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TextMaker 2002 for Windows Mobile Pocket PC and Pocket PC Phones

Review Posted September 2005 by Tanker Bob

The dream of many Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) owners revolves around substituting their beloved, svelte PDA for a bulky laptop. For this to work, one must be able to work with Microsoft Office files on the road, especially Word documents. A number of programs have attempted mobile compatibility with varying degrees of success. MobileTechReview took the most ambitious of these-- SoftMaker’s TextMaker 2002 PPC--for a spin around the block.

Tanker Bob tested TextMaker 2002 on a Dell Axim X50v running Windows Mobile 2003SE with a 624MHz CPU and VGA screen. TM was installed into Built-in Storage.

Overall structure

I admit to amazement when first opening TextMaker. The overall structure appears surprisingly similar to Microsoft Word on the desktop, and in fact is identical to TextMaker for Windows. That’s quite an ambitious undertaking on a PDA screen. Yet, the scheme chosen works smoothly and naturally.

 

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At one level, the menu system provides access to a host of functions. The menu system layout will look familiar to any user of Microsoft Word. While it takes a few taps to get into the depths of the menus, their logical arrangement makes finding desired functions easy.

 

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Another way to reach the handiest functions comes through the extensive toolbar setup. The screen shot shows all the toolbars (except for the drawing bar) on the screen together, but you can put any one or more on the screen individually as you need them using the icons “switches” on the very bottom row. The operation furnishes a slick way to quickly access common functions.

 

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Working the main screen

Normally, the editing screen would be clean and uncluttered. I find editing with the zoom set at 75% gives the best balance between quantity of information on the screen and readability of the text.

The bottom row of icons activate the menus, from left to right: drawing tools, file-handling toolbar, font-formatting toolbar, text measurements, font selection, zoom level, and page view/screen wrap. The screen wrapping comes in handy to obviate scrolling left and right all the time to view the document.

Formatting options

TextMaker supports all manner of text formatting including extended character fonts (e.g., small caps, font color, hidden text, etc.). Paragraph formats supported include bulleted lists, automatic numbering, shading, borders, etc., as well as headers and footers. All these may be stored in templates and style sheets. Hyperlinks may also be created, modified, or followed within TM.

Images inhabit TextMaker’s repertoire, looking the same on your PPC as on your desktop within the limits of the smaller screen. Although BMP, 2BP, TIFF, PCX, GIF, JPEG, TGA, PNG, PhotoCD, IFF, IMG, PBM, PPM, and PGM images may be imported, this version of TM converts all images to Portable Network Graphics internally. An upcoming version will use JPEGs and other formats natively. That will save some space in each document file. Drawings may be created in TM with autoshapes or free-hand through a dedicated toolbar.

Table support includes layouts, sorting, and calculations. Outlines, bookmarks, tables of contents, and indices may be easily created. Sophisticated fields like checkboxes, calculations, and lists furnish a professional feel to business documents.

All this may be grouped and/or placed precisely on the page using frames--something previously limited only to high-end desktop word processors and publishing programs.

 

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All this great stuff comes at the end of the menu rainbow in powerful option screens. The example illustrated shows a portion of the paragraph formatting options. There’s no formatting missing from TextMaker that you’d expect to find in a high-end desktop program. The menus make it easy to find and set the options that you desire. The limits of the small PDA screen requires scrolling to get to the totality of every options screen. That’s not a negative statement, but a comment on the extensive ability to make your document appear exactly how you desire.

 

 

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TextMaker sports extensive preference settings like a full-up desktop program. Virtually everything is configurable. Even the dialog styles may be set for all major Windows versions, Pocket PC, and OS/2. Customization extends to the language, file locations, what’s on the screen, et al. One may even create custom keyboard mappings.

Putting the Word into Word Processor

 

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SoftMaker enhanced the user experience even more by including a host of language-support tools. TextMaker can check your spelling as you type, and even underline misspellings in red like desktop applications. Dictionaries available include English US, English UK, German, German (reformed), Swiss-German, Swiss-German (reformed), French, French (Canadian), Italian, Spanish, Spanish (Latin American), Portuguese, Portuguese (Brazilian), Dutch, Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian. TM supports SmartText entries and also includes a thesaurus for most of these languages so that you may find just the right word. Words may be hyphenated automatically as you type.

Worried about mistakes? No problem there--TM supports virtually unlimited Undo/Redo. The user may set the maximum number up to 99.

Document Compatibility and Protection

TextMaker will open and save native formats for Microsoft Word 6.0, 95, 97, 2000, Word XP, Word 2003, Word for Macintosh , HTML, Rich Text Format, Pocket Word, ASCII, and Unicode. It will also exchange documents with all other platform versions of TextMaker. Documents may even be encrypted and/or passworded for security. Users may mail-merge using an integrated dBase-compatible database, as well as use databases to look up addresses.

 

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To help you find and manage your documents, TextMaker even includes an integrated file manager. Using it, you can search for files and preview those you find, email them, and delete them. Amazingly, the previewed documents appear fully formatted in the preview window. This includes character and paragraph formats as you can see in the screen shot. Very nice touch.

Desktop sibling

We received the PPC/Windows combination package for review. This segment will be very short, because I’ve basically already described the Windows version. That’s right--the PPC and Windows versions are virtually identical. The only appreciable difference between them comes down to the difference in the toolbars, these being rooted in the screen size difference.

SoftMaker obviously intends TextMaker for Windows as a direct competitor to Microsoft Word. They have largely succeeded both in feature set and compatibility. Some of the usability enhancements that appear in Word, though, haven’t found their way into TM yet. Examples of missing niceties include a grammar checker, the familiar function key shortcut to change the case of text, and drag-and-drop of images into the text.

In the wild...

After reading this survey of TextMaker’s capabilities, you’re probably thinking that it would take forever to learn it all. While TM carries a bit of a learning curve, it turns out to be relatively easy to master if you use either Microsoft Word or TextMaker on the desktop. The latter is a no-brainer because the menus are identical. However, the menu system is close enough to Word and logical enough in organization so as to be easily mastered.

With all these features, you’d probably expect TextMaker to be quite large, and you won’t be disappointed. The executable alone weighs in at 5.3MB, and the entire installation takes up an impressive 7.7MB including templates and both US and UK English dictionaries. Unless you have a lot of RAM you’re itching to burn, Tanker Bob recommends installing TM either in your Built-in Storage/File Store or on a card. The latter will provide faster loading times.

Although TM loads in stages or overlays, initial loading still takes a full 35-40 seconds from Built-in Storage--the slowest storage type in a PPC. TM also has a serious sensitivity to memory fragmentation in Windows. It will fail to load if memory is significantly fragmented, even though it only takes 2.4MB on initial execution. I’ve actually seen it fail to load with Windows Mobile 2003SE claiming 13.5MB free Program Memory. SoftMaker says that the coming TextMaker 2005 PPC will address this issue. It would certainly be nice if Microsoft would manage Windows memory better, though.

Now the great news: I’ve been using TextMaker 2002 PPC to write reviews on the road for several months. It handles tables, hyperlinks, and images effortlessly. Although I often write reviews partially on the desktop and partially on my Axim X50v, I have written several completely in TextMaker on my Axim, something I’ve never been able to do before with any other program on the PPC or Palm platform. The finished reviews required no cleanup or modification when transferred to the desktop for publication. I’ve rarely been as impressed with a PDA program as I have been with TextMaker, no kidding.

For the record, I wrote this review entirely in TextMaker, using both the PPC and desktop versions. Although I’ve been using MS Word for decades, I found the TextMaker family a simple transition. I was easily able to perform all needed functions. For the amateur and professional Microsoft bashers out there, SoftMaker furnishes a very high quality alternative.

Wrap-up

SoftMaker’s TextMaker 2002 PPC represents the best of the best for PDA word processors. In fact, it isn’t appropriate to think of TextMaker as just a PDA application because it stands as an equal to its desktop siblings. I never carry a laptop anymore, and TextMaker is the major enabler of that freedom for me. Although $39.95 retail doesn’t sound like a bargain, I find it a steal considering all it does. It has no peer on the PDA, and precious few on the desktop. For the cash-strapped, you can usually find SoftMaker products available at a considerable discount on eBay directly from SoftMaker. If you want to create serious documents on your PPC without limitation, TextMaker stands alone as king of the mountain.

Pros:

Full-featured desktop word processor packed into a PPC

Full range of text, paragraph, document formatting

Full image, table, bookmark, hyperlink, table of contents, index, etc., support

Highly configurable screen and operation

Included file manager with document preview

Relatively easy to use due to well thought-out design

Cons:

Requires 7.7MB of space on the handheld (hey, no free lunch!)

Slow to load from Built-in Storage

Oversensitive to Windows memory fragmentation

Web Site: www.softmaker.com

Price: $49.95 US

$49.95

 

 

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