Reviews-Other Products


Ultra-Mobile PCs
Editor's Favorites

For reviews on convertible and hybrid Tablet PCs, click here
For slate reviews click here


To complement expanding our Web site to include more mobile devices, we'll be reviewing  GPS units.  We're concentrating on the most portable units and have found a couple that meet our criteria.

Although these are two completely different types of devices, each has its own merits and flaws, although both do what they were designed to do and do it well.

HP's iPAQ 310 Travel Companion

Allen Sports Navigator


Canon Rebel XTi EOS

I’m not a camera buff by any means.  When I use a camera, I want it to be quick and easy to learn and to take good photos.  Anything else can be either a bonus or a hindrance, depending on my mood at the time.  There are some excellent camera review sites out there that can give you all the specs and in-depth reviews that you might be looking for, but this isn’t one of them.  My review is from a novice photographer’s point of view.

I use a camera at home primarily to take shots of review products for Tablet PCs that I’ve received.  When I’m traveling, I use it for candid shots of events and to capture images of new Tablet products that I see at shows.  My old standby was a Minolta Z1 Dimage with 3.2 megapixels.  I’ve used it for years, found it exceptionally easy to use and small and light enough to carry around with me, whether in my purse or computer case.  Battery life has been good and I considered it a bonus that that it uses 4 AA batteries.  Replacing it with a higher resolution camera was something that I’d delayed doing. The Rebel XTi is 10.2 megapixels, so you can imagine the difference in clarity.

The Canon Rebel XTi was one of the first Certified for Windows devices I’ve tried.  It’s also the first SLR where I didn’t feel that I needed to be a professional photographer to use.  The automatic focusing works well, rarely giving me a photo I haven’t been able to use.  The biggest exception to this that I’ve found so far is that the flash will pop up on a landscape shot, even when there’s plenty of light.  For example, taking shots across the water in Seattle often resulted in missing a specific shot as the flash would pop up, missing that shot and making me wait for the next opportunity.  That’s not generally a problem in a landscape, but if there’s a bird or animal involved, the sound of the flash opening is enough to scare them off.  There may be a way to disable the flash other than by turning off automatic focusing and using the fast setting, but so far, I haven’t discovered it. Compared to the overall ease of use, though, this is a minor annoyance.

As the point of the review is that this camera wears the Certified for Windows Vista logo, just how well does it work with Windows Vista?  So far, although there are some minor things with the camera I’d like to see changed, I can’t fault the way it works with Windows Vista at all.  The Rebel XT is discovered immediately by connecting it to any of my computers with the USB cable.  No need to pull out the card and use a card reader.  In my case, that’s a plus as the Rebel uses a CF card and my main computer has an SD card reader. 

Photos are printed crisp and clear.  Check out one of the many Certified for Windows Vista printers for the best match for your needs.

If you decide to buy a new Certified for Windows Vista camera, one of the first things to check is to see if the card that comes with it will be adequate.  My guess is that you’ll need to get a larger card, at least a one gigabyte, although the two gigabytes are often just a couple of dollars more.

If you plan on using the camera for a lot of shots without recharging, a second battery could be a good investment.  There’s nothing worse than lining up a shot that you may not be able to get again and finding that the battery is dead. 

The battery life has been exceptionally good so far, but when it died in the middle of a flight around Mt. McKinley in Alaska’s Denali National Park, the fact that we had a second battery meant that we didn’t lose any shots during that spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime trip.  We’d been taking photos for a couple of days up to that point and had forgotten to check the battery before we took off.  At that point, the $80 we’d spent for the battery and extra card became money very well spent.

Some of the examples shown are from a flight around Mt. McKinley in Alaska, a glacier calving, the Windows Live party at the Seattle Aquarium and a single shot of a blackberry flower using the macro lens setting.  These are completely unaltered photos using the Canon XTi Rebel.  Warning - the photos are full-sized and almost a gigabyte each. 

If you’ve used this camera or another Certified for Windows Vista SLR camera in the same range, I’d love to hear about your real world experiences.

Sometimes we stumble across a product that we feel that everyone should have!  That was the case with our newest discovery for Tablet PCs (and laptops, too)!

I first saw this truly innovative product at Microsoft's Mobile Partners Conference and decided on the spot that they were something we all could use.

The Laptop Legs

I won't even hesitate in saying that everyone who has a mobile computer can use these!  You'll get better ventilation and be more comfortable as you use you Tablet PC on a desk.  I'm using them on a couple of my Tablets, both my Motion and new Gateway and will be ordering for the Lenovo x41 as well. 

These polycarbonate plastic legs are inexpensive and extremely lightweight, weighing only one-quarter of an ounce.  You won't even know they're there until you start using them.  Then, you'll wonder how you ever did without them!

The legs operate on a simple theory - raise the computer up to allow more cool air to circulate, thus cutting down on the heat you feel as well as the heat damage to your computer.  You'll get almost the same lift as you can get with a docking station - and at a very small fraction of the price. 

The legs apply easily using peel-n-stick.  Select the area where you want to apply them, making sure that they won't cover any existing cooling fans or any access to the computer, such as battery, ram or hard drive replacement.  Place them evenly from each side edge so you get a solid base with no instability.

You can select the height that works better for you, from flat, to 1" to 1 3/8" high.  For those of you who may prefer the ergonomic method of dropping your wrists to type, you can place the legs towards the front of the base, rather than the rear.

Worried about breaking off the legs when you're carrying your Tablet around in a case?  No need to even think about breaking them as they'll fold completely flat in a second when you won't be using them.

Now, what about the cost?  I said they were inexpensive and they are.  You can get a set of 4 for about $20 and a set of 2 for only $10.  That's a minimal cost to protect your Tablet from excessive heat damage and you'll be more comfortable typing or writing!.

You can learn more about Laptop Legs and other helpful products here.

I'm very pleased to add Laptop Legs to my list of Editor's Favorites.

Eli - The Ultimate Home Broadband Security Appliance

This review has  been a long time coming.  It's not that I didn't think the product deserved a review (and a good one at that) but because time just became the enemy.

I first saw the Trust Eli hardware security device at CES in January.  About a month later, I received a unit in the mail. Trust ELI is the ultimate home broadband security appliance (Trust Eli's wording), with all-in-one solution for your network's security.  It combines a hardware firewall with anti-virus, pop-up ads, content filtering, anti-spam, anti-phishing, anti-spyware and other malware protection with a DSL modem, a 4-port switch, 802.11b/g wireless gateway.  It has VPN support and includes fully managed support. It also incorporates privacy protection.

I see a lot of problems with computers and networks and the majority of those problems stem from one or more of the above malware.  This easy-to-install device comes complete with an RJ-45 network cable, an RJ-11 phone cable, USB cable and an AC Power Adapter (110/120V).

One of the first questions I asked was if the device would work with Windows Vista as I had a couple of machines running the beta.  Because it's ahead of the network, it will work with any OS, including Windows, Linux or Apple.

This is a fully managed UTM device.  It keeps things updated for you for both current and future threats.  No need to worry about keeping up with the latest definitions for your anti-virus or ant-spyware programs.

My network is completely wireless, so I had a few problems getting connected.  The Quick Start Guide sent me to the full manual for directions on how to connect using an existing router.  After skimming through the manual, I didn't see anything specific for existing routers, so started from the beginning and worked my way through.  It wasn't as simple as it sounded, but eventually, it worked.  Make sure you follow all steps that pertain to your operating system and means of connecting.  There are directions for DSL and Cable and setting up the unit for personal security. Wireless setup is a full extra step.

Trust Eli is a good alternative to software applications for the full protection of your network.  Cost is reasonable, but not the cheapest method available, although it may be one of the easiest. You'll stay protected and not have to worry about making sure that your computer is vulnerable to attacks or other malware.

For homeowners or small business owners with a concern about keeping their computers as safe as possible, take a look at the Eli unit by Trust Eli. You'll appreciate the ease of setting up a VPN connection.

The Eli unit starts at about $200 and requires a subscription service of approximately $120 year.

Boostaroo Revolution Hi-Definition Portable Amplifier and Splitter

Since getting my Tablet PC, I've learned the pleasure of traveling with much less weight.  One exception has been that I've always carried my portable speakers so I can hear recorded music and video closer to the way it was meant to sound.

Now, I've found another way to listen with much more clarity than ever with the Boostaroo Revolution Portable Amplifier.  Not only can I hear music with much more clarity, but so can someone traveling with me.  The dual input makes sharing simple.  It's available in white or black to match or contrast with your MP3 player.

If you're not sure if your headphones are suitable to use with the Boostaroo or the Boostaroo Revolution, check the Web site for a listing or contact the manufacturer for a recommendation.

Best of all, it works!  I've used it with both my Creative Zen PMC earbuds and my Sennheiser noise-cancelling headphones.  I'm not an audiophile by any stretch of the imagination, but there is absolutely no doubt that the output is not only louder, but much clearer and crisper with a definite surround sound. 

Once you try it, I'm sure you'll agree that music and movies sound much better.  I'll never travel without it again!

This is another product that immediately earned our Editor's Favorite award, and deservedly so!

RoadWired Roadster Convertible Review - written by Terri Stratton, MVP

For those of you who have followed this site for any time, I rarely do an in-depth review of a product. Occasionally, there are exceptions. The Motion M1200 was the last full review I did. Now that I have an M1400 with a View Anywhere screen, you can bet I’ll be doing another soon. What a great Tablet PC! 

This time, though, I’m focusing on a rolling computer case that far surpasses anything else I’ve ever used. This RoadWired case is called the Roadster Convertible. Why convertible? There are so many configurations that can be created using the included components that it’s fun (and a bit of a challenge) getting it set up.

First thing I wanted to do was to set up the removable case (RoadWired Transit System (RTS) insert ) for both my Tablet PC and my digital camera. Since the camera isn’t one of the small, flat models, it takes up a fair amount of space.

First thing I did was to use one of the dividers to separate the case into front and rear sections. The two zippers made this easy to do. The front opened easily to give me fast access to the Tablet, while the full rear zipper allowed access to the camera and accessories without removing the Tablet. I realized just how handy this would be going through security at the airport. The Tablet could be removed and replaced without disturbing any of the camera equipment. 

After trying several configurations for the RTS insert, I ended up using two full length dividers and putting the three – yes three – Tablet PCs in the insert. I knew that I’d have to remove each of them at security, so I thought this might work the best for this trip. When I got to the airport, I realized that I’d made the right decision. I removed all three Tablets in just a few seconds and replaced them in the case once they’d been screened in almost as short a time. Zipped up the case and I was ready to continue. 

Previous to this trip, I’d used a separate padded case inside of a wheeled case. I’m sure this is similar to what many travelers use. I have to admit that this time I managed to get three Tablets in and out of the case faster than what I could do previously with only one notebook or Tablet. If you don’t have a computer to carry, the RTS is removable, making this a great travel bag to carry onboard. 

The quality of this bag is obvious in every part of it. The handle is adjustable, so whether you’re tall or short, there’s a setting that’s comfortable to use. The wheels are solid, and move easily, even on rough asphalt or gravel.

The interior compartments are all easily accessible. One section is for pens, papers, business cards, while the second zippered compartment easily holds several file folders and documents. There’s also an outside zippered compartment that’s large enough to hold cables, cords, etc., as well as a removable pouch that can be used with a belt. 

On the rear of the case is a strong strap that’s held down with Velcro to keep it in place. Pull it out in the center and it’s perfect for putting over the handle of your larger suitcase for ease in getting to the ticket counter and gates or from baggage to your car. 

The shoulder strap is the most comfortable I’ve used. Even with all the computers and accessories I was carrying, the weight was comfortable and the strap didn’t dig into my shoulder.

Although the price ($199.95) is on the higher side of many cases, the quality and usefulness of the Roadster Convertible makes the cost very reasonable. With the quality construction and padding where it’s needed, I no longer have to worry about the case being tossed about and my computer being damaged. 

To make even better use of the case, I purchased the Deluxe Cable Stable. This case kept all my cords, USB cables, etc. in one place. It’s the perfect companion to the case for those who travel with their computers. 

For more information on any of RoadWired products, check

Math Journal - Reviewed by John Dean, MVP

Applications for the Tablet PC have been popping up randomly ever since the release of the platform in November of 2002. Many deal with the needs of average users and some deal with a specific subset of tablet owners. There are programs that are good for the fun factor but their appeal fades once the novelty has worn off, while others have shown their strengths and will be around for the long haul. I’ve used a great number of tablet apps, spanning all these categories. Some I’ve found useful and decided to keep as part of my normal tablet build. Others were fun to try and offered that “new toy” euphoria at first, but didn’t offer me anything in the long run and I was able to let them slide quietly into that goodnight.

One program hit me like a ton of bricks with its “WOW” factor. I was impressed the moment I started using it, and that “wow” level never declined. Even though it’s only in beta right now, and is supposed to have a few more features that aren’t even in place in the version I have, the beta offered me a glimpse of a “proof of concept” that was simply overwhelming to my tablet senses.

As a tablet specific application, MathJournal by xThink ( seems such an obvious concept that it’s hard to believe there aren’t three or four contenders already out there, each vying for the slice of the market that this application fills. xThink has come up with an application that really shows just how powerful the Tablet PC experience can be, and how useful. Within the first few minutes, I knew I was using the program that best exemplified the reason Tablet PCs exist in the first place – to allow us to interact with a computer with natural-feeling handwriting, something we’ve been doing for our entire lives, regardless of age or computer experience

The installation went without a hitch, using just under 24 MB of disk space, though this will likely grow as they work on the help files and flesh everything out. And despite the fact that it’s been quite a few years since I’ve delved into anything beyond checkbook math (other than figuring area in landscaping for my house) I felt quite at home with the interface for the program.

I’m the type who reads the manual after I hit a roadblock, so all my testing was done on the fly. The only time I hit the help files during the beginning of testing was to see what was in place already and what had yet to be finished as I used the program. From the looks of it, even with the placeholders there for content that may be out when the program is released, the help section will be quite full featured, including links to take you to the place in the program where you’re looking for help and walk you through the task in the program itself.

The interface is very streamlined – there’s no clutter, no distractions. The majority of the screen is dedicated to the input area. Across the top are the menu bar and a movable toolbar. The menu bar gives you options for things such as the usual “recently used files”, “copy/paste”, “save” choices; things you expect to see there that are consistent across programs in the Windows world. The program specific ones include stylus options, angle units, decimal precision, and background options.

The toolbar itself is a nice choice of intuitive graphic icons for functions – including pen and eraser settings, a lasso for selecting an area, a “clear the page” button, normal cut, copy, and paste buttons, and a second “lasso” for designating that your text selection is the recognizers new target. The decimal option and angle units are selectable here as well, as is the option to switch between MathJournal and Calculator mode.

The interface has a nice large writing area for text input. This area is the majority of the screen, with another tool area on the bottom of the interface where you have the icon to initiate the recognition as well as a line where you can see what the recognition engine “sees” in nice computer fonts to allow you to verify the recognition. One of the most useful aspects of this “recognized text” area is that if you have something that wasn’t recognized, you don’t always have to guess what it was – you can see what was recognized and what was not, and make changes accordingly.

In actual use, each time you write out a mathematical expression, you use your pen to tap the button on the bottom, and it gives you options depending on the type of expression it was. Something simple like 4*8 gives you the choices of “simplify numerically” (i.e. solve the problem) or “convert numeric to symbolic” (recognize your text, print out the expression in its format, and then give the solution). More complex problems or different types of expressions or equations output more options, up to and including tables and graphs.

My favorite of these are the three dimensional graphs. Writing out an equation and getting an answer is neat by itself, but then seeing a three dimensional graph pop up that you can use your pen to “click and hold” while you rotate it around any of its axes, now that to me is powerful stuff. Then being able to tap on one of the numbers on an axis, change the value with your pen, and have it immediately change the graph without having to go back to the initial equation is more like magic than the old fashioned way of doing math that I am accustomed to. An additional nice “tablet” type of feature is the checkmark. After writing out your equation, you can simply draw a checkmark rather than having to go to the bottom of the screen to press the recognizer button. The same dialog box with options comes up right where you put the checkmark, just as it would with the button. In a nice cleanup action, the checkmark disappears from the screen then after you make your selection, leaving you with just the equation again, exactly as it would look had you used the button instead.

On the web page for the beta, xThink also had 8 other PDF files the testers were requested to download. Each PDF had 50 formulas for the testers to try. These efforts in MathJournal would then be saved to files via the program’s logging feature, mailed back to the development team, and used to improve their writing recognition in either future betas or the final build. I started my testing by turning on the logging as requested, pulling up the first PDF file on another computer, and sitting back in my chair with my tablet on my lap, angled pretty straight on at my eyes. The writing felt completely natural – no different than thousands of times I’ve done it on paper in school. I also tested it while seated at my desk with the tablet flat on the table, which is not the optimum angle for viewing on my Toshiba M200. Yet even then, I had no problems at all, as the contrast of the default white background and the black input was clearly visible.

When I first looked at the various formulas they wanted us to test, I was daunted. 50 tests on each of 8 PDF files equal 400 entries to test. I verified my math by putting that in longhand on the program – and it gave me my answer also. And I was off - my first computation, but by far not the most complex.

The recognition was incredible. My penmanship is lousy – yet the Tablet PC has always impressed me with the accuracy of the recognition. Looking over some of these equations they wanted us to test, I thought not only did they pick some good ones to show the power of the program, but they also picked good ones to get as wide a recognition base for everything as they could.

I started with the PDF files, and worked my way in one session through the first five or six. The program performed very well. The recognition for the symbols, superscripts, fractions, and square root signs was just about perfect for me. In fact, I’m not sure I ever received an error about being unable to recognize a sign or symbol in any of the examples, except for the ones I drew so poorly that even I couldn’t tell what they should have been. Here’s where I learned that my brackets and parentheses were far from consistent. Then just to make sure they hadn’t “padded” the PDF files with things they knew would work best, I started playing around on my own after I completed all of their example files.

A “quick help” window pops up in a separate window when you launch the program. This contains examples of numbers and letters, to help you in the recognition. I had ignored it for the most part, wanting to try the program “out of the box” using my own writing style. The one place I hit consistent snags was on the letter K. If I write the lower case K in print style, the program invariably thinks I wrote the symbol for PI, even though my lower case K looks precise when compared to their example. The program also recognizes the cursive version, so despite not having written cursive since early in grade school, I relearned the strokes and gave that a shot – and my recognition improved dramatically, even with my poor handwriting.

One of the common complaints people have had with tablets is that the recognition engine isn’t “trainable” – that is, it won’t adapt to your writing style. You have to adapt to the preprogrammed style in the areas you have issues. But other than the lower case K, I had none of those feelings with this app. It seemed more than happy to accept my illegible scrawl as something legitimate – if only my grade school teachers had felt the same...

A few days after I started testing the program, I was emailed a link to an updated recognition DLL. But I didn’t notice any difference, since my experience with recognition had been so positive. It still couldn’t recognize my lower case K, but I’ve become accustomed to doing the letter K in cursive now for this program. We’ll see in later versions if that letter’s recognition is improved. I’ve asked if there’s a more updated version of that dll, but haven’t heard back yet.

Besides the K issue, I’ve only had a couple problems using the program. When I fire it up for the initial time during a work session with it, I have a tendency to use the letter X as my multiplication symbol, rather than the asterisk the program recognizes (basically an X with a line either vertically or horizontally through it, user’s choice). It usually takes me two or three times to realize it’s not recognizing the input because of my own stupidity. After that reminder, writing the symbol it will recognize is automatic.

The only “program level” problem exhibited was when switching between MathJournal and Calculator mode. If I write an equation as noted above, using the X rather than the symbol to multiply, MathJournal gives me a warning that it didn’t recognize the input. No big deal – just tap the error window closed, make a correction, and keep moving forward. However, doing the same thing on the Calculator portion of the program generated an exception error and closed the program. I emailed xThink about the error and was informed that they were already not only aware of it, but were already working on it as a known bug.

The engine for the program itself recognizes only the last group of things entered since some other function was used. So if you wrote in an expression or equation, recognized it, and got the answer from the program, you don’t even have to clear out the writing area to start again with something new. Simply write a new equation, and the program deals only with what’s new. I did this with varying sizes of writing, and at one point had over a dozen and a half equations spread out before me without any problems with which one I wanted recognized.

They’ve done a nice job of helping you make corrections. If your pen has an eraser, you can simply reverse the pen, use the eraser on whatever area you want to change, flip the pen back over, and use pen input again without having to reselect it on the toolbar. Every time you have to make a change or correction, though, you “break” the train of thought the program is on – so if you write out a long equation, find it didn’t recognize your number 4, and go to erase and re-write the number 4, if you go straight to recognition, the only thing the program recognizes is the 4 you just drew. This makes sense overall since every time you either recognize what you wrote, or jump to another function (erase, etc), the program resets that recognition engine to deal with the latest pen input. The very easy and natural feeling way around this is, after making a correction, to use the lasso tool to circle the entire equation you want the program to deal with again. Once you’ve selected it by circling and removing the pen tip from the screen, it highlights the area you’ve chosen. Once you’ve made your selection, there’s that second lasso icon on the toolbar you tap with the pen, which basically tells it “make all of this a live equation again”. Then the recognizer once again works with the entire selection, rather than just the last physical input you did with your pen. Thus you can change only part of a long equation, reselect the whole equation, and see the different results without having to redo the entire equation time and time again.

My only suggestion was to try to get rid of one of the taps – I’m a fan of simplification for input. I wanted to see just one lasso move needed. I asked about the possibility, and one of their engineers replied with the thought to alter the recognition button so that if you used the lasso to select text then hit the recognition button, it’ll automatically recognize the currently selected input. Perhaps the final version, or an update afterwards, will have one less thing to tap when you make a correction or change your selection.

The individual who turned me on to the program, Steve Seto, has been in contact with the company, and learned the release date will most likely be in late summer. In Steve’s case the anticipation was so great that he already had his order in place before even participating in the beta. In a recent email, he noted issues with some of the recognition, including my nemesis, the lower case K. He’s had less success with the overall recognition than I have, and attributes it to what he called a “highly formalized form of printing”. Our experiences show that handwriting success varies in this app from individual to individual just like it does in the others, despite xThink’s great job with the symbol aspect of it. Steve has also had an issue where MathJournal has gotten stuck in a type of “can’t recognize” loop, but I’ve been unable to duplicate that on my machine so far.

He also had the initial “WOW!” reaction. So this program evidently appeals to people in quite a wide cross section. He’s one of the people in a profession that this application will fill a need for – I’m on the other end, no professional engineering need for the program, just a user who thinks it’s real neat.

My testing was done with both the original Tablet version (XP SP1) as well as various builds of the beta for XP SP2 which will update the tablets to the newer 2005 version of the Tablet PC (code named Lonestar). Both versions worked equally well, since the input for the program is independent of the tablet input panel.

All in all this is a very strong showing for what seems to be a natural program for the Tablet PC platform. Though this program is so far one of the best applications I’ve used that takes advantage of the tablet platform, the expected retail price of $198, while certainly not astronomical, will keep it out of the hands of the “only curious” users. But for students who are taking advanced math and science courses and professionals of any discipline who often require that pencil and paper, MathJournal will likely end up as one of the “must have” apps for tablet owners.

For the number of equations I’ve done overall, between the ones the company wanted for recognition improvement and the ones I did for my own enjoyment (yes, this was a fun program to test!), the recognition was well into the high 90 percentile. In equations that could contain upwards of 10 or 15 characters and symbols, I probably averaged one correction in every ten equations once I got consistent with my parenthesis and my cursive K. Considering my handwriting, that’s quite an achievement. And with the work they’ve been doing on improving it, I can only hope that when it’s released (maybe as soon as the end of this month) even my poor little lower case K can come out and play.

Editor's Note: I was at Microsoft's campus and Math Journal was part of a demonstration of Tablet PCs. The audience went wild, not believing that things hadn't been set up ahead of time. The presenter asked the crowd to toss up some numbers. Almost instantaneously, the correct answer was shown. This is a great application for students, teachers, and anyone else who routinely uses math. Paired with a Tablet PC, it's the best way for many to take their work with them away from the desk.

For more information on this and other software available for Tablets, check the Software page.

You'll also find hardware - Tablet PCs that you can actually try, with people available to talk to you about them - people who know Tablets, use them, and are more than willing to answer all your questions.

If you want to talk to someone about a program that you'd like written, there are people there who can help with that as well.

Whether you're an individual who is curious about Tablet PCs or an executive ready to equip your company - if you've ever wanted to learn more about Tablet PCs or find a place where you can touch, use, learn, and talk about Tablet PCs, then you've found the place to do so. Check the schedule for Leszynski's Tablet Training seminar by clicking on the banner at the top of this page. You'll find a broad schedule, many with clinics available in the afternoon.

I'm hoping to return for the next seminar in Seattle. It was that good!

Interview with Fritz Switzer of The abletFactory about the release of abletWordMgr

Our congratulations to Fritz on his being awarded as a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP)!

 What follows is an interview I had with Fritz Switzer about the release of a Tablet PC program called abletWordMgr. Fritz talks about this new program and how it can help users with some of the problems users have been having with their tablets.

<>: Fritz, why don’t you begin by telling us a little bit about abletWordMgr.

<Fritz>: Sure, this program actually grew out of the newsgroups. I’ve been interested in some of the issues of handwriting recognition for sometime. In fact, I used to develop for Windows for Pen, the pen-based operating system. It included a “trainable” system, in that you could teach the system how to better recognize your characters.

I don’t miss that system very much, but I felt there was this big gap from the user’s perspective. Without this “trainability”, most of the users have reconciled themselves to handwriting recognition being of secondary importance. It just didn’t make much sense that Microsoft would take a step backwards, so I started to investigate what was going on under the hood. I started to get more familiar with the whole recognition process. It didn’t take long to see that the current implementation was actually very conducive to adding additional words to a User Dictionary. The problem was how to get the words into this dictionary.

So as I started to see messages on the newsgroup, a couple of themes kept popping up. One - adding many words “en masse” and two - foreign language support. So basically, abletWordMgr provides a way to add a bunch of words very quickly and can do that for different words groups. Foreign languages just happen to be one of those groups.

<>: Is this a replacement for MUIRP?

<Fritz>: No, I don’t think so. Besides, it wouldn’t be a very good business model to try to compete with Microsoft. I think it supplements what MS has done and what they may do in the future. I’ve only seen what everyone else has about MUIRP. I don’t really know what it will do, or when it will do it. However one possibility is that if MUIRP is only available as an OEM product, the user base will have an alternative for some level of multiple foreign language support.

In fact, I know of a lot of questions, and that’s putting it nicely, being asked about MUIRP. But from my perspective, the current handwriting implementation is a very solid structure. I give MS high marks for its versatility and its extensibility. It builds on the speech engine and is very adaptable. It was ripe for enhancement. We saw its potential and directed our attention toward the abletWordMgr solution. 

In addition, I don’t think there will be a facility for SPIDs in the MUIRP.

<>: SPIDs, I’ve seen that mentioned, what exactly are SPIDs?

<Fritz>: SPIDs are Special Interest Dictionaries. SPIDs are the words that we add to the system. Tablets basically operate with three dictionaries. The System, User, or Application dictionary have the most impact on recognition. With abletWordMgr we are adding to those dictionaries and that is how we’re increasing the recognition accuracy. Now this doesn’t always have to be basic words of a language. We can create SPIDs for very specialized users. For example, the medical profession has its own vocabulary and literally hundreds of thousands of words and phrases it uses regularly. We treat that just like we would another foreign language and let the users add these words to the Tablet. Once they are added, recognition works the same way. So it looks like this reference book, and when ink sees the match in our dictionary, it gets recognized.

Some of the staff at abletFactory call themselves “SPID Doctors.” They create, collect and format these words into the dictionaries we use and make available with the product.

<>: How often does it get recognized? I see you throwing out some pretty impressive statistics.

<Fritz>: We’ve been fortunate with a group of Beta Users that have given us a lot of feedback. Some negative but more positive. Unfortunately, most of them consider themselves part-time engineers and scientists and wanted to be able to quantify the recognition accuracy and measure its performance. So we undertook a very comprehensive set of tests that would measure what the recognition accuracy was before implementing abletWordMgr, and then test again after changes are made to the system. Basically, we capture handwriting, recognize it, score it and then do it again with the words added. We’ve been able to pretty clearly and consistently demonstrate about a 30%-50% increase in accuracy. It’s never going to be 100%, but then again, no one is going to give up their backspace key on a keyboard either.

<>: Who can benefit from using abletWordMgr?

<Fritz>: On one of the manufacturer’s sites, they talk about diagonal applications. I think this can apply to that question. Our focus is on some very specific vertical markets like Medical and Legal. They get most of the attention and seem to be accepting the platform very quickly. However, because of two other drivers, foreign languages and “students” we see a horizontal market developing as well. So we’ll be taking a diagonal view of the marketplace. We’re finishing up a version for students for example and will be making it available on our site very soon.

Like I said earlier, most of our time is now spent on creating new SPIDs. We are seeing many areas that we can support. I expect to be surprised with some new areas of interest in the very near future. Part of the excitement with tablets is seeing how and where users are implementing these systems.

<>: What’s next for the abletFactory?

<Fritz>: Well, it will probably be something around the recognition arena. But we’ve been getting ready for releasing abletWordMgr and investigating Blogs with ink. I’m not very smart about blogging and we’ve been trying out some ideas, in fact some of the documentation and dialogue for abletWordMgr has used ink blogging instead of e-mail. Most of our attention units right now are on abletWordMgr though.

 <>: Thanks for the update.

<Fritz>: Thank you for the interest. J -------

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