Since John Gruber linked to it, this informal test conducted by Phil Gyford has got popular. And yes, it’s a very interesting idea. As Gruber wrote, Gyford time-tested six different methods of writing the same block of text: with pen and paper, with a Newton MessagePad 2100, using the Graffiti input method on a Palm Vx, and typing on the Palm Treo’s hardware keyboard, the iPhone 3G’s software keyboard, and on a full-size MacBook keyboard.
The part that most interested me of Gyford’s write-up, though, is this:
For those unfamiliar [with the Newton MessagePad’s handwriting recognition], you write with a stylus anywhere on the MessagePad’s large screen and your handwriting appears there as you write. A moment after you finish a word it disappears and reappears as “typed” text wherever the cursor currently is.
This method was easier than I expected and it felt like it was as quick as handwriting recognition could be — there is some delay in translating my scribble into text, but it’s no slower than the speed of my writing, so the device didn’t get behind. Once I got into it, correcting mistakes was also easy: tapping a word brings up alternative spellings and capitalisation, and one further tap away are two ways to manually correct the characters.
The emphasis is mine. The point is, this is a perfect example of a piece of hardware that is, by now, 13 years old, has laughable technical specifications according to today’s standards for this kind of handheld devices, but still manages to do the job. A CPU running at 167 MHz may sound sluggish to you power-hungry gadget lovers, but it’s more than adequate to keep up with human writing speed. Not to mention the Newton’s still exceptional handwriting recognition (despite all those naysayers in the 1990s).
But I knew that. After a bit of a hiatus, I’m back using my MessagePad 2100 and my eMate 300 almost on a daily basis, mainly for note-taking and distraction-free word processing. Two tasks for which the Newton platform still shines, in my opinion and experience.