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Google takes us back to school with Handwrite

Write out what you're searching for on just about any touch screen, and mind the penmanship! Crave's Eric Mack tries Google's new touch-screen tracing system.

Here, in landscape mode, Handwrite puts my big, ugly letters in the search box to be converted to a prettier font, and then to bits.
Eric Mack/CNET

Google's bringing back that elementary-school skill most of us stopped using in 2010, if not earlier, with Handwrite.

Actually, I discovered today that Handwrite is pretty er... handy. The idea is that hunting and pecking on an onscreen tablet or smartphone keyboard, or even using a fancier keyboard interaction tool like Swype, isn't ideal in certain (some might say most) situations.

Instead, you can now simply trace out the letters of what you're looking for anywhere on the touch screen when you're searching Google Web services on a mobile device.

To activate the feature, you'll need to go to in your mobile browser and enable the Handwrite option in settings. A Handwrite icon appears in the bottom right corner of the screen; tap it and it activates the writing surface. Your chicken scratch appears in the search bar and gets translated to standard letters that then cue autosuggest to take over holding your hand through the query process.

Your teachers were right -- you should have kept practicing penmanship. Screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET

Handwrite doesn't replace the keyboard and you can easily switch back and forth between the two, which is good for me since Google seems to think my scrawled "a" is undecipherable. Google has kindly put up some tips for easier use, like drawing a "1" just the way it looks in print and putting a strike through a zero to differentiate from the letter O.

For now, Google claims that Handwrite works best in Chrome on an Android device, but it also works on devices running iOS 5 and higher; Android 2.3 and higher smartphones; and tablets running at least Android 4.0. Under ideal conditions, I still found it faster to use Swype, but in certain situations like a bumpy road or walking around, I can see Handwrite trumping all other keyboards.

Google released this video to demo and introduce Handwrite. Noticeably absent are any cameos by first-grade teachers criticizing the shoddy penfingertipmanship.