Google Handwriting Input Review

Google Handwriting Input Review

Apr 20, 2015

I’ve said it before, and said it often: cottoning to a virtual keyboard was the only way I was able to leave the relative security of physical QWERTY devices and try out Android.

It has been smooth sailing ever since. Mostly. Still, I have a soft spot for keyboards, even if I feel fairly vested in my current option. And even as the third-party options delightfully expand, I love how they push Google’s own options.

And then we get Google Handwriting Input.

The concept is basic: one uses a finger to write, and the app converts it to digital text. When activated, it acts like most other keyboards, and pops up from the bottom. Instead of keys, the entry tool is made up mostly of a writing area, and other buttons that control sundry items, as well as a space bar at the bottom. After activating, “writing” is a cinch; tracing with one’s finger allows the app to interpret the entry and to place it in the appropriate entry box. Right above the trace area, word suggestions are provided, and can be selected if the initial guess is wrong. The program recognizes simple punctuation too.

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Non-cursive writing works best based on my testing. The blockier the entry, the more accurate the program seems to be. It does multiple languages too, which is an added bonus, and there is a conventional keyboard that can be invoked from within the app.

My biggest fuss has to do with spacing. It’s a cramped going in portrait, and only slightly better in landscape… even in phablet-sized devices. Obviously, there is gonna be a trade-off been accuracy and sizing of the input area, but I did come away with the feeling that it works best on tablets.

Weirdly enough, even though the capture process does its thing, I’m faster using a swipe keyboard. This is due to the slight delay that occurs while the app recognizes an entered word; these add up.

I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t find this option intriguing. Despite the growing pains, it feels like a relatively well-thought out concept, and it works well in real life.

Note Anytime Review

Note Anytime Review

Jun 23, 2014

I don’t want to bury Note Anytime for the one thing that it does particularly wrong, because it does everything else just about right – and it’s probably the only app that does what it does.

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I could rant for a long time about handwriting apps. I started using handwriting apps to keep track of to-do lists and to write down notes on games and apps that I review. I find that physically writing them helps them stick in my mind better than typing them out. I could just use paper notebooks, but I like being able to have bigger writing canvases on mobile so that my handwriting resembles actual human writing, and I never want to leave a notebook at home when I might need it. There are plenty of standalone handwriting tools, sure. And there are ones that support cloud storage and synchronization: Evernote in particular. But that doesn’t let me edit my notes on a platform besides the one I started on. I want to write a note on my phone, and then edit it on my iPad and/or Surface Pro as I please.

As far as I can tell, Note Anytime is the only app on the planet that can really do this. It delivers on its premise: I can start a note on one platform, and edit it on any other platform that the app is on, which it is on iOS, Android, and Windows 8. The interface is identical on each platform, which is both a good and bad thing. It’s bad because it means that so many elements are non-native and don’t quite fit in with a platform’s individual visual aesthetic. But it’s good because it means that there’s a consistent experience between platforms. It’s ultimately for the best.

The note-taking experience is solid: there’s a variety of pens and colors to use, including gradients and dashed lines. The zoomed-writing feature helps out a lot, with the ability to automatically extend writing area to the right by writing in its grayed-out area. More pens and paper types are included with the paid app. While I don’t mind supporting a product that’s become integral to my life, it’s hard to say that there’s a lot of bang for the buck in a practical sense.

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Note Anytime uses its own cloud-based storage service with 2 GB of free storage. I’d like to see support for Dropbox and Google Drive in the app, but hey, this works, and the notes generally don’t take too much space. The ability to import images, PDFs, even web pages, is incredibly powerful. And it’s possible to export as an image (PDF exporting isn’t in the Android version), so notes don’t have to stay in just this ecosystem. Similarly, it’s possible to export handwriting as images or PDFs from other apps if you prefer a particular app for handwriting (I love the Evernote-powered Penultimate on iPad), and then add it in here if you want to just take advantage of its cloud syncing.

The issue with the app is that pesky cloud syncing though. It works well enough, but the auto-syncing leaves a lot to be desired. The app doesn’t sync as changes are made, only when you quit to the menu. Too many times have I edited a note on one platform, then picked it up on another, only to see that the changes weren’t made due to me having not backed out of the note to get it to sync. There’s two solutions: one, auto-sync notes in the background as changes are made; two, have the sync button available in the note itself.

Really, that’s the one big issue that keeps me from recommending it 100%, or being in love with it to the point where I’ll not keep an eye out for other apps. It’s a great app, one that fits my needs: it just could be better, and its deficiencies kind of sting. But still, for anyone who wants to edit handwritten notes without relying on a single platform, Note Anytime is a killer app.

Quill Brings Handwriting to Android Tablets

Quill Brings Handwriting to Android Tablets

Feb 21, 2012

For Android tablet owners who have a stylus and want to use their tablet as a pen-and-paper replacement, one solution is Quill. This app allows users to handwrite in vector graphics in virtual notebooks. There are various settings for different pen colors and thickness, along with undo/redo and manual erase tools. There is a fountain pen mode that makes the line darker depending on how strongly the pen is pressed down on the screen, simulating an actual fountain pen. Each page can be tagged with various tags, which is perfect for students who want to remember what notes on various pages contain. The app also has support for the active pens on the Lenovo ThinkPad, HTC JetStream, and HTC Flyer. Notes can be exported as PNG files, or as PDFs, and shared via Evernote or Android built-in sharing. Quill is available for $1 from the Android Market), or available for free under the GPL from the Quill Google Code project website. Quill does require a Honeycomb device, so Galaxy Note owners are out of luck for now.