size on the m505 shows up as a regular font size, the one most people read at. The largest font display size is so huge only a few words appear on the screen. On the N710C, though, the smallest size is almost unreadably small and lets you display three or four paragraphs of text at once, while the largest font display size is the normal font size.

Of course, on the HandEra 330, the extra-long screen means you can view even more text. Sadly, FineType's high-resolution trick works only on color screens so the H330 can't use it. And I've heard some Prism users complain the FineType just makes the fonts look fuzzy.

DOC Reader
Like I said, there are a huge number of eBooks available on DOC format. This ranges from free books that are in the public domain to the latest business books that can be bought online. FineType fonts make WordSmith a great eBook reader. The fonts are easy on the eyes, as compared to the bit-mappy fonts in most eBook readers.

WordSmith has a few additional features to make eBook reading easier. It has a mode where tapping the screen scrolls ahead by a page, a mode where you choose which direction tapping the screen moves you, and an auto-scroll mode when the text moves ahead like a teleprompter.

You can jump ahead to bookmarks or even edit the document and add your own. It also has a feature that I love and use all the time. It can display a pop-up list of the first few words in each paragraph. This lets you easily skip around in a long document. It's available only in View mode but I wish they would add it to Edit mode. I use it all the time when I'm writing.

Naturally, WordSmith has support for the Jog Dial on Clié models. One handed scrolling makes reading a long eBook so much easier.

There is a major feature that WordSmith is lacking that would make it an almost perfect eBook reader: expansion card support. Frankly, this is a huge disappointment. Months after the release of the m505 and the N710C, SD and Memory Stick support is an absolute must for an application like this that needs to access large databases like eBooks. But Blue Nomad is working on adding it and hopefully we'll soon see a new version with VFS support.

Memo Pad Replacement
Wordsmith can read your Palm's Memo Pad database and all memos appear in a separate window from your DOC files. You can then work with these memos the same way you always did, but you can also do almost all the formatting that you are can do with DOC files. If you do add formatting to a memo then open it in Memo Pad again, you will see that HTML-like tags have been added.

Another advantage to doing your memos with WordSmith is you can display them with FineType fonts.

Conclusion
The combination of WordSmith and a keyboard is something I think just about all Palm users should have. Don't tote around a laptop to do your word processing when your Palm can do it so much easier. Students, business travelers, and just about anyone who hates being chained to a desk can benefit.

Update: Blue Nomad has released WordSmith 2.1, a free upgrade to all registered users. It includes VFS support, a spell checker, a thesaurus, and numerous other small changes.

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Best word processor for PalmOS

I.M. Anonymous @ 8/2/2001 2:58:52 PM #
That is, if you have a color screen. The fonts on my Visor Prism look wonderful. The only disadvantage that I see is that if you use the FineType fonts, you cannot display color text (for obvious reasons).

One note about the review. I have had no trouble converting MS .doc files into WordSmith files. Perhaps you may want to double check this.
-Scott
ziffbam@yahoo.com

RE: Best word processor for PalmOS
Ed @ 8/2/2001 3:21:12 PM #
Geez, I forgot that's a Mac-only limitation. I'll go fix the review. Thanks!!

---
News Editor
Palm Infocenter
RE: Best word processor for PalmOS
tychay @ 8/2/2001 3:28:15 PM #
That is because Ed, like me, uses a Macintosh for presonal computing. The manual shows that while the Mac version only synch's RTF, the Windows version synchs both Word and RTF (as well as adds a menu to Word). Not important for me since I use AppleWorks when editing documents on the Macintosh--I no longer synchronize on my PC since Palm support for Mac has greatly improved. Documents To Go synchronizes Word on both platforms as well as Appleworks and the like---not surprising as DataViz's main business was Mac<->PC translators.

On the other hand, with MacOS X, Rich Text Format has become the de-facto file format for the built-in text editor (TextEdit) which has replaced SimpleText. This allows you to skip conversion. I'd imagine there are a lot of freeware and shareware editors out in OS X that use TextEdit's code and have rtf save/restore built in. As Macintosh's become more unix like this area will grow because people will be using more non-proprietary formats and taking advantage of many open source libraries for the Linux/FreeBSD with minimal port.


Some other things that might be noted about WordSmith is that the synchronization isn't "true" (I believe, I don't use WordSmith... just tested it out). Bascially it resolves conflicts by having the Palm file always overwrite the desktop, or so the manual said (my memory may be slightly faulty). In a way it makes sense because how do you merge a text file that really doesn't have a concept of "line by line" (a la Unix diff/rcs/cvs).

Finally the teleprompter/autoscroll features on Wordsmith is very different from the autoscroll feature built into other Doc readers. Other doc readers will scroll line-by-line probably because they can't write off screen with built in fonts. Wordsmith does a smooth scroll (with cleartype on, didn't test otherwise) that is a joy to read with this feature turned on.

This is an excellent product.


Take care,

terry

--
terry chay http://org.qixo.com/tychay/m505dis/

http://www.qixo.com- Righteous Travel Deals in Record Time

san jose, ca, usa

RE: Best word processor for PalmOS
I.M. Anonymous @ 8/2/2001 4:26:21 PM #
Actually, not all other DOC readers do a line-by-line scroll. Both Smoothy and Qvadis Express have smooth autoscroll functions, which I agree makes for much easier reading.

RE: color and finetype
I.M. Anonymous @ 8/2/2001 5:26:19 PM #
You actually can use color fonts with WordSmith and finetype fonts. You just can't use the high resolution mode of the finetype fonts. This is where the color is used to smooth the fonts. Turn off high resolution in display options and you can use color..

Wordsmith

JeepBastard @ 8/2/2001 6:17:56 PM #
This is the one product that I would say is worth over $20 for the palm. There are a few products out there that redefine what the Palm can do. This is one of them. I complain often about the high price of palm software, but this is one is a keeper.

This program seemlessly lets you work with word documents on your desktop and work with existing memos on your palm. This app makes all your documents ledgible. THe full screen function and complete control of the fonts lets you read documents easily without squinting.

In fact, I find it easier to write in graffiti when the output is larger.


This application should be a default app. Palm should Lisence it and it should come with Palm OS.

I highly recommended it. I cannot write enough good things about this app. Buy it. Nowwwwwww!

[http://www.mediathreat.net]

RE: Wordsmith
mikecane @ 8/3/2001 10:00:55 AM #
What device are you using it on?

Getting bloated?

I.M. Anonymous @ 8/2/2001 6:37:33 PM #
I have to dissent. I own Wordsmith, and it's remarkable what Blue Nomad can make a Palm do, but:

(1) It takes up a lot of space on the Palm, just for the app.
(2) The way it uses memory buffer -- unlike every other DOC reader I've tried -- means that you need something like 600k free to open a 250k file. This is very bad; I never have much free RAM on my Palm.
(3) It's almost unusably slow as a DOC reader when the doc is an ebook or of any substantial length.

I don't need formatting often, if ever. My solution: iSilo as a reader, and miniWrite as a text editor. Lean and spare and quick.

I agree. Is this app really necessary?
I.M. Anonymous @ 8/2/2001 7:45:52 PM #
Do you REALLY need formatting text on your Palm???

RE: Getting bloated?
I.M. Anonymous @ 8/2/2001 9:17:16 PM #
>>
Do you REALLY need formatting text on your Palm???
<<

YES, I do.

RE: Getting bloated?
red_vette @ 8/3/2001 2:32:27 AM #
>>(1) It takes up a lot of space on the Palm, just for the app.

Then buy a PDA (like the Visor) with expansion memory. Unless you are stuck with an older model (understandable since a new one requires $$$), memory issues these days really are irrelevant. I don't feel any effects of bloat in the least.

>>I don't need formatting often, if ever.

I do. I word process. I create documents on my Visor that I'm going to eventually print. I create documents on my PC that I want to further edit while on the road. I've gone through two years of grad school with just my Visor and the Stowaway and haven't had to lug a laptop around.

Who needs formatting? Probably 99% of us do. Thanks, Blue Nomad.


RE: Getting bloated?
I.M. Anonymous @ 8/3/2001 9:41:35 AM #
Yes thanks BlueNomad!

This product is a students best friend!

It has saved me having to either purchase a 2nd hand laptop (with failing battery life, screen and keyboard, etc...) or an expensive new laptop that is not cost effective at all for simple wordprocessing!

WS2 with its footnoting feature means that I can (and have) typed whole assessments using my Palm IIIx and a PPK.



RE: Getting bloated?
I.M. Anonymous @ 8/3/2001 5:17:28 PM #
I agree. While this is admittedly a FANTASTIC product, I have been unable to use it several times on my Palm Vx due to memory constraints. And don't tell me I need a new unit. Mine is just fine, thank you very much.

I use QuickWord. Granted it isn't the "word processor" that WordSmith is, but but as a "Word-connected" DOC editor, it really can't be beat. I click on a huge ebook file and it opens in just a couple seconds. WordSmith makes me wait, and wait, and wait, and...

Really, that's my only complaint with WordSmith. Fix that, and I'll buy it.

Love It

Cedric @ 8/2/2001 10:13:55 PM #
I use my Palm Vx the way people here at my school use laptops. This is sort of by choice. My family can't afford to buy me one. But I saved up and got a used Vx and keyboard. Use it for email, games, and I do homework on it. I write lots of papers with WordSmith. Its great. I really like that they gave free upgrades because I could just barely squeeze through buying 1.0.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that some people really need all the cool stuff WordSmith does.

RE: Getting bloated?

altema @ 8/3/2001 11:53:45 AM #
While large, I was pleased that the new features did not double the size of WordSmith as I've seen in other cases. I was concerned about the size of the app at first, but had to decide between giving up the space, or finding myself in a situation where a text editor was not enough and I would have to sync with my laptop just to finish up the document. I struck a compromise and used JackFlash to move WordSmith to flash memory. All the formatting capability comes in handy when I spend all day in a meeting or seminar, and someone else needs a copy or report immediately. I don't have to sync to "dress it up".

As far as the necessity of extra memory needed for opening documents, this is actually the better of two choices: 1. Have four 500k docs take up 2Mb with no additional space needed for opening. Or 2. Have have four 500k docs take up 1Mb with another 250k needed to open the docs. The latter choice seems to work better, as you can fit more docs on your Palm, and you will never have more than one doc open at a time (at least in this version). I have not had any speed problems, even with large ebooks. To the contrary, it runs faster than the first version of WordSmith, and did not struggle at all with my largest ebooks like a few of the other ebook readers I've tried. And this is on the 20Mhz IIIc, even with FastCPU turned off (please no jokes about my optional shoulder strap and hernia belt!).

Removable media support should have been added, as I can think of few uses which would serve removable media better than ebook libraries. The FineType really comes into appreciation with ebooks. My eyes used to get tired after about 45 minutes of reading standard text. With WordSmith, I can go on for a couple of hours.

The fonts were a little confusing at first, as the display font list and the formatting font list were different. The display fonts are loaded via a utility on the PC, and the formatting fonts are pulled from your actual documents. This was workable after I found out the different sources and how to manipulate them. BTW, you can grab your display fonts from your Palm backup folder and email them directly to your Mac friends. If you decide to delete any display fonts from your Palm, use another utility other than the standard Palm delete function. I did this and selected one font, only to find ALL the display fonts deleted. The next time, I used the delete function of JackFlash to delete a font, and it was smart enough to delete only the chosen font.

As a final note fo those who run WordSmith from JackFlash; if you ever hard reset your Palm and do a retore using the regular Palm backup files (by setting the counduits to overwrite the handheld), you will need to delete the extra copy of anything that was stored in flash BEFORE running the duplicated app. After this kind of restore in JackFlash, you will find two entries for apps which were in flash - one in flash and one in ram. Delete the copy in ram, but NOT the related DB's when JackFlash asks at the confirmation screen, and you'll be all set.

it's fabulous

ajf @ 8/3/2001 12:37:40 PM #
i cannot speak highly enough of blue nomad and what they've managed with wordsmith. i wrote my entire masters' thesis on my palm, and only used a desktop for final formatting and footnoting -- and now i wouldn't even have had to do that.

it's a beaut. i don't bother carrying a laptop when i travel anymore, and i travel a LOT.

Yeah but,...

I.M. Anonymous @ 8/3/2001 11:47:00 PM #
I hate to be the wet blanket here, but I'm currently hauing issues syncing a particular doc over to my PC and there customer service is polite but nearly useless. Anybody haue a decent amount of experience using this app that can help me resolve a hotsync issue? Please email me -> aathit@yahoo.com.
RE: Yeah but,...
Altema @ 8/5/2001 10:56:10 PM #
I'll drop you an email and see if I can be of any help.

RE: Yeah but,...
aahthit @ 8/6/2001 1:14:30 AM #
That would be great. It seems to be only 2 docs in particular that have this problem. I've made sure that the "sync" box is checked but they still generate an error message. Any and all help would be appreciated!

RE: Yeah but,...
I.M. Anonymous @ 12/23/2001 12:14:14 PM #
It may be a compression problem. I was getting error messages trying to read files produced elsewhere I had opened in wordsmith. It turns out wsmith synchs by default in a "compression" mode that other programs can't read.
so far the best i have done is uncheck compression on each document.
i have asked wordsmith how not to synch in cmpression onto the desktop....

RTF support

I.M. Anonymous @ 9/24/2001 4:25:56 PM #
As a Linux user (don't have Windows in my PC) I wonder if Blue Nomad intends to give up RTF support to concentrate on MSWord.

Format conversion to a non-proprietary format such as RTF is welcome, as many word processors in severar platforms support it.

Indeed, I dream of the day when data interchange will be based on open formats, *NOT* on proprietary software.

RE: RTF support
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/2/2002 2:31:45 AM #
you sort of can, it's called html, plain text, xml :)
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