Credit where it’s due: Tablet PC handwriting recognition is superb

As I wrote about a few days ago (in Lenovo X41 Tablet PC: I’m not impressed), I have been evaluating a brand-new Levoro X41 Tablet PC and while I am more and more dismayed by the performance of the unit, I am getting into the groove of working with the Tablet OS (Windows XP for Tablets) and specifically with the handwriting recognition system.
In a word: Wow!
I have used other handwriting recognition systems in the past, and even learned to modify my writing to match the Palm “Graffiti” system, but none of them gave me the sense that they would modify to match my rather sloppy handwriting rather than vice-versa, until now.

What the engineers at Microsoft’s Tablet PC team have figured out is that if you combine handwriting recognition with a predictive spellcheck program, your conversion accuracy goes way up.
In addition since you can see your actual writing “under” your pen, you can also easily go back and clarify your letters by adding strokes.
Indeed, you probably do this with your writing all the time without thinking about it.
Consider how you write the word “time: If you’re like me you write the main strokes, then back up, cross your “t’, then dot your “i”.
Without the crossed “t”, though, the word really looks more like “lime” or, perhaps “lIme”. Previous systems I’ve used would leave you on your own with this sort of misinterpretation, but on the Tablet, I can see as the best guess of the system changes based on the added strokes. Brilliant!
Here’s an example: this is how that last sentence looked when I scrawled it in the X41’s Input Panel:

Lenovo X41 Tablet PC handwriting recognition system

click on the image for a full-size view

In fact, I’m writing this blog entry on the X41 while watching a really stupid movie on TV. Comfortable and a relaxing way to work on my computer, but handwriting is just so darn slow as an input method!
Indeed, that’s one of the real takeaways for me as I spend more time with this computer: I type so darn fast that it’s crazy for me to be handwriting when I can type. I’m reminded of the classic response to a friend asking if you want to skydive: “Why would I want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” In this case it’d be “why wouldn’t I want to type on a perfectly good keyboard?” ๐Ÿ™‚
More seriously, it is very tedious to enter any significant amount of text by hand: this article has taken me almost an hour to enter and proof, versus perhaps 5-10 minutes if I had just used the keyboard.
Already, though, the X41 is quickly becoming my favorite way to keep up on my Gmail account and my RSS feeds via Newsgator. When the interaction is 90% reading and some clicking, it’s a splendid interface and far more efficient than a mouse or trackball.
Unquestionably, there am some great uses for the Tablet PC — and a Tablet PC running Mac O5 X, what I call the PowerTablet, would be fantastic — but is the Tablet PC really the killer combination of hardware plus OS? Nope, not yet.
But I do believe we’ve gelling closer, and one big reason for that is the handwriting recognition system. It’s that good.

2 comments on “Credit where it’s due: Tablet PC handwriting recognition is superb

  1. Hi Dave,
    I, too, am a Tablet user, and you’re completely right about the pros and cons of handwriting. The system itself does a fantastic job – but, like most seasoned computer users, you type faster than you hand write.
    However, where using the pen comes into its own is when you don’t have to use recognition. Several applications, like Microsoft OneNote and FranklinCovey PlanPlus for XP, let you just write without waiting to convert, which makes the process much faster. The text is recognised in the background, though, and “attached” to your scrawl – which means you can search it using normal text searches.
    Of course, the tablet form factor also makes it great for reading and browsing while slouched on the couch ๐Ÿ™‚

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