asian character handwriting recognition on tabletpcs

in today’s chinese lesson i realized that the only reason for me to actually use the tabletpc’s handwriting recognition feature would be writing in chinese. why? because that’s the only application where the tabletpc’s handwriting recognition could eventually be faster than normal typing on a keyboard (to write chinese characters, you first need to type pinyin, i.e. the latin transcription, then choose the right chinese character from a drop-down menu or similar. usually, there are several choices as pinyin is ambiguous. this procedure takes quite a while for each chinese character). it would eventually also solve the problem (for westeners such as me) of finding the correct pinyin for a certain chinese character.

i wonder whether there are any such applications? some links i found so far:

Some notes about my TabletPC

Here are some short comments both on the Toshiba Portégé M200 (as a piece of hardware) and on the TabletPC concept in general (software etc.). Note that these comments reflect nothing but my very personal opinion.


– Overall performance is nice (Pentium M 1.6 GHz, 768 MB RAM, GeForce FX Go5200 32 MB).

– The Geforce is sufficiently fast for playing low-resolution games (I’d say up to 1024×768 pixels) with rather poor texturing. It’s clearly not sufficient for playing current games with excessive use of textures (remember it only has 32 MB of memory).

– The keyboard layout is very unusual and plain stupid, particularly for CS/IT professionals (e.g. []{} are not indicated and placed wrongly, <> are in the wrong places, home/end are placed in the upper right corner, barely usable, windows keys are in the upper right corner too – silly). Grossly negligent.

– The lower part of the notebook (the keyboard) is a bit thick for my taste (coming from a thin, nice Sony Vaio N505X). Typing is tedious and bad for the wrists. [update 20040617: Meanwhile, I’ve managed to get accustomed to it]

– The screen is disappointing. It’s a high-res screen with 1400×1050 pixels. That’s nice. It’s bright and I can even read it in sunny environments. That’s nice too. The bad thing is the very low contrast and the distortion which is probably caused by the special screen coating (makes the screen feel rough to improve the “paper feeling” when writing on the screen using the pen). The distortion drives me crazy and my eyes start burning after a very short time (this never happened with any other LCD screen I’ve used so far). I’ve tested it both with and without glasses. It’s always bad, but particularly harmful for people wearing glasses. Be warned! [update 20040617: Meanwhile, I’ve managed to get accustomed to it]

– The touchpad is a bit too small (and therefore inaccurate) for a 1400×1050 screen resolution

– The rest of the HW (as far as tested) meets my expectations (= is okay)

The thing I’m asking myself: Why is it so hard to build an ergonomically good convertible TabletPC or notebook device?


– Pen input recognition is pretty amazing from a programer’s perspective (that’s perhaps where all the “wows” come from) but clearly disappointing and insufficient from a real-world user’s view. It’s slow (if you decrease the delay the recognition rate drops rapidly). The input recognition rate is (for my hand-writing, which isn’t neither particularly nice nor ugly) correct in about 95% of the letters. This rate drops to about 30% when entering URLs, mixed character/number words, special characters and in mixed, multi-language environments (which might be seldom in the US, but very common for us Europeans and particularly Swiss people). It’s totally unusable for entering passwords and such. Some of the problems are probably due to missing learning/adjustment capabilities (MS obviously chose a dictionary based approach instead). [20040617: this is no longer true for XP SP2 RC2 (Lonestar) where handwriting recognition and overall ergonomics are much better]

– Pen input requires too many clicks and is a painful experience overall. Lonestar allegedly will address some of the issues, but as far as I can judge from the video cap, it still won’t do a decent job (pen input is still too complicated and inconvenient for being an alternative to keyboard input). After using Windows XP TabletPC Edition for a while I have to conclude, that this is basically just a regular Windows XP with an “Inking” add-on. It’s not really designed for tablet use and pen input (even in Lonestar, you can’t just start writing inside a text field – that’s how it should be done actually). Clicking on regular Windows icons is as difficult as choosing the right menu entry. Both are too difficult and not very handy. I wonder how Apple or Palm would approach such a task.

– Windows XP TabletPC Edition has a nasty bug that prevented me from calibrating speech recognition (it displayed little squares instead of a readable font)

– When entering user credentials at the login screen, people can observe (thanks to the virtual keyboard displayed on the screen) when shift is being pressed. That’s a potential security weakness.

– For me, the use of the pen can be reduced to painting and designing (therefore, it’s pretty handy, much more convenient than using a regular mouse)

[20040617: entry appropriately updated. see also the follow-up article on XP SP2 RC2]

farewell suse, welcome debian ;)

when upgrading suse 9.0 to suse 9.1 yesterday early morning, my workstation’s setup got screwed. it wasn’t suse’s fault (one of the cdroms was bad) but nevertheless i had to cancel a party due this unexpected incident (it was my only working desktop linux setup and therefore mission critical for my diploma thesis). as i couldn’t solve the problems, i decided to switch to debian instead (currently “testing”, will upgrade to “unstable” asap). so far, a rather positive experience. debian boots faster, debian shuts down faster and even kde 3.2 runs faster on it (despite of lacking pre-linking!). for installing it, i’ve used the new debian sarge netinst beta4 installer. had still some flaws (e.g. screen resolution was not set correctly, dns settings had to be fixed manually, keyboard settings weren’t correct), but overall, it’s surprisingly stable already.

nb. i still think that suse is doing a great job as a distro (very convenient to use and well integrated). but now as i switched to debian for my desktop, i’ll probably install debian on my tabletpc too, thus standardizing on debian and windows xp for workstations and gentoo for servers.

good news: finally, my toshiba portégé m200 has arrived at the ssd-shop :) i’ll pick it up tomorrow. i’ll use the opportunity to also order a logitech mx510 optical mouse, a lite-on 431 sx slim dvd +/- burner (external, usb 2.0) and a replacement battery for an old vaio.

[update 20040512: ssd’s supplier didn’t have the mx510 on stock, so i decided to buy it elsewhere (i need it now, not in 2 months ;).. unfortunately it’s sold out already in the only shop in zurich where i’ve seen it a couple of days ago. no surprise for me (hey, it’s the ultimate gamer mouse :), but obviously for logitech and partners. i’ve made a reservation so i’ll get it asap.
further i decided to order the lite-on 431 sx slim dvd +/- burner (external, usb 2.0) at, who offered it for a really good price with (as i was told) quick delivery. further, as i’ve surprisingly noticed that my portégé m200 features 802.11b/g (not only b), i will also order a new wlan access point: linksys wrt54gs which can be equipped with embedded linux: Linux on the WRT54G, LinksysWrt54g – SeattleWireless:)]

ordered a toshiba portégé m200 tabletpc :)

as i didn’t receive any answer from acer to my question whether they have any new tabletpcs in the pipeline featuring an outdoor display (see the previous entry) i decided to go with toshiba instead (who have more experience and expertise in the notebook business anyway :). today, i’ve thus ordered a toshiba portégé m200 tabletpc at ssd (which offer remarkable discounts on hw) after having read some favorable reviews about the m200. of course i’ve also double checked that linux runs nicely on it. according to the specs, the portégé m200 is the perfect device for my purpose, far leaving behind any of its competitors. i’ve also ordered additional 512 mb of ram, totalling 768 mb of ram which should suffice for most demanding tasks. some of the highlights:

* tabletpc functionality (designing, handwriting and navigation – renown wacom technology which is nicely supported by linux too)
* very high resolution, bright screen (12.1 inch, 1400×1050, sxga+)
* convertible (can both be used in regular laptop mode and slate mode). the orientation of the screen is automatically adjusted using the built-in accelerometer (which double serves as a anti-theft device ;)
* ultra low voltage centrino/pentium m running at 1.6 ghz max
* directx 9.0 capable nvidia geforce fx go5200 with 32 mb dedicated ddr ram
* 60 gb hard disk drive
* infrared/wi-fi/bluetooth (note that for the u.s. model, bluetooth is a built-to-order option whereas for the european model it is included :)
* 2 x usb 2.0, vga, ethernet, modem, sd card slot etc. :)
* allegedly weighs 2.1 kg (including batteries) which is pretty lightweight considering its dimensions and features
* up to 4.5 hrs runtime using the default batteries

according to a recent performance benchmark test run by c’t/heise, the m200 even outperforms most current notebook computers on the market.

note that the screen is not a wide viewing angle screen, making the m200 an ideal device for mainly notebook usage with occasional usage as a tablet. that’s exactly what i’ve been looking for: handwriting recognition will certainly be a handy (“geeky” :) feature but i bet i will still be much faster using the keyboard. on the other hand, it’s great for taking some quick notes or drawing/painting/designing things.

i’m lucky it features a sd card slot (not a memory stick slot as often seen) as my cam already uses sd memory cards. thus i’ll probably standardize on sd cards (i prefer them anyway, they are better value than memory sticks).

[update 20040512: as a nice surprise, the swiss version of the portégé m200 features a centrino intel pro wireless 2200bg (802.11b/g) chip (thus not only a 2100b 802.11b chip :)]

i didn’t order an external cdrw/dvd combo drive. ssd only offered one to attach to the pcmcia slot which wasn’t worth the money at all (650 chf(!) -> now there are even usb 2.0 external dvd+-rw drives for around 250 chf). i’ll go for the latter.

delivery will take about 2 weeks as tabletpcs seem to be out of stock at the moment. i’m looking forward to testing all the windows tabletpc apps and particularly to (finally!) running gentoo on my notebook again :) (i’ll configure it as a double boot win/linux box)

new acer convertible tablet pcs?

there are some rumors about new acer convertible tablet pcs for quite a while now. according to the following postings, two new acer convertible tabletpcs named c115 and c120 will feature outdoor displays and 1.5-1.8+ ghz pentium m cpus:

re: Acer is hedging its Tablet PC market position
Ten new Tablet PCs at Comdex!

that would be “supa-k00l” ;) i hope it’s true as i desperately need a new notebook and the current tabletpcs indeed lack outdoor screens. i’ve just sent an e-mail message to acer. let’s see..

[update 20040412: motion computing’s view anywhere display allegedly offers better overall usability than standard transflective displays. with the view anywhere display technology being a strategic usp for motion computing, i’m afraid they won’t license this technology to acer or any other competitor ;( ]