Monday, August 4, 2003
Look Ma! One-handed with EZNote (review)
Posted by Don Tolson in "SOFTWARE" @ 09:00 AM
"One-handed access to your Notes and Contacts." That's the promise of PDAMill's EZNote. While PDAMill has built an interface which is much better suited for input and browsing using your fingers, you'd need more dexterous hands than mine to run this one-handed.
To be fair, I'm not really one for regularly sticking my fingers (or any other part of my body!) on the screen of my beloved Pocket PC. That's reserved for emergencies -- when I can't find my pen or I'm feeling too lazy to get the stylus out of its holder. PDAMill has obviously given a lot of thought to the design of the interface for EZNote, providing appropriately sized buttons for all major functions and developing an optimized keyboard for quick, finger-sized input. It also contains the same predictive-input engine PDAMill provided in their TopKeys product. (See the review here ).
A fully-functional trial version of EZNote is available from PDAMill for a 15 day period. During the trial period, a screen is displayed when you leave the application, reminding you of the number of days left. The trial version is not convertible to a registered version - you have to download from Handango for that.
The .exe file provided from PDAMill installs Help Files, registration, and installation files on your desktop and then runs the normal ActiveSync installation program. EZNote takes 843K of memory when installed and running. Although you can install EZNote to a CF card, I wouldn't recommend it. Like their TopKeys application, EZNote assumes it will be attached to a hardware button, which could cause a problem if the button is inadvertently pressed while the card is removed.
Back on the desktop, once installation is complete, the routine will display an HTML version of the User Guide. This guide is not available for viewing on the Pocket PC version of EZNote, so it's a good idea to print off a copy (it's only two pages).
The first time you run EZNote on the Pocket PC, it will display the 'Hardware button assignment' screen, and ask you to change and/or confirm which button to use to initiate EZNote. The default is the Record button and unfortunately, there is no option for 'no button'. Be careful, once you exit this screen, a message will come up saying a Soft Reset is required to activate the changes. Tapping the OK button does just that - forces an immediate soft reset of your machine. I'm not sure why PDAMill does this, but their TopKeys program did it, too.
Two options are provided for accessing Notes on your Pocket PC - New Note and View Note.
Figure 1: EZNote main screen
The New Note screen defaults to PDAMill's optimized input keyboard. I'm not exactly sure what it's optimized to, but it kind of looks like FITALY, but not really. The concept (according to the marketing literature) is to support one-handed input.
Figure 2: EZNote New Notes screen with Optimized Keyboard
I'm not entirely sure how you would use this one-handed -- except for maybe using the thumb of the hand holding the unit. I found the keys were just a little too small for my medium-sized thumb and I was frequently getting double-letter responses to what I thought were single presses. There is a sensitivity setting in the Setup screen, but this didn't seem to make a difference. There also doesn't seem to be any way to switch this for left-handed vs. right-handed operation. EZNote tries to predict what the next character to be selected will be, by outlining the keys in red, but I found this to be distracting and turned it off.
The predictive engine used in EZNote is where this product really shines. It really does a good job of learning commonly used words and phrases of the user, and quickly becomes a first stop for finishing off words. I just wish they could incorporate this in all Pocket PC applications.
The ABC key at the top left switches the screen to a numeric-only input keypad.
Figure 3: EZNote Numeric Keypad input
This then activates a calc(ulator) key next to it, which allows you use the keypad as a calculator and add the result into the text field, or use the keypad to directly add numbers to the text.
The 'usa' key next to this changes the language support for the keyboards. Currently, EZNote supports English (usa), German (de), Italian (it), French (fr) and Spanish (es).
Next, moving left to right, is the 'keys' key. This switches between the various input methods supported. These include:
- Optimized Keyboard (as shown above);
- Full-screen Keyboard - where the screen is turned 90 degrees, into landscape mode and a full QWERTY keyboard is displayed, with the text area above;
- Telephone keypad - where, much like on cell phones, letters are selected by sequential pushes of the appropriate number;
- Calculator keypad - which provides use as a calculator, with the result being added to the text, or direct input of numbers into the text.
Figure 4: EZNote Full Screen QWERTY keyboard
Figure 5: EZNote Telephone Keypad
View Notes provides a list of available notes in a stylized display which is quite different from what we're used to seeing but again, appropriate for using one's fingers. As with the regular Notes application, it takes the title from the first sentence in the note.
Figure 6: View Notes screen
EZNote defaults to the My Documents/EZNote folder, but this can be changed by tapping on the folder display at the bottom of the screen.
As with the Notes, options are available to add a contact (New Contact) and search through your existing contacts (View Contact). Selecting New Contact presents a stylized display of contact information, which has been optimized for finger selection.
Figure 7: EZNote New Contact screen
The fields shown in this display can be customized by pressing the Setup button in the top left corner.
Figure 8: EZNote Contact Info Setup Screen
Pressing the buttons for each of the fields on the new contact field brings up the same input methods used in Adding a Note. Some intelligence has been included in the input methods attached to each of the contact buttons, though. Numeric fields, such as telephone numbers, bring up the calculator keypad, while text fields, (like addresses, names, etc.) bring up the last used alphanumeric input method (full screen keyboard, optimized keyboard, or phone keypad).
Selecting View Contact displays a search screen, which uses the telephone keypad or the optimized keyboard (whichever you used last, with the optimized keyboard as default).
Figure 9: EZNote Contact Search
The search here is also much cleverer than that normally found in contact applications. It uses the provided input to search for matches anywhere in first name, last name, business name, etc. That really makes it handy when you can't remember exactly what you're looking for.
From the main screen of EZNote, there is a small Setup button in the top left corner. Pressing this provides a screen of general operational settings you can use to customize your installation of EZNote.
Figure 10: EZNote Setup Screen
I couldn't see any real difference in operation when I changed the setting of Gesture sentivness (sic). According to the manual, this only affects the use of gestures for backspace, capitalize, space and enter, but I couldn't see any difference in use.
Pressing the Predefined keys... displays a list of common phrases, which you can add to, delete, or change the order of display. Only one line is allowed though, since pressing the Enter key finishes the input. In the Notes function, you can access these phrases by pressing on one of the 'blank' buttons where suggested words are shown before you start typing. The Languages key lets you turn on/off support for the various other languages within EZNote.
Again, be very careful with the Assign to hardware key. Coming out of this function will force a soft reset of your Pocket PC. Also be careful with the Show Menus Always option. When I turned this off, I couldn't find any way to get out of input mode for a new note and finally had to soft reset my Pocket PC to get out of EZNote.
Here's a list of things you should watch for when setting up and using EZNote:
- Any time you access the Hardware Button Assignment function, EZNote will force a soft reset of your Pocket PC - even if you haven't made any changes.
- There is no help file available from the Pocket PC application.
- All other hardware button assignments are disabled while EZNotes is running.
- The Hardware button assignment makes no distinction between 'Press' and 'Press and Hold'.
- There is no way to configure for differences between left and right-handed operation.
- There is some inconsistency in the user interface. For example, the language key displays the current language supported, but the calc/text key (shown when in Calculator mode) shows what operation you will move into, not what its currently doing and the ABC key (which shifts from Alpha to numeric input) always looks the same.
- Key sensitivity was too high for my fingers and adjustments didn't seem to make any difference.
- The user interface has some quirks that take time getting used to.
EZNote is available from Handango for US$9.99 (affiliate link). The 15 day demonstration version is available from PDAMill .
There is no specific mention of EZNote being certified as able to run on Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC but I know it runs fine on Pocket PC 2002. (Maybe someone with one of the newer models could check this out??) It takes 843K to run, and can be installed to main memory or to a CF or other memory card. (Personally, I recommend you stick with main memory).
According to the documentation, the supported languages include English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian.
All in all, I like the design and approach to the interface to make it more useable for those who prefer to have a real touch screen, and the predictive input engine is one of the best I've seen. There are a number of quirks in the interface though, that need some more work before I think this application is ready for prime-time.