Phatware's CalliGrapher 6.6

It will be considered perhaps the most difficult sell we could find. Bestow the virtues of a keyboard on to a Pocket PC user and you find accessories hauled around and neatly assembled 'on demand'... they in essence attempt to build themselves a Handheld PC. Which they will then assemble onto the nearest table and fold ceremoniously away when it is time to move on.
We in the Handheld PC community already know the virtues of the keyboard. So are there alternative methods of input?

You bet. Microsoft wants us to believe that the keyboard is becoming a legacy device, and with that regard. So do PhatWare.
PhatWare are one of our oldest developers. Having been working on creating some of the best applications the H/PC has to offer ever since the days of Windows CE one.
PhatWare's answer to doing away with the keyboard is the aptly named CalliGrapher. Now at version 6.6, PhatWare surprised the community earlier last year by announcing this as a new H/PC release. Version 6.6 is in fact the recognition core of Calligrapher version 7.2 for the Pocket PC, compiled specifically for use on the H/PC. PhatWare have chosen to detach the version numbers to maintain a distinction between the two platforms. While this means we may lack the User Interface (UI) enhancements made on the latest Pocket PC versions, we do benefit from the continued inclusion of ScratchPad - which has been removed from the Pocket PC release to become a stand-alone product.

Figure 1: Introduction screen

At its heart Calligrapher is a handwriting recognition engine but it is so much more than just that, and this is what adds to making it an equally useful tool on the H/PC.
What you get for your money, along with the PhatWare handwriting engine is possibly one of the most advanced shell level macro scripting engines certainly on the Handheld PC, if not on any PDA.
The macro System is creatively called PenCommander and can be configured through Calligrapher directly on the device or, via a separate host based application. The host application, named Visual PenCommander is currently a free download from the PhatWare web site.

Figure 2: Visual PenCommander on the Host

 

Figure 3: PenCommanders main scripting interface

PenCommander makes use of its own macro scripting language which allows for the creation of very Simple text entry and automation scripts, right up to some surprisingly complex and even ingenious system and application control macros.

At its most elementary level PenCommander can be used to simplify the use of some of the most common articles of literary include that you may encounter. You postal address being the prime example.
Just write 'addr' on the screen and draw the PenCommander activation ring around it and almost instantly your predefined contact details will appear on screen.
There is an obvious time saving benefit with this. Automate these and other such tasks and you have already found the merits of Calligrapher

Figure 4: Simply enter the required shortcut command, draw the activation ring...

 

Figure 5: ... and PenCommander performs the action

Other time savers that are immediately obvious are Internet address prefix's (ftp:// and http://www.) or indeed an entire Internet address. Write 'bank' on the screen and encircle it in the activation ring to have your eBank brought up. More personal uses can be readily found in the use of letter headers and letter sign off.
Or for all the Instant messaging users out there. How about mounting a crusade against Internet slang by having PenCommander automatically translate those BRB's, LOL's, ROFL's and more into meaningful phrases.

When it comes to really making use of the power afforded by the macro features of PenCommander, the macro scripts are limited only by your imagination.
The engine can interact with the Windows CE filing system to open any registered file type. Execute programs, control system and application menus and perform keyboard, keyboard shortcuts and key combination functions for you.
The ability to interface with the keyboard aspects of the Handheld PC is richly complimented with an equally capable set of commands and tools that allow precision control through the use of screen coordinate mapping and virtual stylus interaction.

As an example of this, take the forums here on HPC:Factor. To log in to the forum on a HVGA clamshell you have to carry out the following:

  1. Open Pocket Internet Explorer
  2. Tap the address bar
  3. Type http://www.hpcfactor.com/forums/
  4. Press Enter
  5. Wait for the page to load
  6. Tap log-on
  7. Wait for the page to load
  8. Scroll down
  9. Select the User Name field
  10. Type <username>
  11. Select the password field
  12. Type <password>
  13. Press Enter

You are now logged into the forum.

Using PenCommander this process can be completely automated using a Macro script similar to the following (Note: This bypasses step 6 and 7 from above)

<#Start>\Windows\iexplore.exe
<#Delay>2000
<#BtnClick>483,12
<#Type>http://www.hpcfactor.com/forums/logon.asp<*return>
<#Delay>15000
<#Type><*tab>
<#Type>Username<*tab>
<#Type>password<*return>

The above code should be relatively easy to follow. Calligrapher opens Pocket Internet Explorer, then after a 2000 millisecond (2 second) delay, uses the screen coordinate 483x12 to virtually 'tap' the screen.
The web address is then typed and the Enter key pressed.
After a 15 second delay, allowing the page to load (with time allotted for a slow connection). The browser tabs down into the Username box, types the username, tabs to the Password box, types the password and finally presses enter to submit the log-on request.
In the interest of security of course you should end the script having selected the password box and not store your password in the script.

Using a PenCommander action, for example "hpcforum". You can use this saved code as a shortcut to directly log into the site.
While this is just a quick example of what can be achieved in a short space of time. It barely scratches the surface of the power an experienced PenCommander script designer can create. For the experienced Windows CE application developer, PenCommander even offers the ability to call DLL library functions. Allowing developers to create programs, this can interoperate directly with Calligrapher itself.

One feature of Calligrapher that I neither anticipated to be part of the program nor in the same light would have thought useful is RiteCalc. RiteCalc is an extension of PenCommander, which allows you to write a mathematical calculation directly onto the screen. It will then be run through the recognition engine, which will take the equation and output a representation of the calculation and the answer in to any selected text field. Numbers containing up to seven digits proceeding and two digits succeeding the decimal place can be input and output. Calculations can be written using +, -, x, /, *, :, ÷ and should all end with the = sign. Calligrapher sees the equation followed by the equals sign and performs the calculation.

Figure 6: RiteCalc Example


Square root, powers as well as other maths functions are available using PenCommander gestures adding a surprisingly useful facility and saving a trip into the often-clumsy Windows CE calculator.

The handwriting recognition engine is designed to interpret print, cursive and combinations of the two writing styles. Like all such technologies the more you use it the more accurate the output becomes. Out of the box the default recognition quality is fairly accurate. Personally I have found one or two problems in unconditional interpretation. Admittedly a lot of this comes down to some of my more quirky character styles (Notably my lower case F, which doesn't even feature in the shape selector - part of the recognition customisation process).
It goes without saying though that a degree of adjustment in handwriting style is required. Especially when presenting Calligrapher with scrawl like mine. There are one or two additional styles that I believe could be added, albeit to make my life easier. For the most part entering numbers, letters and other characters is very accurate however punctuation can prove something of a challenge.
The vast majority of errors encountered in recognition come from failing to over emphasise the input. Simply ensuring that characters do not bunch together, and that capitals are twice the height of lower case letters greatly reduces the accumulation of any corrections that may be needed later on.

The Calligrapher package is expansive in its features, containing considerably more than can be covered in this review. To demonstrate this, just enable all the options in the Icons settings dialogue. Calligrapher will happily to take up a good chunk of your Handheld PCs taskbar with application shortcuts, giving you an idea of how featured the package is.

Figure 7: Customisable set of quick access tray icons

Other pats of Calligrapher not covered here are the ScratchPad, which allows for note taking and drawings to be saved to a file. Later, using PhatWare's deferred recognition technology. The file can be transcribed at another time.
(Incidentally for InkWriter users, Calligrapher is an excellent addition and vastly improves its functionality, properly separating the drawing and writing modes while maintaining pen input.)
A full On Screen keyboard (OSK) and English (US/International) language spellchecker are included as an integrated part of the learning system with additional Language Packs available from PhatWare at additional cost. For UK users an English UK Language Pack has recently been released under special offer.

Figure 8: ScratchPad and On Screen Keyboard (OSK)

Another facility that is of explicit use to Handheld PC users is the Screen Orientation Selector. This is simply one of the available tray icons, which isn't enabled by default. It provides a single tap interface which allows you to change the writing angle through six phases. By changing the input angle you can alter the angle of your pen input, which is exceptionally useful on a HVGA device where there is a keyboard where your hand wants to be.

Calligrapher 6.6 Orientation Selector

Orientation modes have been provided to make input easier for right and left handed users as well as allowing you to flip the device around completely. Unfortunately the corrector features of Calligrapher only work in three of the available six modes. Meaning if you need to make corrections using the advanced spell checker services you need to change back to a more ordinary orientation.

When it comes to customer care, PhatWare's technical support is fantastically efficient, demonstrating time after time during our numerous PhatWare reviews over the years, their commitment to customers. With anonymous test email receiving a human reply in an astonishing 10 minutes.

Calligrapher 6.6 is an exceptionally well-groomed application, having received a lot of careful work from PhatWare over its many years in production. On device documentation is provided through Windows CE help, and provides a good reference point as well as covers the basics. A comprehensive PDF manual is also available, along with official support forums. So if you are stuck, you are unlikely to be for long.

The application costs $39.95 USD (£21 GBP, €30 EUD, ¥4200 JPY est.), which unfortunately is $10 USD more than its Pocket PC counterpart.
Overall if you have a reversible Handheld PC such as the Intermec 6651, or a straight Tablet PC then this is a must have application.
For Clamshell users the purchase may be somewhat less black and white. My advice is that if you can find the correct balance between keyboard and stylus on your H/PC, or you find the extensive features of PenCommander to your liking. Then Calligrapher will certainly make your daily routine just that bit more enjoyable.
For anyone of undecided mind PhatWare provide a free, no obligation 30-day trial (with both host and download to device CAB installers available), which I highly recommend giving a try.

 

System Requirements:

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

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

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

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Chris Tilley
Editor-in-Chief