Lotus Symphony 3: hands-on review

The default font is Arial, used for all body text and headings, and at the default 12pt and single-spaced this looks large and cramped. The optional 115% line spacing greatly improves readability, as does changing to a more modern font such as 11pt Verdana or Calibri. While formatting a document I found myself switching between the Properties and Style List panes frequently, which is distracting because they’re slow to redraw. The options for laying out text are adequate, but why are useful features such as automatic widow-and-orphan control turned off by default, and why aren’t heading styles marked “keep with next”?

Lotus Symphony 3: hands-on review

Symphony will check your spelling as you type but it won’t check your grammar, not even finding instances where you’ve typed two spaces between words. It can create tables of contents, indexes and such-like, but the dialogs used to create these items are so fiendishly complex they will give even word-processing geniuses the screaming heebie-jeebies.

The dialogs are so fiendishly complex they will give even word-processing geniuses the screaming heebie-jeebies

Inserting an image – or “creating a graphic” as Symphony calls it – is relatively straightforward, but the editing options are limited to positioning, wrapping text, flipping and resizing. To keep the aspect ratio as you resize you must use the Graphic Properties dialog, as simply dragging the handles will squash or stretch it.

You can add borders or background colours, but only via the dialog. A task pane would have been better, where you could alter properties and see the changes immediately.

There are many right-click context menus, but some of their options are obscure or not logically placed – cut, copy and paste, for instance, come last despite being the most often-used commands. In many cases, an aggressive tooltip will cover up the context menu and make it difficult to see where to click.

Some other context menus are just too big: right-click a paragraph and choose Font Name, and it lists every font installed on your PC, which under Windows 7 with a 1,920 x 1,200 monitor takes up the entire height of the screen just to show fonts “A” through “I” (you get a little scroll-down arrow, but it will only reach “MS UI Gothic” before giving up the ghost). There are just too many fonts for a pop-up menu, and you can’t use it to select Trebuchet or Times New Roman, but have to switch to the Properties pane.

Having all your documents appear as tabs in the same application window may feel neat and tidy to some people, but it isn’t too good if you want to work on two presentations at the same time, or write about a presentation, or copy paragraphs from one document to another. You’ll end up constantly flicking to and fro between documents, since there’s no way to view more than one document at a time. You can’t even launch a second instance of Symphony, since attempts to do so are intercepted and return you to the original instance.

Lotus Symphony 3

The presentations module definitely works best on a wide screen, and with the Slide Thumbnails pane on the left and the Properties, Animations or Transitions pane on the right, you’ll need a widescreen monitor to have any editing space in the middle. It has a good range of slide layouts, and the animation and transition effects are adequate, if not stunning.

However, the slide templates – which set the fonts, colours and backgrounds – look very tired indeed, with a preponderance of dark or busy backgrounds and virtually every one employing the Arial font throughout. Editing any properties beyond the few that appear on the task panes again means a trip through a modal dialog with 13 or 14 different tabs.

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