Phatware's CalliGrapher 6.5.1

Perhaps the single greatest benefit to owning a Handheld PC over a Pocket PC or Palm OS device is the built-in keyboard of the clamshell designed devices. The ability to quickly type an entry using a keyboard, albeit smaller, is infinitely faster than "tap typing" with a stylus.

However the need of all of these devices has been the ability to recognize handwriting. While attempts have been made by Microsoft (Transcriber on Pocket PCs) and Palm (Graffiti), no serious contender has been available for HPC users. Additionally, many users complain about Transcriber and Graffiti needing to "learn" how one creates letters and the necessity of training these applications before using them.

Seeing this need, Phatware developed CalliGrapher, a handwriting recognition application that works with HPCs and works "out-of-the-box" with no training needed. The application, which has been available since Window CE 1.0 days, is now in revision 6.5.1 and has exponentially grown in ease-of-use and application compatibility. Simply put, I believe CalliGrapher is the best handwriting recognition software available on the market. The list of features is expansive and in many cases is application specific. For example, if users are using the Internet, CalliGrapher will recognize this and not put in spaces between words and is optimized to understand terms like FTP, HTTP, WWW and so forth. It is this attention to detail that makes CalliGrapher a must-have.

The installation of CalliGrapher is straight-forward but with a larger-than-normal install footprint of 1.9MB. Installation can be done either in main memory or on a storage card. While the install footprint is slightly bigger than the normal Windows CE application, given the attention to detail that CalliGrapher gives users, this is understandable and easily forgivable. Once CalliGrapher is installed, a soft-reset is required to start the CalliGrapher engine on the HPC.

Once running, CalliGrapher does not require any additional training. The application recognizes both print and cursive writing and has an extremely low margin of error. Given though that all of us have different handwriting styles, Phatware has included a Shape Selector tool to train CalliGrapher should it be necessary.

CalliGrapher offers by default two modes of use. The first, and most commonly used mode, is Recognition. This mode allows users to write out text in any application and have it recognized and translated into text. Further, this feature is also aware of the type of application you are using. As mentioned before, the behavior of CalliGrapher is modified if you are using an Internet application such as Pocket Internet Explorer versus Pocket Word for example.

Simply write on the screen using your stylus...

 

... and Calligrapher converts it into text

The second primary mode of CalliGrapher is ScratchPad. As the name implies, this mode gives users a lined "paper" to write text on which by default will not be translated to text. This mode is excellent for quick note taking in meetings, especially if drawings are to be included. Further, the notes can be captured into a standard JPEG file so they can easily be emailed to colleagues or friends. Many of the users of CalliGrapher I have spoken to indicate that ScratchPad alone is worth the cost of CalliGrapher. I can hardly argue given the enormous flexibility this feature gives along with the only speed limit being the users speed in writing.

ScratchPad for creating notes with colour formatting

ScratchPad allows for multiple colors of ink to be used in the same document and the files can be saved as .INK files for later reference. Further, the pen size can be adjusted to 9 different levels of thickness depending on the need.

Saving and email ScratchPad files can be done from the menu at the top of the display. To save files simply click on the diskette icon to save the .INK file. To send a ScratchPad file to a colleague, click on the email icon (the envelope). This will bring up a dialog box that will allow the file to be sent as an .INK file or a JPEG file. By default, CalliGrapher sends an auto-generated subject line and text with the email. This, however, can be modified by checking the Edit subject and body box on the dialog box.

Send notes to email

Finally, users can also have CalliGrapher do recognition of the text in a ScratchPad file. Once the notes taken are complete, tapping the R icon will start CalliGrapher's recognition engine. In testing I found this to be very accurate except when drawings are involved. Drawings seem to confuse the application and often it would not recognize any characters in the file.

By double-tapping the System Tray icons, CalliGrapher reveals itself as a highly configurable application. One of the options available is Pen Commander. Enabled by default, Pen Commander allows users to create shortcuts for commonly used text. For example, if you write "BTW", Pen Commander will translate that to "By The way," in the text. There are several that are included with Pen Commander but users can create their own as well. This is particularly helpful when it comes to the language of a users particular line of work.

PenCommandercan program written shortcuts into your writing

The options menu allows CalliGrapher to be configured to a more personally friendly way for users. The General options provides users the ability to change the basic behavior of the application such as what to do at start up and exit, enabling sounds and showing or hiding screens.

General Options

Further, the Icons option menu allows for a variety of options to be available with one screen tap. These can include the default Recognition and Scratch Pad as well as Spell Check, On-screen keyboard and Shape Selector.

Icon Options

The Ink menu allows users to change the shape and color of the ink that is used in both modes of CalliGrapher. This flexibility is particularly handy in Scratch Pad mode (see the screen shot above). One note that must be made is that no matter what color the text used in Recognition mode, it will always be the default color (usually black) and not the color chosen. While this is likely done to prevent users from accidentally using the wrong color text in a document, the option to do this could be useful in future.

Change the Ink size to suit your handwriting

Overall, CalliGrapher is an excellent program. There are very few improvements that could be made that would make this application stand above others more than it already does. If you are a user that is constantly in meetings or on-the-go, CalliGrapher could quickly prove to be a valuable tool.

CalliGrapher is distributed by Phatware Corporation. It is currently in version 6.5.2. The only difference between 6.5.1 (the copy reviewed for this article) and 6.5.2 is the later is certified to work with Windows Mobile Edition 2003 (which has no impact for Handheld PC users).

The cost of CalliGrapher is $49.95 USD (£32.22 GBP, €43.95),with the upgrade for owners of previous editions at $29.95 US. Note that if you have a registered copy of CalliGrapher in the 6.5.x train, you will not have to pay for the upgrade. Downloading the newest demo release will upgrade your copy automatically. Phatware also offers language packages to allow for languages other than English. These include Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. These language packages are $14.95 US each and can be purchased, like CalliGrapher itself, online.

A thirty day demonstration version of CalliGrapher is available on the Phatware website.

System Requirements:

Windows CE 1.0 and above
SH3, SH4, StrongARM, MIPS, XScale

Rating  
Cost: 5 Star Rating: Exceptional
Usability: 5 Star Rating: Exceptional
Built-In helps: 4 Star Rating: Recommended
Customer Service: 4 Star Rating: Recommended
Overall: 4 Star Rating: Recommended

CalliGrapher can be found at the following URL.
http://www.phatware.com/

Clinton Fitch
Chief Reviews Editor