In my previous post on hand writing, I reviewed Notability which has been my primary app for hand writing on the iPad for some time. However, recently I revisited the other app I recommended in that post, 7NotesHD, and also looked in to Notes Plus and WritePad, to decide what to use for hand writing to text conversion, which Notability doesn’t provide. Here, I’ll share my experiences of these apps with a focus on hand writing to text conversion.
First, why convert your hand writing to text? The most obvious advantage is that your text becomes easily searchable. In addition, in most cases it also becomes much easier to read – both for yourself (I sometimes find it hard to deconstruct what I have written), and for people you might share your notes with.
So, my first port of call was 7NotesHD Premium (you will need the premium version for the hand writing to text feature).
When I first bought it over a year ago, I thought the hand writing prediction was pretty bad at interpreting my admittedly messy squabbles and mainly stayed with Notability (without text conversation) for hand writing, but now I’ve given this app another try. I don’t know if the app has had some updates or my hand writing has gotten better, but now I’m much happier with the conversation feature and I’ve been using it regularly over the past few weeks. I’m having much better luck with the app guessing what I’m trying to say, and 7NotesHD also comes with some sophisticated editing options.
Here’s a screen shot of the handwriting conversation in action:
The zoom box menu provides options for switching between hand writing only, hand writing to text conversation, or keyboard input. You can also change the colour and thickness of the pen, insert spaces, and specify whether you are doing text input, numbers or special characters.
At the top of the image, you will see the hand writing I have already entered and converted to text. In the zoom box below, you see the text I am currently entering, and the app’s suggestion for which words I have entered. In this case, it has also suggested some options for further completing the sentence, based on my previous writing. The app ‘learns’ how you write, so hand writing to text conversion becomes increasingly smoother over time.
However, if you are not happy with the suggestions offered, 7NotesHD will offer you other alternatives to chose from, both at the word and sentence level. Below you will see how, when you tap on one of the word suggestions, a range of other alternatives will come up:
You can then just tap on the selection you want, or alternatively tap ‘clear’ if you’d like to input the word again. One of the things I really like with this app is that it makes it easy to go back and change words your wrote before the current one; just use the arrows at the bottom to navigate back and forth between the words you have already written.
Finally, here’s an example of editing/selecting at the sentence level. If you press the tree dots at the top right hand corner of the zoom box, the app offers different suggestions for completing the entire sentence.
Lastly, another nice little feature is the ‘delete’ button to the right of the zoom box (see second screen shot) which, when held down, provides you three different options for how much you want to delete out what you have entered in the box.
These advanced editing options, combined with a predictive capacity that works really well for me, makes this app quite attractive for hand writing to text conversion.
Edit 24 February: I just discovered that this app also does bulk conversion of text – so you can fill a whole page, then convert everything. The app facilitates editing of text in the process. Big plus in my book!
I decided to look into Notes Plus because it gets a lot of raving reviews, and many people applaud their hand writing recognition in particular.
The basic hand writing interface looks like this, with a zoom window that gives you options of altering colours and thickness of the pen, switching between pages, erasing, and navigating the zoom box up and down.
Then, you circle the hand writing to convert it to text:
There are two formats for converting hand writing to text in Notes Plus, ABC mode and T mode. ABC mode converts the hand writing exactly how you wrote it and puts it in a text box. This ends up looking like this:
You can then move the box around on the page. This is probably very useful if you are combining hand writing with annotating pdfs and images, or generally mixing hand writing with other kind of notes.
The other way of converting text (T mode), which is more interesting for my purposes, is to generate a full page of text. The text then formats as is it would on a ‘normal’ page filled with text. However, the text will still be arranged in different text boxes, but you can pull them up together so they look like a continuous block of text. The developers are saying they are considering introducing a feature in future updates where you can just merge the different text boxes to one block of text – this would be a significant improvement, in my opinion. Here are before and after screen shots:
Overall, the hand writing recognition in Notes Plus also seems very strong. In the text above, it’s only ‘wad’ (rather than word) than comes out wrong (the double ‘in’ being my own mistake), and this is after only having used the app for a couple of hours, so I assume performance would increase even further with use.
Further, having two ways of converting text, and being able to choose whether you want the app to retain the line breaks you did when hand writing (or not) makes this a quite versatile app for hand writing. This app also has support for a variety of languages (thanks to Fredrik Graver for pointing this out below – when I first published this post, I had missed the full list of languages available for download in Notes Plus).
In spite of this, I still find myself missing edition options as I write, as you can do with 7NotesHD and WritePad. Not a deal breaker, but I like to see how my notes are getting on as I go along, so I know I won’t have to do a bunch of editing at the end. I’m also not comfortable yet with the text conversion being a separate task that breaks up the flow of writing more than in apps such as 7NotesHD and WritePad, where you immediately get a text version of your hand writing as you write your notes.
WritePad is another new app for me, which I also decided to test out after reading some good reviews. WritePad has a clean and simple interface, albeit with less options available in the zoom box – for example, you can’t edit the colours or thickness of the ‘pencil':
In contrast to Notes Plus, though, you get ‘live’ conversion of hand writing to text, a big advantage in my opinion. You can also edit the text as you write, just press on a particular word, and different alternatives will be displayed:
Like Notes Plus, WritePad supports a variety of languages. It also has a helpful ‘mid character line’ in the zoom box, which can help you keep an eye on the height of your letters, so that the app can more easily distinguish between capital and lower case letters, and further comes with a range of helpful gestures, as well as a built in calculator (I haven’t tested the calculator, so can’t comment on its performance).
WritePad also has a very cool shorthand feature. This means that you can perform a set of commands (such as ‘cut’, ‘select all’, ‘copy’ and ‘paste’) or add specific words (such as today’s date or time) by writing a dedicated short cut and then circling it. These short cuts can be customised, so you can create your own short cuts for words you use often.
Some comparative reflections
- 7NotesHD is, in many ways, the most sophisticated alternative in that it offers a lot of editing options. It also does ‘smart things’ like delete the space immediately before a comma or a full stop, if you are inserting punctuation after a space bar break.
- Notes Plus has the advantage of different types of text conversion – i.e. both to text boxes and to ‘continuous page’ format. This might be important for those who use their note taking app for marking up pdfs and power point presentations.
- Consider how you like to input and convert text. 7NotesHD and WritePad steer you towards conversion at the word or sentence level, while Notes Plus is more aimed at writing a paragraph or longer before converting your hand writing (in cases where you are writing a longer text and not just a few quick comments).
- Notes Plus and WritePad have nice support for gestures. For example, in Notes Plus you can write a cross over a word to delete it, and in WritePad you can do a long swipe to the left. WritePad also has gestures for the return character, the space character, undo, and spell check (for a full list of alternatives, check the web sites of both apps).
- The apps differ in how the zoom box advances. I really like Notes Plus in this regard. The way in which the box automatically advances and allows you to continue typing at the beginning of the box doesn’t generate the chopped up words that I occasionally have with 7NotesHD (when I’m impatient and won’t wait the one extra second until zoom advance has completed). WritePad just offers an ‘enter’ button for transferring the text to the note.
- 7NotesHD only supports English, so if you are a multilingual note taker, look to Notes Plus or WritePad.
- I haven’t used them all long enough to make a proper comparison on the accuracy of hand writing to text conversion, but none of them have emerged as particularly bad so far; Notes Plus possibly has an upper edge, but I’m not really sure. In any case, the apps ‘learn’ as you go along, so the more you use them, the easier it should get.
Finally, the apps differ in many other respects, such as the user interface, how your notes can be organised, the type and amount of features, custom papers, opportunities for sharing, and so forth. I haven’t focussed on that here, as I wanted to just zoom in on hand writing to text conversation – but if you’re looking for a ‘full fledged’ note book rather than just hand writing conversion, make sure you do some more research because these apps are quite different.
Any suggestions for other good apps that convert hand writing to text? Please leave a comment below.
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