Wednesday, January 14, 2004
A Spot On Solution for Input: Decuma's OnSpot v3.0 reviewed
Posted by Doug Raeburn in "SOFTWARE" @ 10:00 AM
There's an almost mind-boggling array of options available for text input on the Pocket PC, and everyone has his or her own personal favorite. Some users prefer hardware-based solutions, such as plug-in, wireless and built-in keyboards. A downside of these solutions is diminished portability... a built-in keyboard makes the Pocket PC larger, while separate keyboards give you extra hardware to carry. So if you want the smallest and lightest Pocket PC, soft input is the only real alternative.
In addition to the standard keyboard, letter and block recognizers and Transcriber included with the Pocket PC, you can buy alternate keyboards such as Fitaly, full screen keyboards such as Spb's, and more powerful handwriting recognition software such as Calligrapher. However, alternate character recognizers are fairly uncommon. But Decuma is throwing their hat into that ring... they've developed a new and innovative character recognition system called OnSpot. Version 3.0 has just been released... let's take a look.
The Paper Chase
The design goal for OnSpot is to mimic the characteristics of writing with a pen and paper. To illustrate how this was accomplished, let's compare and contrast it with the most familiar character recognizer, the Letter Recognizer that comes with all Pocket PCs.
Figure 1: The Letter Recognizer input area.
Letter Recognizer has a three-section input area. You enter uppercase characters in the left pane, lowercase in the middle pane, and numbers and special characters in the right pane. As you input each character, it appears on the screen immediately. Any corrections require that you highlight words or characters on the screen and change them as necessary. You don't write words from left to right as you would on paper and you don't see the words displayed in the input area, only on the screen.
Your Input Is Welcome
Figure 2: The OnSpot input area.
With OnSpot, you write complete words on the green tab. As you enter characters, OnSpot compares each letter, number or symbol against its database and displays the best match. It's interesting to watch this, because the screen display even matches the size of the characters you're inputting.
One great feature of OnSpot is that it accepts standard methods of entering letters, numbers and symbols. Multiple stroke characters can be entered just as you would on paper. So, unlike other input methods, you don't have to learn a special alphabet to use OnSpot.
Figure 3: Mixed characters and numbers on the character tab.
You can input any type of character on the green tab, not just letters. You occasionally have to give OnSpot some help to distinguish between similarly shaped letters and numbers when doing this mixed input, mostly by adding a slash to a zero to distinguish it from a capital O. Mixed input displays alpha characters in black and numbers and symbols in red.
Figure 4: Numbers on the blue tab.
Figure 5: Characters on the blue tab… pardon my French!
Use the blue tab to input lots of numbers and symbols more easily. You can switch between tabs as necessary, even mid-entry. The input on the previous tab will be sent to the screen when you switch. The only time I switch tabs mid-entry is to input parentheses, which are difficult to input correctly on the green tab.
The words remain displayed in the input area until you send them to the screen. One way to do this is to tap on the green arrow on the bottom right of the screen, which sends the text without adding a space at the end. Another way is to tap on the carriage return button, which sends the text and adds a carriage return. This clears the input area so it's ready for new input.
Figure 6: See the indent and arrow to the left of the words?
Figure 7: Continue writing in the indent, and your previous input goes to the screen.
The third way to send the words to the screen is one of the product's real innovations. As you fill the line with your input, OnSpot will "crunch" the display a bit and create a small indent on the left of the input area, with a small arrow to the right of the indent (Figure 6). To send the contents of the input area to the screen, simply continue writing in the cleared space before the arrow. OnSpot will send the previous input to the screen and append a space to the last word, while accepting your new input (Figure 7).
Why is this so innovative? This feature is a big part of the "mimicking" writing with pen and paper, because you just keep writing, just like you would with pen and paper. Words don't do justice to how quick and natural this feels ... you have to experience it to appreciate it.