Quickly find Unicode symbols with SymbSearch

SymbSearchNeed to enter a Unicode symbol on your PC? Then launch the Character Map, find what you need to the clipboard and copy it to the clipboard. Sounds easy, right? Until you try it.

The reality is the Character Map gives you hundreds of characters to examine, organised in a way which doesn’t always match their purpose, and displayed in such a small font that you’ll barely be able to see some of them at all.

SymbSearch is a free open-source tool which offers a simpler and smarter way of displaying and searching for Unicode symbols.

Launch the program and it runs in the background. When you need to enter a symbol, press Ctrl+Alt+W and every character is displayed in a simple list. This uses a large font size for clarity, and -- good news if you’re not an expert in maths or Greek -- includes the symbol name, too.

This starting list is very long, but fortunately you’re able to sort it by Category. Options include Greek, Arrows, Mathematics, Box Drawing and various Latin selections, amongst others.

There’s also a Search box for locating symbols by name. Typing Gamma displays the three options available, for instance, or you can enter something more general -- "arrow" -- to see all matches.

Once you know your target symbol is in the list, tap the down arrow to scroll to it, hit Enter, and SymbSearch copies it to the clipboard and minimises immediately. Paste the symbol into your app and carry on as normal.

While this worked for us, there are some obvious issues. When we first saw the character list we tried to select a symbol with the mouse, but this isn’t supported. You can scroll the list by spinning the mouse wheel, but selecting a character can only be done with the keyboard. That’s not difficult, but we’d have expected mouse selection to be available as well, even in a first release.

The other complication is that because SymbSearch is an Electron-based app, it uses a huge amount of resources (105MB hard drive space, 64MB RAM), maybe 25-50x more than we’d expect from native Windows freeware.

For all that, SymbSearch is a handy tool, easy to use and with no adware or similar catches. If you regularly use symbols in documents, give it a try.

SymbSearch is a free tool for Windows 7 and later.

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