Seller: Stan Miasnikov
Requirements: iOS 5.0 or later
Price: $9.99 (in-app language pack purchases are $2.99 each)
WritePad is billed as a text editor with advanced handwriting recognition, and its software promises to deliver handwriting recognition without forcing users to learn a second written language (like Palm), or put up with subpar recognition (like Apple’s Newton). With a recent refresh to take better advantage of the iPad 3’s Retina Display, WritePad aims to provide the ability to translate virtually any handwriting into computer text.
To deliver on this promise, WritePad features a statistical analysis engine that learns your handwriting style to deliver better handwriting conversion. You can take notes via pen or keyboard, then share them, translate them (using Bing Translator), or use the app as a handwriting input source to get text into other apps like Reminders, Calendar, Facebook, and more.
Can You Read It?
Right out of the gate, most users will find that WritePad’s handwriting recognition is so-so (or worse). Unlike other handwriting recognition software, though, WritePad is designed to learn how you write. The app even suggests you look over the WritePad Tutorial, which is excellent advice. After a few hours of use, WritePad’s recognition accuracy improves dramatically as it learns your style of handwriting.
Although the app supports finger inputs, most users will find it is uncomfortable to write using just a finger; we are trained from a very young age to hold an instrument (like a pen or stylus) to write, so there is a persistently weird feeling about scrawling with your index finger that never quite goes away.
In testing, WritePad was able to decipher all but the most illegible chicken scratch, including (after much training) fairly sloppy cursive handwriting. The app works fastest on plain block letters without any bizarre flourishes (so tame your desire for calligraphy), but the handwriting learning really is outstanding. The conversion from handwriting to computer text is fast enough to keep up with a moderate speaker/lecturer, but taking quick dictation is not what this app is designed for.
If you are using WritePad without a stylus, there is also a mode supporting either on-screen or Bluetooth keyboard text entry. Modes available in the app include fullscreen review, fullscreen handwriting, handwriting recognizer, and keyboard mode. In any of the modes, there are simple gestures available to select text (individual words or select all), cut/copy/paste, special character entry, and a spell-checker gesture.
For quick input when using a stylus, a Shorthand feature is available; simply define a shorthand character you want to use for a particular word/phrase, then draw that character and circle it. There is even a Styles feature that lets you change up the app’s appearance by selecting a different font, page color, or ink color for your documents.
Assuming you want to share the notes you have taken, WritePad supports a remarkable array of ways to get your documents out of the app (something many apps still struggle with), and it has the ability to act as a handwriting-recognition portal for your social network updates. You can compose an email, tweet, or Facebook update directly in the app, then move that text directly into the appropriate program (no need to select, copy, and paste). You can also schedule reminders and calendar events, and the app will transpose your data into the appropriate app. If you want to share a document, you have the ability to synchronize your WritePad folders with Dropbox, Evernote, or Google Docs; sharing via iTunes is also available if you just want your notes on your Mac/PC without cloud syncing.
Ultimately, WritePad is a solid but not spectacular app, mostly due to a somewhat cryptic interface. The developers seem to realize this because they strongly encourage you to read the tutorial and watch the introductory video before using the app. Unlike other iOS apps, these support mechanisms are needed because WritePad’s interface is hardly intuitive, and the complicated stylus problems of yesteryear (Graffiti, anyone?) were one of the primary reasons Apple decided to drop the stylus when exploring touch interfaces. A built-in help feature (even just a question-mark button with the tutorial linked to it) would make a great improvement, especially for an app that pushes the $10 mark.
For avid, stylus-wielding notetakers who pine for the days of the Newton (after Apple got the handwriting recognition right), WritePad is a great note-taking app. For the rest of us, the iPad still remains a bit of an albatross for serious note taking.