You have probably heard a lot of people swear by their text expansion apps, and go on and on about how it has made them immensely more productive. You probably also haven’t tried one yet because you haven’t felt the pressing need for it.
“I’m doing just fine with my typing. What difference would a couple keystrokes here or there make?” Do I hear you asking? Let me tell you a true story then of a guy like you, and the free Windows app that changed him forever – PhraseExpress!
Lifehacker – one of the most popular blogs in the world, and one of the only two favorites in my Google Reader – has been preaching the benefits of a text expansion app for a few years now. Every time I read about one, I avoided joining in simply because I thought it was going to be too much work adding all my most used phrases to the app before I can start using them.
Lazing around one fine Sunday morning, I came across the features list of PhraseExpress and decided to give it a try. That proved to be the turning point in my life as far as typing on my PC was concerned.
Zero-Setup Spelling Correction
One of my biggest concerns with using a text expansion utility was the time I would need to set things up. PhraseExpress started off by debunking that fear with a pre-built set of text expansion and text replacement database that you can use from the word go. With a library of over 10,000 spelling corrections in seven languages, you can start taking advantage of PhraseExpress from the word go.
There are tons of words I’ve always been confused with – like the correct sequence of ‘i’ & ‘e’ in words like weird, pieces, etc. to give you an example. PhraseExpress takes the confusion out by correcting words on the fly as I type. No more worrying about whether I got something right or not, and no more keeping a lookout for the curly red lines to go back and fix spellings!
The spelling correction doesn’t stop at that. It also takes care of inserting the apostrophe (‘) in the right places as you type. So every time I want to write “don’t” or “can’t” or “that’s”, I can go ahead and write “dont”, “cant” and “thats” and leave it to PhraseExpress to take care of my grammar for me. The TypoLearn™ feature looks out for spellings you usually misspell and creates a custom database of spelling corrections that is tailored to your individual style of typing.
Supercharged Text Expansion
Although the spell check and auto-correction is good as is, the real power of the app comes to the fore with the core text expansion feature. You can take words, phrases, sentences or even entire paragraphs that you find yourself typing out repeatedly, and link them to abbreviations. Examples could include your e-mail signature, long company names, e-mail addresses or even entire “Thank you for your mail” type messages.
To add a new phrase, simply copy the phrase, right-click the PhraseExpress icon in the system tray and choose “Create new phrase”. You can then enter the abbreviation that will get replace by the phrase, decide what the trigger will be and even choose a system-wide shortcut key if you wish to type the phrase without even having to type anything. The shortcut can include a combination of the Ctrl, Shift, Alt, Win kays along with any other key on the keyboard.
Here’s a list of things I’ve taught PhraseExpress to do over the few months that I’ve been using it:
- Type my entire e-mail ID every time I type “a@g”, no space, tab or any other delimited necessary.
- Type my website URL when I go “a.b.c”.
- Convert “GBP” to the £ sign so I don’t have to go through the Character Map every time I write to my UK clients. The same goes for the Euro, trademark, copyright and the » arrow symbol that I like to use often.
- Complete my company name when I type the first three letters, which works brilliantly when I need to type in my colleagues’ e-mail IDs.
- Type “thaksmail” to write my entire “Thank you for your e-mail. We will get back to you.” message.
I can go on, but you get the idea.
What I like about PhraseExpress even more is that it is always hard at work, not just looking for your defined abbreviations, but also learning from how you type. It recognizes when you repeat certain phrases over and over, and offers to complete them after some time. Suggestions appear as tooltips while you’re typing and you an use the numbers on the Numpad to quickly insert them in.
PhraseExpress also does a good job of telling you what it is doing. Tooltips in the system tray tell you when new phrases have been recognized. If you hit backspace after PhraseExpress has made a change – a spelling correction or a text expansion – a balloon will popup saying it thinks that change might be unneeded and letting you click the balloon to change setting if you feel the need. Fix a change enough times and PhraseExpress will automatically stop doing it.
And that’s not even all. The app comes packed with even more features. Need a quick calculation, just type your numbers – say 599 * 0.2 to calculate a 20% discount – followed by the “=” sign, hit space and voilà! Your numbers are instantly replaced by the result (119.80 in the case of our example).
Hit Ctrl+Alt+V in any program and a list of the last 20 copied text snippets appears. This clipboard history can be a huge help when copying & pasting multiple text elements. You can also train the app to launch apps instead of replacing text, but I’ve not really had much success getting that to work.
It goes without saying that I’ve become a huge fan of this app since I started using it. Even months after having it running in the background, I keep finding new ways to have it make my life easier every once in a while. It is not perfect though. I’ve had my share of crashes a while back, although that seems to have been fixed in recent builds. Also, the constant popups and corrections can be irritating for some, at least while you are getting through the learning curve which could be a few days to a week.
All in all though, I’ve found PhraseExpress to be quite a productivity boosting tool. It has quickly grown into a necessity – an app that runs in the background and works on my text as I write. So much so that the days when I have to work on another computer are outright frustrating. This one’s right up there in my apps-I-can’t-live-without list.