Note the bar just under the calendar itself.
Taking the icons from left to right, it provides one-tap access
to the Agenda, Daily, Week, Month, and Timeline views on the left
side. The right side provides one-tap access to Notes, Tasks, Contacts,
and PI Search. This is typical of all PI screens, giving the user
access to all their data with just one tap.
Returning to the calendar presentation itself,
notice the bars above each day. These provide a snapshot of the
day’s schedule at a glance. The bold vertical bars on either
end of the yellow-shaded area denote the beginning and end of the
user-specified business day. The bold bar in between them indicates
noon. Event bars may take on the category colors for easy identification.
This clever scheme repeats on all calendar displays in one or another
The color bars to the left of each appointment
denote whether the time is free, tentative, busy, or out-of-office--the
same scheme as desktop Outlook. The bar colors parallel Outlook
by default, including red for conflicts. The option exists to change
the color bars to match the category colors of the appointments.
If you prefer to check out your schedule a week
at a time, 7-day mode may tickle your fancy. The same general features
apply to this view. In addition, you can change the relative sizes
of the first day’s box and even change which day appears
at the top. Tapping on an event opens it for viewing or editing.
The month view provides a quick overview from
which to make or change appointments. Tapping and holding on a
day brings up a context menu from which new appointments may be
added. Simply tapping on a day brings up a preview window at the
bottom showing the events scheduled for that day. Tap on one of
the appointments to view its details or to edit it. Tapping on
the preview window’s day/date bar closes it.
The edit screen itself presents all the
required information in a logical format. Tapping the date brings
up a calendar, while tapping on the time brings up a very easy
to use time display with the user-specified work hours in white
and off-hours in yellow to speed your time selection. Common
recurrence settings appear in a pull-down listbox, but custom
settings may also be easily specified. PI keeps scheduling flexibility
at a maximum, yet through simply and logically organized displays.
The icons under the main schedule display permit
the user to add notes, contacts, categories, links, or journal
entries to the appointment, which may be filtered by category on
their respective screens. Like Microsoft Outlook on the desktop,
PI supports multiple category assignments for appointments, contacts,
tasks, and notes. Once again, all tasks may be accessed from the
one central screen. Sounds like a recurring theme, eh?
Unlike paper organizers, PDAs can provide aural,
visual, and/or tactile reminders of appointments. PI provides robust
alarm options. They may be set days or months in advance, or can
be set to trigger exactly on time.
At the very bottom of the screen, one may accept
or cancel the appointment with the first two icons. The third icon
provides text editing options in all screens where it appears.
In this case, it includes the ability to create alarm notes, tasks,
contacts, or another appointment from text the user has selected.
What a great time saver! The two icons on the very right access
contacts and a larger format in which to edit long text entries.
Templates furnish a huge time saver for creating
new appointments. Any appointment may be turned into a template.
Tapping on the icon under Subject at the top of the screen brings
up a list of templates currently available. After a template has
been selected, the user may then change any details necessary.
Templates work similarly in the other PIM modules. PI also supports
Smart Macro templates, which perform actions on applying the template.
The two most common uses for a PDA involve
schedule management and as an address book. PI shines in this
department as well.
The Contacts screen presents key information
in an easily recognizable format. Names on the left and numbers
or email addresses on the right. The blue letter on the extreme
right of all entries denotes what the type of number: h = home,
o = office, e = email, etc. The same icon bar lies directly below
the contact list, giving instant access to Calendar, Tasks, Notes,
The best part of PI’s implementation of
Contacts has to be their search engine. Shown at the top left of
the screen in the illustration, two sticky icons provide key features
of a search. If the user highlights the first, then PI looks for
entries that start with the search text. If the user highlights
the second, PI looks for entries containing the search criteria
anywhere in the contact data. This distinction furnishes considerable
power to forgetful users like me.
The third icon simply erases the search text.
The last icon on the search bar brings up or dismisses a double
vertical row of the alphabet for jumping quickly in the contact
list. After tapping a letter, the vertical bar disappears and the
display springs to entries starting with the chosen letter.
The third icon from the left on the very bottom
icon bar brings up menu entries for displaying, sorting, and grouping
the contact list. Choices include First/Last name, Last/First name,
providing a picture list, and grouping by company, department,
city, state, country, and category.
New contact entry couldn’t be simpler.
PI keeps an input history, so that frequently-entered text will
be auto-filled. The icon bar just under the text entry groups information
by person, office, home, general information, then permits the
entry of notes, categorization of the contact, links, and journal
entries (hidden under right/left scroll icons). At the very bottom,
just as with appointment input, selected text may be used in other
PIM areas and templates may be used. Of course, pictures may be
associated with contacts, and contacts may be assigned to multiple
So much to do, so little time…
As Calendar can keep you from being late,
Tasks can keep you from forgetting important stuff. PI’s
Tasks implementation shares great similarity with the Contacts
display. This includes filtering and grouping options. In the
case of tasks, these may be sorted/grouped by category, importance,
priority, progress, completion, or date. Of course, tasks may
be prioritized. However, the simplicity of appearance can be
PI supports hierarchical tasks that may be nested.
Users enable hierarchies by selecting “Hierarchical Tasks” from
the sort/group menu. Tasks may be dropped on others to establish
relationships. Tapping and holding on a task with hierarchies enabled
will offer the option of creating a child task. This furnishes
a powerful list management system. These hierarchies may be expanded
or collapsed in the display.
Creating new tasks uses a familiar motif.
All the icons have already been explained above. Importance and
priority are separate characteristics of a task. Both may be
set during creation and changed later using the importance and
priority icons, if displayed. Tasks may also be created in a
hierarchy as described above.
Tasks can repeat. A task must be checked off
as complete, however, before it will repeat. Reminders may be set
to alert the user when it’s time to perform a task. Start
and completion dates may be entered, which together with hierarchies
provided some project tracking capability.
I consider the Notes setup under the Windows
platform to be less useful than Memos in the Palm world. The difference
lies in the way Outlook treats notes as an afterthought, whereas
Palm has treated them as an equal PIM partner. While PI takes some
steps towards rectifying this, its compatibility with Outlook still
results in serious limitations.
Pocket Informant 2005 shows all notes
everywhere on your device and supports PhatNotes. WebIS includes
PhatNotes Lite, which doesn’t sync with your desktop, with
the PI archive. Standard notes display in the directories in
which they reside. Individual PhatNotes list from within their
databases. Of course, the list may be filtered and searched,
just as the other PIM modules.
The file list may be sorted by any parameter,
but there’s a catch. For example, you can sort by category,
but the items in each category will be unsorted. This makes it
virtually useless to sort by anything other than name or date
if you have a large number of notes, and is the only serious
shortcoming that I found in PI.
The note editing screen presents a surprise.
The toolbar under the text presents formatting options! With
an attendant increase in file size, notes may be endowed with
paragraph alignments, indenting, and bold, italic, and underlined
fonts. While these enhancements may dress up notes, the file
size can be triple that of a plain text note. Still, it offers
a nice feature.
The very bottom toolbar can set an alarm time,
change to screen writing, add a date/time stamp, change text color,
and add a contact. PI generally considers notes as something to
combine with alarms, so generally refers to notes as alarm notes.
By default, notes appear in the My Documents
folder in RAM. While PI can save and find notes anywhere on your
device, ActiveSync will only find those in the default location
to sync with desktop Outlook.
A step beyond PIM functions, PI’s Timeline
view serves two primary purposes. One, it compares schedules. A
manager could keep the work schedules of individual team members,
or parents can keep a schedule for each family member. Second,
this view may be used to manage a project, tracking resources and
Timeline view relies on the effective use of
categories. If a user already uses categories for all appointments,
this view can be used effectively right out of the box. If not,
then a little effort in properly categorizing data will be needed
to get the most from the timelines. To track schedules, simply
assign each person their own category. For projects, assign categories
either to individual projects or to a project’s parts, depending
on the level of detail that you want to track. Once a user grasps
the relationship between categories and the timelines, the concept
becomes pretty simple to implement.
Like the month view, selecting a schedule
block brings up its details in the preview window. Tapping and
holding on a date brings up a context menu for adding an appointment
or task, switching views, etc. Tapping on a category name brings
up a summary screen that displays the number of appointments,
tasks, contacts, journals, and notes, the amount of total time
taken by them. The time period for that data may be set on the
detail screen, and descriptive text may be added. Be patient,
as it may take a few seconds to query all the databases.
The timeline view has some good capability at
this point, and WebIS indicates that they will be expanding this
functionality in upcoming releases.
Buttoning up the interface
The D-Pad moves around PI pretty nicely.
It performs different but logical functions depending on the
screen display. In Agenda, it pages up and down the dates as
well as moving forward and backward in the user-set time blocks.
In Week view, it jumps forward/back by week, and similarly for
months. In Month view, pressing the action button selects a day
and displays its events in the preview. At this point, the direction
buttons move through the days, previewing each one as it goes.
In Tasks, the D-Pad directions moves between
individual tasks and the action button marks the selected task
complete. The D-Pad moves similarly through the contacts, where
the action button opens the chosen contact. The direction buttons
also move through the notes.
WebIS provides a number of utility shortcuts.
These may be assigned to the device application buttons, bringing
up PI in the selected mode when the user presses a button. These
shortcuts may also be executed from the Programs and Home screens
from their own folder, as well as third-party launchers. Shortcuts
include starting each of the calendar views, tasks, and creating
or opening alarm notes. Very handy.
More Nifty Features
Pocket PC devices have a poor history of alarm
reliability. PI provides a nice function to recreate alarms in
the operating system. Users may also delete the entire contents
of any database, clear links, backup PI’s settings, and
even take a screen shot. Screen shots only save as bitmaps, which
come out to just under 1MB on a VGA device. The Cleanup PI Databases
function applies only to those who use Intellisync.
If a particular default screen or display doesn’t
work for you, then simply create and save a custom view. Simply
set the options that suit your purposes, tap Save Current View
Setup from the custom view icon (folder with the star on the bottom
icon bar), and name it. One example of its use would be a filtered
and formatted list of medical appointments that you could pull
up at will. Or you could create separate views to display business
and personal calendars and swap between them with just a few taps.
Custom views may be created for any of the PIM modules, for instance
a filtered and formatted honey-do list in Tasks.
So many options…
…it boggles the mind. If there’s
something that can’t be changed or configured in PI, I
didn’t find it. Fonts, colors, behavior…the savvy
user may setup PI to suit themselves. I set up PI for true VGA
mode by varying the sizes of all applicable display components,
and the result proved very pleasant and usable. The default
settings please the eye in SE VGA mode.
PI supports powerful linking capabilities, placing
all relevant information at your stylus tip. For example, you could
link all attendees plus the agenda notes to a meeting appointment,
or perhaps record key sales contact information in journal entries
linked to the appropriate contacts. Only the user’s imagination
limits the possibilities. Combined with Timeline, robust project
resource management comes into its own through linking.
Where, Oh where?
Incredible power resides in Pocket Informant’s
built-in search function. It is available on the standard icon
bar under all PI displays and has its own dedicated screen. That
screen looks a great deal like the Tasks and Contacts screen.
The search bar itself works like all the
others in the program. It can search for the criteria with which
entries start or find it anywhere in the entries. Like the individual
search criteria windows in the PIM sections, this one maintains
a history that the user may recall. The icon bar below the search
criteria bar allows users to select which PIM databases to search.
You may select one or all of the Calendar, Tasks, Contacts, Notes,
and Journal data sets.
The results screen displays entries with their
pertinent data. Results may be sorted by subject, category, sensitivity,
or date. It may also be filtered by category. The bar at the top
of the result listing totals the number of matching entries of
each type. The best part is that each result entry acts just as
it would in its own module. Tapping on icons in individual result
entries works exactly like in their native programs. For instance,
tapping on a note icon in an appointment brings up the note. Closing
the note returns you to the search result screen. Double-tapping
an appointment opens it for review and editing. Closing it returns
the user to the search result screen. PI not only presents its
findings but gives you full use of them directly from the search
screen. Very cool.
I find it hard to imagine a more powerful or
comprehensive Personal Information Manager than Pocket Informant
2005. It does nearly everything extremely well, providing the user
with a consistent interface across the spectrum. It seems infinitely
customizable. This brief review hardly does Pocket Informant’s
rich features justice. At $29.95, it comes as quite a bargain.
Complete PIM support in one package
Consistent interface across modules
Outstanding search capability
Powerful linking feature
Almost infinite customizability
Color and icon support for individual items and categories
Easy custom view support
Solid desktop Outlook compatibility
Excellent VGA support
Comprehensive, easy to understand manual
No secondary sort support in Notes and
the default secondary sort isn’t alphabetical
A bit of a learning curve to tap its power
Web site: www.pocketinformant.com