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Tablet Artistry: Tools and Styluses Tested

Use a pen to write: Windows recognition

If you want to use handwriting instead of the usual keyboard, PhatWare has versions of its WritePad software for both Android and iPhone; we tried it out on a Honeycomb tablet. Picking the color and width of ink isn’t something you’ll want to do frequently so it’s not a problem that these options are buried in the settings, along with turning on guidelines for the height of letters or choosing to write only one letter at a time. You can switch from writing whole words to printing individual letters (better for passwords and URLS) in the input panel; there are also options for upper case and numbers and you can even write simple math problems (like 22/3=) to use it as a calculator.

As you write, the words WritePad recognizes are displayed above the input panel; if a word is wrong you can tap it to pick an alternative – but you can’t rewrite it without deleting everything after the word as well, which you can do by drawing the delete gesture or tapping the delete key (both delete a letter at a time).

WritePad works better with a firm stylus than with your finger, but it doesn’t work particularly well with either. You need to display the guidelines and write slowly and firmly to get the letters to form clearly enough on screen; even with the otherwise sensitive screen on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, as soon as you start trying to write at the same speed you can on paper – or on a Tablet PC with an active digitizer – your letters turn into a scrawl that you can’t read yourself, so it’s not surprising WritePad can’t manage it. We’ve seen better results on iPad but it’s still not faster to write than it is to type on screen.

Windows handwriting recognition

It’s very different in Windows. Writing on a capacitive screen works well if it has a high enough input resolution like the Acer Iconia Tab – especially with a stylus – although you can’t lean your hand on the screen to steady it. A touch screen with lower input resolution – like the Dell Inspiron Duo – gives you rather jagged letters so you have to write slowly. Best of all is a combination touch and active screen like the Dell Latitude or HP EliteBook tablets (although the price and weight will both be much higher). That gives you a Wacom pen and a screen you can lean your hand on (because finger touch is disabled when the pen is in use), and you get smooth and fluid ink you can write at speed.

You can jot down notes in Windows Journal or OneNote that you can search without turning them into text (Windows recognizes your handwriting in the background) or you can write into any app using the tablet input panel instead of the on-screen keyboard. You can make this larger so you can write more than one line of text before inserting it into a document and as each word you write turns into a recognized word you can quickly make corrections. Tap a word and you can pick one of the alternatives, rewrite individual letters or rewrite the whole word if it’s completely wrong. If you want to use your handwriting, Windows is still the best option by far; you can write at least as fast as you could type on a good smartphone touchscreen keyboard.

 The slightly scratchy writing on the left was done with a capacitive pen; the smoother ink on the right is from a tablet PC with a Wacom pen.

The slightly scratchy writing on the left was done with a capacitive pen; the smoother ink on the right is from a tablet PC with a Wacom pen.