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Pagehand review

Verdict:

Highly recommended for anyone with a passion for typography.

Review Date: 17 Sep 2009

Price when reviewed: (about £24.07)

Reviewed By: Giles Turnbull

Our Rating 4 stars out of 5

Pagehand is not like most word processors. Its designers call it 'elegant' and they have a point; Pagehand is delightfully simple. It's a tool for the precise carving of words, with considerable emphasis on how they look.

The application behaves differently to other word processors, saving documents as PDFs. It looks different, too. All the toolbar buttons are represented by typographic symbols rather than icons. Its designers say that this is a deliberate choice, reflecting the way a writer's mind is preoccupied with words, not images, while writing. The main editing window is accompanied by a panel on the left, within which you'll find many of the controls usually found on toolbars or inspectors in other applications. They are thoughtfully laid out, and always easy to navigate despite their unfamiliar look.

The panel packs in a lot of functionality without feeling overcrowded. It automatically resizes its palettes to ensure that the section you wish to use is always visible. Windows work well using the default tabs arrangement (which can be switched off). The styles editor is another stand-out feature, making style management simple.

Further functionality is hidden from view, at first glance. The dynamic toolbar flits to one side, revealing drop-down commands for specific formatting and layout commands when they are needed. These cram many functions into a small space, but require a certain amount of flicking through for anyone unfamiliar with Pagehand's features. Activate the Find command, and a previously hidden sidebar panel appears out of nowhere with text boxes for your search.

The sidebar features tools that give minute control over every typographic element you can think of. Fonts, for example, are automatically grouped into sub-categories to make selection easier; individual ligatures can be switched off, and superscript and smart controls controlled from the Effects palette; and kerning, baseline and weight can be altered on a per-character basis from the Adjustments palette.

Other typographic tools include the 'Insert accented character' menu item, which saves a trip to the system-wide Character Palette; and the Ornaments menu, which drops down a sheet of all ornamental glyphs available. The built-in fractions editor is lovely, providing fine-grained control over the typographic presentation of each element of the fraction.

This emphasis on text presentation goes a long way to explaining the choice of default document format, but saving in PDF does present difficulties. For example, collaboration suddenly becomes much more complex. Only people who also have a copy of Pagehand installed will be able to easily open and edit the files you create; otherwise, you will be forced to export to another format, then re-import your collaborator's changes when they're done. This brings the risk that more complex formatting might not survive the conversions at either end intact.

There are a few other minor frustrations. Some panel commands are too mouse-orientated, with no keyboard shortcuts; the word count is hidden away inside a tab on the document properties sheet; and the modal toolbar controls aren't found when typing queries into the Help search box.

Pagehand has much to offer, is reasonably priced, and keeps some of its finest tricks out of sight. It's recommended for the typographically aware, but isn't a good choice for those who co-write, or whose work undergoes a lot of editing by others.

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