Contact Info:

Blue Nomad
www.bluenomad.com

PalmInfoCenter.com Bottom Line:

The Price:
  • $30
The Pros:
  • Great-looking fonts
  • Share files with MS Word
  • Extensive text formatting
  • Doc editor and Memo Pad replacement in one
  • Decent Macintosh support

The Cons:
  • No SD or MemStick support
  • No MS Word .doc file support or font converter for Macintosh

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*Maximum Rating is FIVE (5) InfoPalms



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.