Review: PhraseExpress 9 adds application-specific macro features

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder PhraseExpress

PhraseExpress, now in its ninth version, is a powerful macro and text expansion tool that automates entering commonly used phrases, in addition to several other useful functions. By using PhraseExpress, you can link commonly typed pieces of text, such as "You know that 'news' story is from The Onion, right?" to short keywords, such as "ONIN", and PhraseExpress will automatically produce the full phrase as soon as it detects the keyword. With the release of PhraseExpress 9, we get an assortment of new features, such as support for Windows 8 and cloud drives, that reflect the modern-day computing environment and user expectations. PhraseExpress cost $50 for business use after a 30-day free trial; it's free for personal use.

You can organize phrases into folders, grouping commonly-used concepts together, such as addresses, business greetings, favorite quotes, and boilerplate sections of text. The macro function included in PhraseExpress offers a level of interactivity, where a specific value can be filled in by the user when the phrase is executed. A common use is to enter a specific name into a generic message.

In addition to the keyword activation system, PhraseExpress also allows you to assign phrases to hotkeys.Particularly useful is assigning a hotkey to a folder of phrases, rather than a single phrase; the whole list appears as a popup, and you can navigate it with the keyboard, so you never need to go grab the mouse.

PhraseExpress 9 includes Windows 8 support. More important, it now has cloud drive (Dropbox, SkyDrive, etc.) support, allowing users to use the same phrase files across all of their computers. Vendor Bartels Media has enhanced the network support, and now you can set phrases to be accessible only to certain users.

PhraseExpress can even help out with writing form letters regarding PhraseExpress.

Another enhancement is application-specific popup menus. PhraseExpress has always allowed you to assign an entire folder of phrases to a hotkey, and to limit some phrases to specific applications, and now these features are combined: Popup menus show only those phrases which are relevant to the active application. This makes it easier to include many phrases tied to a single keystroke, but to constrain them to a reasonable number for a given task.

Even better, version 9 filters the popups by application. If you activate a folder while Word has the focus, only those items intended for use in Word will be shown in the popup. Switch to another application, and only that application's items appear.

Another feature—not new to this version, but one I've just begun using—is integrated Web searching. If you select text and then hit a hotkey combo, that text is inserted in the search engine of yourr choice. It's a small, but useful, time saver as compared to select, copy, open browser, open search engine, paste.

PhraseExpress has some minor issues. The first is more or less mandated by the nature of the program: You have to spend some time setting up phrases, and remembering to use popups or keys to activate them. It's not a time-saver if you have to stop to look up what your trigger phrase is. Second, I have found occasional interface issues or glitches, which have been generally hard to replicate reliably, and which don't appear often enough to be a serious impediment. Third, the default is for PhraseExpress to work in all contexts, which can be tricky if you're not expecting it. This is something the user can control, by setting phrases to only work in specific applications.

PhraseExpress is free for non-commercial use, but commercial use after 30 days requires the purchase of a license. PhraseExpress tracks how it is being used, and heuristics determine if it's being used for commercial purpose.

Users of older versions of PhraseExpress might wonder if upgrading is worth it. The application-specific popup feature is nice, but the major focus of PhraseExpress 9 is on networking support, whether in a corporate environment or for users who have multiple hardware platforms and want to automatically sync their phrase lists. The vast majority of features are retained with little change from the prior release. Those who are not current users of any version of PhraseExpress are strongly encouraged to check it out.

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At a Glance
  • Business users should use PhraseExpress vigorously during the trial to see if it's worth 50 dollars to them, while non-business user will get a lot of utility from the free version.


    • A big time-saver
    • Configurable
    • Application-specific menus


    • Some interface oddities
    • Tray access is inconvenient
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