The downside of trying to use an Android tablet for Note-Taking.

One of the applications for generic Android tablets which I’ve tried to find solutions to, mainly in the form of apps, would have been, for note-taking. And this quest has largely remained unsatisfied. I’d like to comment on Why.

When I wanted to use my tablet for note-taking, the way I visualized doing this, was to be able to jot down notes by hand, as if on paper. The idea seemed natural, that a tablet could store many pages of notes, without requiring that the user carry with him, stacks of sheets and binders.

But the main impediment I saw with this actually stemmed from the hardware itself, that is sometimes just referred to as the Glass of the tablet, or otherwise, as the Sensor. Most common tablets have a capacitance-based Sensor, which is best-suited, for detecting the proximity of a human fingertip. A necessary variation in its use is, a passive stylus, which does little better, than to focus electrostatic fields, as any shaped, conductive object would. This type of stylus requires no special hardware from the tablet to work, and can also be bought from virtually any manufacturer, and can remain compatible with the standard sensor.

The problem with that which ensues, is the fact that actual software – i.e., apps – try to implement a feature which is called ‘Palm Guard’, ‘Palm Rejection’, or ‘Wrist Guard’. This feature recognizes the fact that when people try to write on any surface, we usually have a tendency to rest the side of our hand on the same surface. The capacitance-based sensors cannot distinguish between contact with a human hand, and the point of the stylus. The ability of the software to make the same distinction is only as effective, as the ability of the sensor to be hugely multi-touch in the ‘contact-map’, that it inputs.

(Updated 12/26/2018, 12h00 : )

What some users might just assume, is that the app can detect a high-res image, of points of contact with the sensor. But unfortunately there is an additional problem, which would be hardware-related:

There exist varying degrees of multi-touch capability, on differing Android devices. Some early devices were only able to detect 2 points of contact, and then later, 3, while the latest devices can scan and detect approximately 5 – 10 points of contact. This limitation also affects how well a certain app will work, the purpose of which is just to determine ‘Who starts first,’ at a board game. Instead of rolling dice, some board-gamers once decided that they should all touch the screen of an app, running on a phone, and that the app would then grant one of the touching fingers, permission to start the game.

Well on older hardware, the outcome was sometimes that the sensor could only detect up to 3 fingers, while there might have been 5 people starting a game…

If the hardware is very recent, it may be multi-touch enough for Palm Rejection to work. And the chances of this working also derive from the concept, that the area of the glass to ignore, could simply be a rectangle near the bottom – a so-called “safe zone”. There exist numerous apps on Google Play, which use such a rectangular Palm Guard, but which mainly allow lines to be drawn (for example, This One). Those apps can then export the drawn document as some sort of image, such as in the form of a PNG-File, a PDF-File, or an SVG-File. On the contrary, what I would want a note-taking app to do additionally, is to convert some handwriting into actual text…

Under Android, there is a 3rd-party input method – aka an on-screen keyboard – which accepts handwriting and converts it into text, named “Mazec“. I’ve just purchased this app because it was written by the same programmers who wrote “MetaMoJi Note”, the second of which is a G.P. Note-Taking / Doodling app. These two apps don’t need to be used together, and without Mazec, MetaMoJi doesn’t have any handwriting recognition, nor any Palm-Guard feature, for the Android version.

By now I have an opinion, about how well I think these last two apps work, when used together.

And so this reliance on note-taking software needs to be sidestepped if we want to be able to take notes in practice, through the acquisition of suitable hardware. In other words, we’d need to buy a tablet or a phablet first, the sensor surface of which is compatible with one specific type of active stylus, just so that the note-taking software can turn off the purely capacitance-based acquisition, and can focus on the active stylus, as the only input device.

Because buying a tablet specifically for note-taking is much more expensive, than simply buying a passive stylus, this approach is next met with a refusal on the part of the buyer, to allow this one use to dictate, which tablet or which phablet he or she will buy. It actually starts to make more sense then, either to change the way we take notes, to clipping information which is already in some on-line format, or just to accept that we won’t be using the tablet for that.

In any case, good, higher-quality, passive styli, are easy to come by.



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