Review – TextMaker for the Sharp Zaurus

by Reads (6,035)

 

Review of TextMaker for the Zaurus

 

TextMaker is a powerful document processor from German developers SoftMaker. It is available for desktop and handheld devices; this review covers the Sharp Zaurus version. I’ve had TextMaker since it came out in December of last year but I really didn’t know where to start in reviewing it, because it’s such a great product but, in a strange way, that greatness is acheived by delivering few surprises…

 

Installation and First Impressions

 

Installation is easy; download the .ipk (installation) file, plus the dictionaries you need, and go through the usual installation process. There were no problems installing on my C860 (Cacko ROM 1.22).

 

The default setting for TextMaker on the Zaurus is “magnified” mode, where the pixels are doubled. This looks chunky on the clamshell devices with their 640 x 480 screens. I reset this and entered my registration code and I was up and running. Once in the application I went into the options and changed the application icons to “small”. I found the menu system to be very intuitive and I didn’t need to look at the manual. These options are obviously defaults for the users of the SL-5500 and SL-5600 Zaurus.

 

My initial impression, honestly, was one of complete awe. SoftMaker have performed something of a miracle in bringing this application to the Zaurus, a platfom not known for its extensive stable of “killer apps”. TextMaker on a Clamshell Zaurus is absolutely a killer application. This is also one of the rare times that I felt the software lives up to the promise of the hardware.

 

In Use

 

Every retail Sharp Zaurus ships with Hancom Word, which is not a bad word processor, but TextMaker absolutely eclipses Hancom Word in every possible area. It includes a dictionary and thesaurus (both missing from Hancom Word), supports the latest Microsoft Word formats, plus forms, tables, plus other features too many to list here. It loads quickly and did not crash once during my tests.

 

The application uses the screen very well, replacing the clunky default window furniture with a streamlined look, much better scaled to the screen size. If it wasn’t for the Zaurus icon bar along the bottom of the screen you could mistake the display for that of a laptop, albeit scaled down to the 3.7″ diagonal Zaurus screen. The animation below shows you the nice layout of the TextMaker screen along with the extensive menu tree. Although you would normally documents in landscape mode, the screenshots are portrait just to better suit the page format of the review.

 

 

 

 

Along the bottom of the screen are various toolbars which can be toggled on and off using the bottom row of buttons. Left to right they are Menu, Object Mode (drawings and pictures), File, Font/Typeface, Ruler, Information (cursor position, page, section and chapter info), Zoom and the last icon is “Wrap to Window” which stops text disappearing to the right while you’re editing it.

 

The toolbars offer about just about everything you could need, and they’re intuitive enough that if you have used desktop wordprocessors or other office tools then you won’t need to read the manual. They can even be “floated” by dragging them away from their docked locations. You can customise the individual toolbars if you like, by either double-tapping them (a bit unusual on the Zaurus) or through the Extras / Customize / Control Strips menu item. Here’s a screenshot where I floated some toolbars and opened the dialog to customise them. Interestingly, the toolbar I’m “customising” there is not available from the toolbar list!

 

 

 

 

 

I installed some extra fonts myself and tested them out; the font support in TextMaker is great. In fact, pretty much everything I’ve tested has worked as expected, and I think that’s one of the most impressive aspects of this – namely that most people will, like me, use a desktop word processor on a regular basis and have certain expectations of TextMaker… If anything, I expected to be disappointed – after all, how could a full-featured application like this even fit into a Zaurus? But, amazingly, it’s all there, and it all works just the way it should. You can also insert pictures into your document; the “Add Picture” dialog is shown below. The “copy to document’s folder” option is nice – it makes a local copy of the original image.

 

 

 

 

What’s more, you can drop a picture into a page of text and the text will flow perfectly around the image. Again, though, what’s amazing is not that this can be done, but that it has been done – and done so well – on a handheld device like the Zaurus. Below is a picture showing off this feature, and thanks to the miracle of GIF animation you can see the picture appear and disappear from the middle of the text! I also shaded some text on that page while I was testing features.

 

 

 

 

Options and Preferences

 

TextMaker’s options are extensive, to say the least. They are accessible through the Extras / Preferences menu item, which is shown below, again with me stepping through the various panels. These show you how the layout was designed for a much smaller screen (the SL-5000 models of the Zaurus) but they work perfectly well on the high resolution models, and you hardly ever have to scroll the window down to see the bottom of the pane. Below is an animation of the Preferences dialog.

 

 

 

 

Full Page Viewing

 

It is just about possible to fit (and read) a full width page on the VGA Zaurus screen. This is part of a resume which demonstrates some indentations, section headings, italics and so on… I have scaled it slightly to fit the page; click the image for the full 640 by 480 bitmap.

 

It is not quite as readable on the Zaurus as it will be on your computer screen (uh… unless you’re broswing the site on a PDA!) but it’s still very good. I would have liked to see an optional “all bold” mode for the more zoomed-out views, where the softened text (sometimes called anti-aliasing) looks good but gets a bit feint. In terms of formatting, the page looks identical between this and the desktop version.

 

 

 

 

Compatibility

 

I moved a range of word processor documents back and forth between my Zaurus C860 and my PC, as well as exporting them in Word format and reading them in Hancom Mobile Word on the Zaurus. There were no real problems; the only missing functionality is that embedded objects such as equations (or most other OLE objects) which may be in Word documents will not appear on the Zaurus. However, they will be retained and you don’t lose them when you go through TextMaker, you just cannot edit them.

 

Loading some HTML tables did not work too well on TextMaker, but these are tables created by my own perl scripts and they may be non-standard in some way. Although TextMaker is overkill as web page editor, it is actually a pretty good one if you keep your source in native format and then export as HTML at the final stage. For editing the HTML directly you’re probably better off with a regular text editor.

 

 

Conclusion

 

As I said at the top (and in the middle, and at the end), this is an amazing piece of software. It delivers high powered document creation and editing tools onto the Sharp Zaurus, which means go-anywhere, handheld power. This is one of the only pieces of software I use which truly stretches the hardware and OS of the Zaurus… You can feel it in the redraw sometimes, and it’s actually a very nice thing to see. There’s clearly been a lot of optimisation behind the scenes here which prevents TextMaker from running the way (e.g.) today’s Microsoft Word would have on a 400 MHz Pentium PC.

 

Normally I include a “Pros and Cons” section at the end of a review. The Pros of TextMaker are too many to list. The Cons… well, the only one I can think of is that the icons (particularly up/down in selection dialogs) are a bit small and hard to tap with the stylus. You can switch to “large icons” but then everything gets too big.

 

If you need to read, write or edit publication-quality documents in a pocket-sized way then it is hard to imagine a better solution than this. It is a little pricey for a mobile application but the developer, SoftMaker has really not made any compromises in porting this to the handheld system. This program is truly a joy to use.

 

TextMaker is availablle from SoftMaker priced EUR 49.95.

 

 

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