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Palm OS Database Review: Database Professional, HanDBase, MobileDB and SmartList To Go
Posted December 2004 by Tanker Bob

The information age is all about accumulating relevant data, turning it into actionable information, and presenting it for decision-making. That equation has many parts, but you can't get there from here without the data. When amassed, these data classically inhabit structures called databases. If you want a cornucopia of data available at your fingertips, then those fingers better be wrapped around your Palm, which in turn better have a good database application on it. After all, information is power!

If I've peaked your interest, you've come to the right place. MobileTechReview.com took the most promising entries on the market for a spin around the information byways. I loaded these gems on a Palm Tungsten T3 that HotSyncs to a Windows XP Pro box running Microsoft Access 2002 SP3.

By their very nature, these applications can be quite complex. Time and space doesn't permit exhaustive coverage of every feature. Features common to all database programs, e.g., sorting, filtering, categorization, et al, are not covered in detail. I tried to concentrate on each application’s unique or core features. I can happily report that they all support the T3's variety of display modes.

MobiSystems Access 2004 Professional 5.62.60 with Windows Desktop (Now Called Database Professional)

Mobile Systems has designed their entire office suite to look and feel like their Microsoft Office counterparts--and they're succeeding nicely. Database Professional looked and worked most like its desktop counterpart, which made it the easiest to use for those familiar with Microsoft Access. It also retains a consistency with the rest its Mobile Systems' office suite partners.

 

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The screens in Access Pro provide an attractive graphic interface similar to the desktop Microsoft products. The icons on the bottom toolbar make sense without help. Tap on the icon you want to make active, then tap on the database upon which you wish to act. If the object resides on the card, a card icon appears in the last column of the database list. The fonts and colors across the program may be configured.

 

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The internal database structure of Access Pro shares its layout with its desktop cousin. These objects include tables, queries, and forms. The opening screen offers a list of databases. Tapping on a database brings up the objects located in that database. The types of objects displayed—tables, queries, or forms—may be selected from the icons at the top of the screen or from the menu. Selecting an object opens it for business. Databases may be located on the card, but will those on the card will not update on HotSync. They can also be categorized.

Tables may have images embedded in fields. To maximize the utility of this, Access Pro includes a full copy of the $14.95 Mobile Systems Paint. This app packs amazing power on your PDA, being a virtual equivalent of Microsoft Paint on the PC. It works with and edits JPEGs, bitmaps, and its own proprietary format, and even includes a screen capture capability.

Access Pro packs considerable power in your hand. It supports calculated and conditional fields, lists, checkboxes, memos, dates, etc.—17 data types in all. Table fields may link with other tables’ fields in a relational sense inside a given database, but not across databases. Still, that stood above all but one the other offering, which at most offer relations within a table. Remember that like Microsoft Access and unlike any other app in this roundup, an Access Pro database consists of more than just a single table. Your available memory provides the only constraint to the number of records in a table.

As if that weren't enough, Access Pro will create Palm apps from new and existing forms. This gives you access to important data instantly from your Palm launcher without opening Access Pro. The process proved trivial using an icon tool on the Forms screen and the results were astounding. I built a "presentation" out of their Palm Comparison example table and form. I could even move through the data using the left/right on my T3's 5-way navigator. Mobile Systems really put some thought into this system.

Access Pro protects your data using passwords, which can be assigned separately for reading, beaming, and modifying individual databases. This can be accomplished through the information icon for the database.

 

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All this would be merely interesting without the ability to HotSync with the desktop. Access Pro includes a desktop program that opens, modifies, creates, and synchronizes databases on the handheld. The look and feel corresponds to the PDA app. It can import and export Microsoft Access, Excel, and ODBC-supported databases directly, as well as CSV files. I HotSynced an Access Pro sample database to Access, and imported an Access database to the handheld. Everything synced perfectly with one exception. Images in data fields on the handheld did not transfer to Microsoft Access, but I may not have found the proper setting for that feature. You can sync only selected tables in a database if you so desire for incredible flexibility.

Open Access stood as the only app in this roundup that fully supported Microsoft Access queries on the handheld, as well as treating Access objects as objects on the PDA. If you’re looking for a database application that works flawlessly with Microsoft Access or any ODBC-supported database, then MobiSystems’ Database Professional with Windows Desktop may be your answer at $49.95. With Mobile Systems’ Paint included and Access, Excel, ODBC, and CSV import and export capability, you won’t find compatibility an issue.

 

Pros:

Attractive, easy to use interface

Relational capability within a database

Includes ODBC database support

Flawless sync with the desktop

Will turn a form into a Palm application

Full graphics support on the PDA through Mobile Systems’ Paint

Cons:

Sync to Microsoft Access occurs through the desktop application, not directly in HotSync

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