Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Handwriting with "Hanwriting"

Summary of hanwriting with multiling for the impatient:

  • handwriting function has very good specificity!
  • reasonable dictionaries
  • switching between languages is easy
  • some minor, infrequent bugs with inputing strokes
  • compatibility with hardware keyboards not that great
  • compatibility with hardware keyboards is terrible! (See edit)
  • setting up for the first time requires some patience (if you have the patience to read the rest of this article, I'm guessing you'll do fine, however)

The weather was lovely yesterday evening, so I used that as an excuse to go outside and open up "二十四の瞳" (or "24 eyes". Incidently, amazed that it was for sale on, thus I had the opportunity for a good play with Hanwriting yesterday, while translating the book.

That said, 二十四の瞳 isn't the hardest going of books, with most difficult words written in hiragana (its somewhat a refreshing change from Natsume Soseki's Bocchan, which had me stumped pretty much every couple of lines). And so it is that I didn't really get to test out hanwriting's kanji pad very much. However, I got a good feel for its other functionalities.

To start, let's talk hardware keyboards! I love my bluetooth keyboard, and use it more often than I use the software keyboard. However, multiling (which Hanwriting plugs into) is pretty poor at integrating it. Setting hardware keyboard to ON in the Android input method menu turns the software keyboard OFF. That's all fine and dandy, but there is no way of switching multiling's language quickly between English and Japanese when the software keyboard is off.

Fortunately there is a work-around (at least for my setup): I find that by turning the hardware keyboard OFF in the Android input method menu that I can still use the hardware keyboard, but because the software keyboard doesn't disappear, I can also swipe the software spacebar to change languages quickly. I'd still rather have a handy "あa" button like on Google's Japanese IME though...

I also found that set up was a bit arduous. Nothing too taxing, but it is necessary to download multiling, the Japanese plugin for multling and the hanwriting plugin, and I also decided I'd need the English dictionary plugin too... 4 packages to set up a keyboard? Seems a bit much, but then again, I think multiling needs this modularity. I did find, however that its best to install all those plugins BEFORE running the multiling program, or setting the keyboard to multiling, otherwise the plugins aren't recognised.

As for the dictionaries themselves, they don't appear to be as comprehensive as Google's (which are pretty spectacular, I think). However, I think the multiling dictionaries are passable.

In my opinion, these issues are all adequately offset by the handwriting function, which is really invaluable. Though it is worthwhile to be aware that (somewhat infrequently) the kanji pad will not recognise when your finger has moved, and the next time you press the kanji pad a straight line will be drawn from your finger to where your previous swipe started. This is pretty annoying, but you can usually tell it is about to happen, and just redo your last stroke.

Overall then, multiling & hanwriting has some pretty rough edges, but it is definitely functional, and I get the feeling that I will be using it extensively from now on.

EDIT [25/04/2013]: Having used this IME more extensively, I've come across some major usability issues, see here and here.

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