Review: TenGO 2.0 and TenGO Thumb

Last week we had a news item about a T9-like technology for PalmOS and PocketPC that its version 1.0 was released for free. Xrgomics, the company behind TenGO, sent us the new full version of the software, v2.0, plus TenGO Thumb for a quick review. Check it out!Both .cab files are over 2 MBs and they install in the main memory, as they are system plugins. Make sure you have enough main memory (or main storage) available on your device. We tried both products on four different devices and different conditions and it always installed and worked perfectly: Win2003 (HP h2210 PDA), Win2003SE (HP rx3115 PDA), Win2003SE with VGA (Dell x50v PDA) and Windows Mobile 5 AKU2 (QTek 9100 cellphone).

TenGO Thumb

TenGO 2.0 has some features compared to TenGO Free 1.0: it has technical support, an upgrade path, better graphics, support for extra languages (5 languages are currently available) and 25,000 english words compared to 18,000 found in the free version. However, all truth told, many english-typing users can continue to be happy with the free version as is, especially if their needs is just basic note-taking.

After installation you can find some of TenGO’s preferences under the Input panel. There, you can also set TenGO as the default input method on your PDA. The main TenGO panel has a button to switch to either the normal view or the “TenGO Nano”, which takes very little space on your PDA and has more buttons. With TenGO Nano you must be more precise where you hit your stylus at, but at least you get enough dedicated buttons that do specific things that will save you from using shortcuts. Pressing the “123” button, the 10 first numbers are appearing in the “hint” line, but when re-pressing that button the whole keyboard layout becomes number-based.

TenGO’s layout uses 6 qwerty-arranged buttons to achieve a T9-like prediction rather than 8 buttons as you would on cellphones. Above the 6 buttons you will find the “suggestion line” where matching words are displayed. Usually TenGO is choosing the right word for the user about 95% of the time. We had trouble only with the 2-letter words “is” and “of”. I think that some grammar checks can fix this problem too eventually. Also, next to the spacebar you will find the most common symbols, for quick access: / , ‘ .

TenGO Normal

The great thing about TenGO is that you can very easily teach it your own words. For example, I found that no… swearing words exist in the dictionary, but adding one was very easy to do… Seriously now, adding words like “AFAIK” or “TTYL”, is fast and the application reuses them immediately after “learning” them.

There are more features to explore in this application: You can change the casing of a word on the fly, customize the symbol list and let it display with the order you need it to, create canned messages (useful when IM’ing), delete a word from the dictionary and much more.

Regarding TenGO Thumb, it has bigger buttons that take over about 55% of the screen, so it makes it easier to type with your thumbs instead of the stylus. The Thumb version has a few changes in its layout: it has a dedicated “next word” that lets you pick a different word rather than the suggested one, a shift button that works both as SHFT and CAPS, while SHFT+SPC enables the numeric version of Thumb. Generally speaking TenGO Thumb is simpler to use than TenGO 2.0, but then again, it doesn’t have all the features when you need them. Personally, I believe that these two products must merge for version 3.0, because I know from experience that most users will need both versions, depending on the situation they are in.

TenGO Nano

Now, addressing the question that everyone is thinking of: how fast TenGO is?

The answer is simple: VERY. After just half an hour of using it (and having checked out its very nicely crafted tutorial) I was able to type with the stylus close to 55 words per minute and about 45 wpm with my thumb. I believe that with more practice I can be much faster than that, maybe even reach 75 wpm.

What makes TenGO unique is its ability to take a keyboard-less PDA and make it a very fast input machine with just a tiny bit of training on the user’s side. It way, way faster than any T9-based cellphone, and faster than any cellphone with a thumboard (e.g. Treos, Blackberries). And of course, it’s much faster than trying to type with a classic on-screen full keyboard (because you don’t have to be very precise where you have to click).

Having used TenGO for the past week, I still don’t understand two things: why Microsoft or Palm haven’t come up with something like this earlier, or why haven’t they bought Xrgomics yet… These guys are that good!

There is always one application that I can’t live without each time I get a new PDA, vBar. Now, TenGO has proven to be as important as vBar itself. Input methods were never that fun, or fast in the past! This application has officially proved handwriting to be useless! It has changed my (mobile) life. If you own a PocketPC or a supported PalmOS model, definitely give it a try. You would be typing like maniacs in minutes!

Overall rating: 9.5/10


Notes by Thom

More often than not, I and Eugenia disagree on what applications we find useful; where Eugenia truly uses her PDAs, I just utilise them. Eugenia does everything with her PDAs she also does on her normal computers; listening to music, watching videos, browsing the web. While I sometimes browse the web, I rarely use it for anything but managing my appointments and to-do lists. This is best illustrated by the fact that since the university year closed for me about a month ago, I barely removed my PDAs from their cradles.

On TenGO however, I am full and square behind Eugenia. This application finally allows me to input text in a natural fashion on a keyboard-less device. I detest handwriting recognition (not at all unrelated to my illegible handwriting), and pickboards are about as userfriendly as playing darts while standig ten kilometres away from the board. TenGO somehow makes sense; it’s like T9, but better.

TenGO has its downsides as well, of course. I find adding new words a little bit tricky; I would have preferred an option to individually pick letters in order to make non-recognised words, instead of the current way of striking through individual letters. Cellphones often have the option to temporarily disable T9, so you can write a name letter by letter. It would be nice if TenGO 2.1 or 3 had a similar option.

Overall, a very good application that everybody who dislikes entering text on PDAs or similar devices should try.

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