Off the Fence

Posted by Gary L. Matthews , Thu, Feb 06, 2003, 15:04:21   Forum

Dear friends,

A while back I cross-posted a note both to the Fitaly forum and the MessagEase forum, seeking advice.

My inquiry concerned the fact that I was testing both products for stylus-based text entry, and hadn't yet decided. I was switching back and forth and honing my skills on both. Here follows an update:

Cutting to the chase, I've found that what works better for me is the Fitaly Stamp. Since I continue to like and admire MessagEase, let me try, for anyone interested, to explain my choice.

In my original note, I stated that these both are good programs. I still believe that. My preference is dictated, in part, by hardware limitations of my Palm m500. (Maybe I should say "hardware glitches".) Possibly it also reflects personal quirks. But I've also formed some opinions about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the programs themselves, and I hope other users find these useful.

I spent a great deal of time comparing both the on-screen and stamp versions of both programs. On both forums, most users seemed to prefer the stamp versions, and after the comparison, I agree; so my comments apply mostly to these.

Hardware-wise, I discovered, early on, that my Palm suffers from a mild case of the "tap bug". This is what happens when anomalies in the underlying gel layer cause the screen occasionally to misread a tap as a stroke. You can test yours by using any drawing program like Notepad or Diddlebug, tapping randomly on the screen and watching the result. If some of the dots produce lines -- typically short lines, but lines nonetheless -- that's the tap bug. Many handhelds, or maybe most, don't seem to have it; but many do -- even straight from the factory. (At least that's the information I get from web sites that report on this problem.)

My initial experience suggested that Fitaly is less vulnerable than MessagEase (ME) to the tap bug. Fitaly is tap-oriented; ME is stroke-oriented. A random misread on Fitaly produces an unwanted capital letter. This is annoying but not fatal. A random misread on ME may produce any odd character at all. This makes for a lot of strange-looking sentences. Moreover, Fitaly seems to do a better job of sidestepping tap-bug problems in the first place. I don't get nearly as many misreads, and those I do get seem manageable.

I stress that this was my "initial experience" because at some point, I upgraded tn a new Palm, a color m515. This one doesn't seem affected at all by the tap bug. So I gave ME a good workout on it, hoping to find that now I liked it better. Like it better I did -- better than before -- but I still prefer Fitaly.

The main objection to Fitaly that I've read is that some consider its tap targets too small, relative to those of MessagEase. But for whatever reason, I don't find them too small to be a hassle. On the other hand, the ME "stroke targets" seem extremely small to me, especially on the stamp version. Stroking them properly seems to require great precision, more than I'm able to muster a lot of the time. The main ME grid of most common characters is of course nice and large, but these are not enough, in my view, to make up the difference.

With fairly little practice, I was able, on ME, to reach speeds of 36 WPM. There I leveled off and was unable to go higher. And that I could do only on practice exercises; real-life usage always was slower. In Fitaly, on the other hand, I quickly hit 35 to 40 as a normal-usage speed. (That's faster than I can usually compose text: The point is I can copy text or take dictation at that speed.) On practice exercises with Fitaly I have many times done 60 to 64 WPM, something I could never hope to accomplish with ME.

Now I want to stress again what I have said from the start: This outcome may reflect nothing more than my personal quirks. Different people have differing types of eye-hand coordination. Some users report hitting the wall with Fitaly at 30 WPM, yet quickly achieving 50 to 60 WPM with MessagEase. I don't doubt this; it just wasn't my own experience.

Another practical consideration -- not really related to the merits of either program -- is that Fitaly is available both for the Palm and the Pocket PC. I have no plan at the moment to jump ship; but you never know.

I still believe that I having both Fitaly and ME on the market will be good for both programs: The competition will raise awaraness of PDA viability as a text-entry tool.

Sorry it has taken so long to follow up on my original "On the Fence" note. Been busy -- but it has been fun testing these programs.

Cordial best wishes,

Gary Matthews



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