January 17, 2003
Currently there are 6 PalmOS PDAs with hideable Graffiti areas, and 4 with no Graffiti at all. Of the 6 with Graffiti that hides, 3 are running PalmOS 5, and all use some form of a high-resolution display, be it 320x320, 240x320, or 320x480. Thanks to these new hardware innovations, the demand for on-screen text input alternatives has increased significantly. As of now, there are at least 3 pieces of software for those that prefer to keep their Graffiti area hidden (or don't have one to begin with): Jot, Graffiti Anywhere, and Newpen. Of these options, 2 are freeware, and all are OS5 and hi-res compatible.
Of course, not having access to a Graffiti area isn't the only reason for wanting on-screen text input. There's more space on the screen than on the silkscreen, and the "digital ink" echo these applications use provides instant feedback, allowing users to improve their Graffiti strokes, and therefore the recognition of those strokes. Writing on-screen can be easier, faster, and more accurate than writing in the Graffiti area.
Jot v. 2.0 (CIC software, $40)
Jot has been around for several years and, in my mind at least, is the pioneering application in this particular niche. Jot is not simply a utility to write on the whole screen, it's also an alternative handwriting recognition (HWR) system. In fact (after this review was written) PalmSource announced the licensing and enhancement of Jot for Grafitti 2, which will ship with new devices and upgrades in the near future. For those who prefer good ol' Graffiti, CIC also offers RechoEcho, a stripped-down, Graffiti-only version of Jot for $10. Since Jot's unique text input is its selling point, let's jump right into that.
The basic gist of Jot is this: each character can be recognized through a few different strokes, very similar to standard handwritten characters, instead of just one like the Graffiti alphabet. Some characters (K, T, I, Y, P and $) can be fine-tuned to suit the user's desires, albeit restricted. Punctuation is entered in one of two ways: either it is translated automatically or it is drawn between two upstrokes and then translated. Typically these characters are two strokes or more, hence the need for a specific shift mode with a closing line. All punctuation can be entered in this manner, but some characters don't need the shifting to be recognized: . , ! ? ' " @ and &.
To help users acquaint themselves with the Jot HWR, there is a tutorial where each character can be learned. A character stroke can be displayed within the tutorial by tapping the character on the upper panel. Different character sets can be viewed and practiced using the drop-down menu in the upper right-hand corner.
Jot has a stroke for most characters available with Graffiti, as well as strokes for common gestures like cut, paste, etc. Some characters, however, are not available. Curly quotes and apostrophes (normally created using the extended shift with Graffiti) aren't an option.
Now, if you were paying attention before, you probably noticed that the stroke to induce caps and caps lock (bottom-up) is used for punctuation in Jot. So, how does one write capital letters? Jot moves caps to the middle of the input area. To enter a capital letter, write it across the border of the letter and number entry areas.
On to functional usage. Configuring Jot is fairly simple, and nearly everything is adjusted on the main screen. Jot is either on or off, there is no option to activate or deactivate it from within another application. In use, the ink for both Jot and Graffiti HWR is smooth and accurate. Translation of each stroke into a character is a little slower with Jot than with Graffiti. Commonly-used punctuation entry with Jot is so simple it's almost counter-intuitive for me. With Jot, a single tap yields a period. I can't count the number of times I entered double periods accidentally, being so accustomed to the rapid double-tap of a Graffiti period. As for other aspects of usage, one of my favorite things with Jot is the tap-hold-drag text selection. Tapping and holding on the cursor pauses it (think of it as grabbing the cursor), and dragging selects, just like with normal text input. I haven't found this to work effectively in other on-screen text input utilities.
Overall I found Jot to be a solid piece of software, and faster than entering Graffiti with the silkscreen alone (more on that later) but I'm so comfortable with Graffiti that I had trouble remembering to use the custom Jot strokes, and I was often left tap-tap-tapping to get to the Jot tutorial to learn (again) how to make an asterisk. Overall, I prefer Graffiti, but for those who have a hard time getting used to the Graffiti characters, Jot should be a blessing. Every character is recognized from essentially standard writing (be it cursive or print), and many will prefer this over having to learn new ways of writing the same alphabet. My primary gripe with Jot, however, is the hefty $40 price tag. For a piece of software that has remained essentially unchanged for several years, aside from an OS5 and hi-res compatibility upgrade, I think it is overpriced. While it was an extremely innovative application when it was released for Windows CE in 1996, $40 isn't much of a fair price for software that hasn't seen much development since it's initial release.
Graffiti Anywhere v. 1.2 (Thierry Escande & Gilles Fabre, freeware)
As far as luxury features are concerned, Graffiti Anywhere (GA, for short) is the Cadillac of on-screen text input utilities, minus the hefty price tag. The software is available as a standalone application only, no hack option, and while enabled it is typically in a standby mode, waiting for a signal to activate it. The premise is simple (write Graffiti on the whole screen) but it is executed with flair.
Let's begin with setup. The application itself is a single screen with three tabs: Graphics, Activation, and Advanced. The top of the screen is always composed of enable and disable buttons. The Graphics tab contains options for cosmetic changes for the Graffiti echo, including an option to choose the ink color. The Activation tab sets preferences for which hard button activates GA, and how. The 4 hardware buttons, the jog dial, back button and Tungsten T voice recorder button are supported, and GA is either toggled with a long press or a short press, or it's only active during a long press. There are also toggles for single tap recognition (on = tap for cursor placement or button press, off = ability to shift for punctuation on-screen) and autodeactivation options. Lastly, the Advanced tab brings up reactivation options and application specific activate/deactivate.
Functional use of GA is quite simple. The only major issue for me is whether or not to turn off single-tap recognition. On one hand, it's really convenient to enter punctuation on-screen (something that can't be done with Jot set to Graffiti mode), but it's also really inconvenient not to be able to press buttons or move the cursor to another line immediately when needed. From my usage patterns, it seems that turning off single-tap is great for extended writing where minor edits won't be necessary; there's no need to move to the Graffiti area to punctuate, and this may be the form people with hidden Graffiti prefer. With it turned on, however, it's great for minor edits and jumping around after writing to fix misspellings, etc. For those using Graffiti to make changes to large documents (in Documents to Go or WordSmith, for example), this would be faster and more convenient that constantly moving back and forth between the screen and the Graffiti area to make small changes. One problem still lingers, though: with GA activated, blocks of text can't be selected.
Overall, GA is robust yet simple software to operate. Configuration is easy, but tips and help are still available from within the program. I'm extremely fond of the long button press to activate, and the activate/deactivate indicator is a quick screen flash that's unobtrusive yet hard to miss. As silly as it sounds, my favorite aspect is the customizable ink color. In case it wasn't already apparent from the screenshots, I like to have my interface colors personalized, and this complements that preference nicely. In use, GA is speedy, there's never a delay in showing my strokes or translating them into characters; I can consistently write faster and more accurately than I ever could using the silkscreen area alone.
Newpen v. 1.4 (Tatsuo Nagamatsu, freeware)
Newpen is a simple and versatile choice in on-screen input. The main screen is made up of enable and disable buttons, and checkboxes for various behavior patterns (draw stroke, command bar support, sound, single tap recognition). From the menu, users can choose their preferred method of activation for the software. Similar to GA, Newpen is activated from within other applications, after being enabled in the main program. Activation consists of either a tap-and hold for 2, 3, or 4 seconds, or a shortcut stroke. Users can also choose to have a Graffiti shift indicator turned on. This is a small box that appears in the lower right hand corner of the screen. When Newpen is inactive its borders are dotted and when it is active they are solid. Shift indicators appear within this box. The box can also be tapped to turn Newpen on and off on-the-fly.
When the shortcut stroke is invoked in a text area, Newpen goes into action. Like GA, either single taps can be registered as selections on the screen or as punctuation. Newpen appears to have some kind of text selection function, but for the life of me I couldn't actually get it to work. Once text was selected, if I tried to erase or overwrite it, the highlight disappeared and my writing continued at the end. If the command bar support is turned off (which I prefer), an accidental stroke normally invoking the command bar is not registered as such. This prevents a lot of accidental commands, and is indeed a blessing for those of us not so perfectly horizontal with our space strokes.
One functional problem I had with Newpen that I didn't encounter with GA or Jot is when the single tap is selected, occasionally the cursor skips around the text area, ending up on lines where it wasn't wanted. My best guess for why this happens is because of another functional problem with Newpen: it's slow. There's a significant lag time when drawing the stroke on the screen, and I think occasionally this lag causes the software to misinterpret a stroke as a tap and moves the cursor accordingly. Slow, deliberate strokes eliminate this problem. For those who don't write that fast with Graffiti in the first place, I doubt this would ever be an issue.
My favorite thing about Newpen is the tappable activation box. While I did occasionally find it to be a distraction, mostly it was very useful. It's easier to switch between active and inactive this way than by the button pressing of GA. However, I did prefer the button pressing for initial activation over the shortcut stroke and tap-and-hold methods. The text box doesn't always automatically show up when Newpen is enabled, and sometimes only appears after activation. It'd be great if I could hold down the jog dial to activate Newpen, then use the box from there on out.
This brings me to another possible improvement for Newpen: auto deactivation when exiting. This is another favorite aspect of GA, and I think it should be included with every on-screen input utility.
Yeah, ease of use and attractive design are important factors in choosing input software, but speed is probably most important of all. Using WPM (DDH Software), I tested just how fast each of the input options discussed here performed compared to writing on the Graffiti area, on a Clie SJ30. After a 10-run warm-up, I did 4 official trials of each. Because my speeds were quite consistent, I didn't see any need to do more. I'll borrow from Dan Royea's Great Input Showdown in formatting the results:
|Silkscreen||GA||Newpen||Jot (HWR)||Jot (Graffiti)|
It's worth mentioning that these are just my results. Everybody writes differently, so individual results may vary. ;)
Overall, as I think is probably apparent from the results above, I found GA to be by far the speediest and most responsive of the methods tested. Jot's Graffiti mode was second, and still quite speedy, but had some delay issues in translating the strokes into characters. Using the silkscreen is a little slower than the two just mentioned because my quick writing tends to result in confusion in the translation. Primarily, two of my strokes are often close enough together that they're registered as one, slowing the whole process down because I go back to delete the mistake and have to enter both characters again. I didn't encounter this problem with Jot or GA. Newpen, however, had some speed issues. The draw speed of the Graffiti echo was noticeably lagged, resulting in garbled strokes which were (of course) misinterpreted. To compound this problem, there's more of a recognition delay than with the other methods. So, in short, I had to write slower using Newpen or it didn't work right. Some of you may be furrowing your brows over the large gap in my Newpen speed trials. The Newpen results were actually much slower during the warm-up sessions, and that 20 wpm score was an anomaly. The other two results not listed above were 17. Therefore, I feel the average I listed is accurate. The Jot HWR was pretty miserable. I found the translation time to be quite slow, and frequently entering a space too quickly after a character resulted in a misinterpretation. This is just one of Jot's strengths acting as a weakness - two strokes can often yield one character. Therefore, to avoid this problem, a moderate amount of time after entering the last character in a word before entering the space is required to eliminate bad translation.
After all the testing and evaluating was finished and my thoughts and opinions written down, I liked one of these applications so much I continue to use it. I think it's fairly obvious from the results above as well as my individual reactions that my preferred method is Graffiti Anywhere. I find it to be the most versatile and easy to use, as well as the most customizable option. Not to mention, the fastest and most accurate. I say this with one disclaimer: results on an OS5 machine will probably be significantly different. The draw and translate lag times in Jot and Newpen are probably not an issue on a handheld using a fast processor, and I'm sure there are loyal users of each of these utilities on OS5 machines who can attest to this.
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