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Can't Type, Won't Type 

How good is your typing? Do you wish you could touch type instead of the one-fingered search and spear technique? Do you suffer from RSI? This article reviews some of the alternatives out there to make your life easier

No matter how quickly I learn to type there is an undeniable pleasure in writing long hand. It's not that I'm an old fuddy duddy but I get more tuned in with my brain this way.

Since graphic designers took to their Macs and wielded a Wacom stylus, handwriting recognition software has offered some interesting possibilities. Not being tied to your laptop and being able to write more intuitively is a great plus. The two products I tried, digiscribble and the Genius Q both use different versions of software called MyScript Notes from Vision Objects, although I have also tried software from Phatware with some success. All of the software seems to need a learning period to adjust to your own handwriting which can be a bit boring but worth doing properly because it improves the accuracy of the recognition.

DigiScribble hand-writing recognition software

digiscribble £49.61 from Amazon

Originally brought to the market by Pegasus and now rebadged under license by Apcom, the digiscribble and it's sibling, the pcscribble, use a special digital pen together with a little unit that clips to any notepad, to capture your handwriting. The pen uses a normal biro cartridge and is not at all bulky. It has two small batteries in the top to power the digital output (which look a bit like watch batteries so they might be expensive to replace). You can use any pad you like or even write notes in a book, unhampered. Then you dock the unit with your computer via a USB cable and upload all your notes. The software then works its magic and turns your 'scribble' into text. The digiscribble offers the ultimate in flexibility and, of the three products I tried, is the one I used to draft the bulk of this article.

Score : 8½ /10

G-Note 500 handwriting recognition tablet

Genius G-Note £64.54 from Amazon

Everyone takes a pad into a meeting and it requires no more thought than that to remember your G-Note by Genius. The block is simplicity itself to use because you can use any A4 pad providing it isn't too thick. You simply turn it on the G-Note, write your notes and press a button when you come to the end of a page. When you are back at your computer you can dock the G-Note and upload all your notes. If you forget to press the button on the G-Note to indicate a new page, the software can even unscramble your notes to reveal the individual pages before it turns your writing into text.

The only downside to this unit is that it doesn't look particularly nice and is a bit bulky to fit in a bag, especially if you use the 'executive wallet' that it comes with. I can think of many sales men who would love this, but I don't think the G-Note will appeal to anyone who likes their gadgets to look sleek or sexy.

Score : 6/10

If you can't read your own handwriting you might like to try an alternative - dictation software also known as voice recognition software. Early versions of this were truly unreliable and involved what felt like hours of training to get the package used to your voice. You also had to speak quite slowly which interrupted your thought flow. Thankfully things have improved!

Dragon Naturally Speaking 9 from Nuance

Naturally Speaking 9 (Preferred Edition) £99.90 from PC World

Naturally Speaking is the latest package from Dragon and is very easy to use. After a brief training session - I chose the inauguration speech at J F Kennedy -

you can dictate into many of the applications you use on a daily basis. l dictated an article in Word, composed several emails in Outlook and navigated around my desktop through Windows. I was even able to dictate into a non-Microsoft package.

The name of the product gives you a clue as to its efficiency. You don't have to speak too slowly - just speak naturally and it captures every last word. However, there is a problem with the package if you use a laptop. The sound cards in many laptops are of an inferior quality to desk tops and this results in issues with the headset that comes with the package. I spent a long time trying different tones of voice from placid to shrieking just to get it to accept the word minute at one point. My family thought it was hysterically funny, but I nearly gave up on the product. In the end, the PR advised me that a USB headset would be the answer so I bought one and then the package worked like a dream. However if you are spending over £100 some people won't want to pay the extra and with the price of USB headsets coming down, it does beg the question why this product doesn't come with this type of headset as standard.

Score : 8/10

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