DataViz, best known for their Documents To Go software suite, recently released version 3 of SmartList To Go, a bit of software known (before DataViz's purchase) as ThinkDB. But when Mauricio asked me to review it, I can't say I was filled with excitement. After all, I've already tried many pieces of list management software, including 26579 ListPro (read review), 2066 MobileDB, 472 HandyShopper and Progect. What was the point in trying one more? Especially when HandyShopper is not just superb but free.
Subsequent use has revealed that point – SmartList To Go (henceforth referred to as STG) is not, despite the name, a list manager. In fact, it's the complete opposite to MobileDB. MobileDB is a list tool masquerading as database. STG is a true handheld version of Microsoft Access with a silly name.
I will at this point mention that I am not a Microsoft Access fanatic. I have no reason to use it at home; even if I did, I'd rather use the need as an excuse to learn a new language (C# or Python) or framework (Spring looks fun!). However, not everyone is quite as mad, and I'm sure this product is going to be a great place to start.
After having a quick play with the examples (which included a drinks database, bringing joy to my icy heart), I decided to try creating my own. And being a keen diver I decided to try a dive log. For other divers with Palm devices (or otherwise), don't do this at home – get AquaDiveLog or 32022 SharkPoint. And while hardly practical, it proved a great experimentation point.
First up – field design. Please note I never read the manual. I'm a large fan of usability in software, and firmly believe if you have to read the manual to do common tasks then it's too hard. But field design is easy. Add a field, select the type, set the options. A text field displays a description of the type, and options are type specific. It's so easy my mother could do it. On the downside, I couldn't find an option to constrain items (e.g. length or max/min number), and I didn't manage to get one-to-many fields working without resorting to documentation. But the majority went in smoothly, and included such gems as linking contacts. Great for dive buddy purposes! Also, I could not find an easy way to move an existing field around on the form, which would have been nice.
Having laid out the fields, the form designer was up next. And this is where it really stands out from your standard list tool – tabbed UIs are easy to design and use. Best of all, it can lay the form out automatically, leaving it for you to tweak as you desire. It's easy to add in fields, tabs and labels, but those looking for other than a two column view will be disappointed. You're limited to a label: field split across the page, which proved a disappointment as I tried to lay out a dive profile. Also, you're limited to one set of tabs per page, and you can't really take advantage of the extra space landscape devices make available.
Lastly, we need to specify views. The view is our list layout from which we select, add or delete items. STG builds this seemingly randomly from a subset of your fields – I quite failed to work out exactly how it decided. Luckily, changing these for a slightly more appropriate set is easy, and you can define multiple views to select different aspects of the records, changeable via a drop down box. Further, you can then define filters to whittle down a view to a more manageable size.
The last major piece in this puzzle is the desktop client. The major defining line between many free and commercial products in the Palm OS world is the desktop side – free solution are often characterised by not featuring any. STG however follows the steps of DataViz's previous products and has an excellent desktop application to support its use.
The desktop application mirrors the Palm form designer as much as possible, although it should be noted there are some actions which can only be performed from the Palm. It also takes advantage of the larger screen, giving you access to as much information as possible, and looks reminiscent of the Documents To Go desktop application – not an accident, I'm sure.
Finally, the desktop application allows you to set up synchronisation with an Access database. I can imagine this would be useful for many people – I know at certain companies the contact list is available as an Access DB, and many small businesses make far more crucial use of it. Given my Access free status I could not try it, but given DataViz's excellent track record of Office synchronisation I'm more than happy to give it the benefit of the doubt.
All in all, if you want a solid Palm database this seems like the best choice. It would be nice to see some of the little niggles I found disappear, and for it to gain better integration with Documents To Go. The US$49.99 price tag also lies slightly above that of its competitors, but as there's a trial available you can take the time to ensure it will be worth it for your purposes. It's certainly earned a permanent place on my device and I'll be putting some good work into finding a real use for it!