Can’t wait any longer for Native Apps? Me neither. (Late) June seems too far away? I’m with you. So why wait, when you can jailbreak! Over the next couple months before 2.0 is released, I’ll give you guys a glimpse into the jailbroken world of native apps every week. Plus: let's face it, Jailbreaking isn't going anywhere. The SDK is awesome, but some people won't settle for anything less than full-on access to all the hidden bits of the iPhone.
With Apple including handwriting recognition for Chinese characters in the latest 2.0 firmware build, I think it’s a great time to see what handwriting apps are currently available for jailbroken iPhones. HWpen is an app made by the developers over at Chinese company Hanwang and it offers handwriting recognition for both Chinese and English. Is it successful? Better than the iPhone’s soft keyboard?
Read on for the rest of the review! (and remember you'll need a Jailbroken iPhone to take advantage of this native app)
HWpen is embedded within the keyboard, meaning that where the button is typically for numerical keys, it is replaced with the HWpen logo. A quick click there moves you to the handwriting palette and another click would bring you to the numerical symbols.
It is pretty seamlessly integrated and the only downside of this is that if you don’t wish to use the handwriting tool, you would have to click twice to get to the number pad. A bad design choice is the use of the unsightly green, a color that just doesn’t fit with the rest of the iPhone.
The actual layout of the program is also well thought out. The initial screen shows four quadrants each with its own specific use. The first quadrant is used for numbers, the 2nd quadrant for letters, and the 3rd and 4th quadrant for symbols. To the right of the quadrants it offers a ‘suggestion box’ for which you can select characters from if the initial reading is incorrect.
In addition to that layout, there is an option to have a truly blank slate. Those who are truly confident in their finger writing ability might prefer the second slate while I would recommend using the first.
The system of quadrants that they employ help narrow down the available choices in the suggestion box. Starting to write in the 2nd quadrant offers only letters in the ‘suggestion box’. Likewise, writing in the 1st would only offer numbers. To be sure, you don’t have to trap yourself within one quadrant, it is just a matter of which quadrant you choose to begin writing from is where it determines what letters, numbers, symbols will be offered. I think this is a great system for handwriting recognition programs because it can more accurately determine what you are trying to write.
I found HWpen to be fairly accurate with the more unique looking letters but proved to be much more difficult in determining similar looking ones (such as U and V). Capitalization is also a problem because, in my usage, capital letters that look the same as their lower-case counterparts (such as C, S, W, etc) are often needlessly capitalized.
The main problem is that you can’t effectively write a full word. The first layout only offers a letter-by-letter option while the second layout seemingly caps the maximum at two to three letters at a time. This shortcoming proves to be a time consuming nuisance if one was to write lengthy emails or even short SMS’s. At best, HWpen is currently only a fanciful program for the curious rather than a workhorse program for the efficient. At worst, you will be cursing at your iPhone for wondering why in the world ‘f’ turns out to be ‘A’.
I think HWpen is a minimally useful tool that adds more fun-factor to your iPhone than productivity. Though it isn’t efficient to use for English because the soft keyboard is much quicker, I did find that using HWpen one-handed was a useful, albeit slow, way of writing when one hand is occupied (like driving).
As for the Chinese recognition, which I assume is a huge draw, I can’t offer an informed opinion. I can’t speak for its ability to recognize brushstrokes and characters because I can’t write in Chinese. Briefly testing it out, it seemed to be okay in the sense of what I was trying to write appeared in the ‘suggestion box’ but that was the length of my testing.
Needless to say, I can only give this program a recommendation only for users who would like to see and try what a handwriting recognition program on the iPhone would look like. If you were looking for something that can enhance the writing ability, I suggest sticking with the iPhone’s keyboard.