Spb Time is a nifty little application that is comprehensive in its simplicity. It's simply a clock and timer with a number of nice features that are really well thought out and well implemented. These features add to the overall Pocket PC experience and increase the usefulness of your device.
When I first received Spb Time, I had heard of other time applications, but had never used them, mostly because I didnít realize the value of these applications. I always reasoned that I donít need to travel much and so I donít really need a world clock, my Pocket PC already tells the time and I rarely use timers - so why bother?
However, this simple little app has some very cool features that have changed my perspective in this area of the software market...
When you first start the application, you are presented with a simple analogue clock. OK, so far nothing outstanding. The user interface is simple and intuitive, consisting of four and a half tabs along the bottom of the screen that are positioned where the main menu would normally be.
Speaking of window layout, Spb have made a nice job of the interface. A simple application means a simple interface and in my opinion, this interface is simple, colorful and a pleasure to use. Virtually everything is interactive, the tap and hold context menu being well implemented and the ability to skin the interface is a brilliant feature that allows the user to personalize the software to their needs.
One last note on the interface is with regards to the size of buttons and tab controls. Spb has been diligent to ensure that the interface is able to be controlled without having to pull your stylus out. This is very practical and useful. There are few things more annoying than having an alarm go off when you are in a meeting with ten other people, and having to fumble around trying to shut up this annoying squealing noise that draws the distracted eye of every one in the room and silences the conversation at the same time as trying to tap this tiny little button with overly large fingers! Well done Spb!
What is it about this app that makes it worth investigating?
World time clock with four concurrent times of your choice
Analogue and Digital clocks
Advanced alarm features
Screen saver mode
Standard lap timer
Five countdown timers
Five concurrent timers
There are three clocks: an analogue clock, a digital clock and a world clock.
When you first run the application, you are greeted with a full screen clock. There is not much to report here, except that you can tap and hold anywhere around the screen and get a context menu. One of the three options in the menu is to create a new alarm. Selecting new alarm creates a new alarm, however a nice feature that Spb included here is that the context menu is sensitive to where you tap and hold. This means that if you tap and hold near the number 6 on the clock and select new alarm and it automatically sets the alarm to 6am. Also, you can show the alarms with the clock, and they are displayed relative to the time on the clock. This makes it very easy to see when your alarms are set.
Figure 1 (above) displays the analogue clock with the default skin. You can see the little alarm clocks that represent the alarms Iíve set.
The digital clock is simply a digital clock. You can elect to show a calendar on the screen below the time. By default this is turned on and I think it best to leave it this way unless you have a theme with an image you really want a good view of. The alarms are also visible on this tab (should you decide to leave them there), however, they are attached to a grid up the right hand side of the screen. This is better in some ways as it allows you to know whether the alarm is a morning or afternoon one based on where it is relative to the grid. As there are only 12 hours on an analogue clock this isnít so obvious on the analogue screen.
Another analogue clock skin
I have never owned a world time clock and found it really cool to be able to select the four places around the world whose time makes a difference to me (in this case due to my job) and to be able to see all the times of the countries I am in contact with. I also found it cool to be able to make the map of the world go full screen and then surf around trying to find the places that I was interested in.
You can select the places to display in the options dialog or by tapping the down arrow in the time pane you want to change and selecting the location you want to show from the list, or by tapping the location you want on the map and tapping the little flag. You can also just tap on any place you want to know the time for and get the current time for that location. If you tap the little window icon on the bottom left of the map, the map is switched to full screen mode. Here you can move the map by tapping and dragging the map. Then tap any city (which you can see more clearly) to see the time.... I especially liked the little bloke that turns up if you tap Antarctica!
The stopwatch timer
There are three types of timers. The first is a simple stopwatch with start, stop, pause and clear functionality. When you tap the start button, the start button becomes the stop button and the reset button becomes the lap button. As you hit the lap button, the lap times are recorded in the list box below the time. Once you have finished, you can save your lap times to a text file or clear them ready for the next run.
The Countdown timer
The countdown timer gives you five timers that are preset to 30 seconds, 1 minute, 5, 10 and 30 minutes each. You can change these values by tapping the down arrow next to each timer. This gives you the option of changing the name of the timer, the duration or interval of the timer and details of the alarm to sound (volume, sound file to play, etc). Then simply hit the start button to start the timer running. When the timer finishes, it sounds the specified alarm and waits for you to dismiss the alarm.
Multiple stopwatch timer
From my highly technical heading you can probably guess that this is just more of the first screen on another screen.... yes, you have the option of five stopwatches that you can run concurrently. The buttons work the same as the main stopwatch tab and each stopwatch can be analyzed and saved individually.
One feature that might have been useful here is the ability to start all the timers at once (via a ďstart allĒ button) so you can do a comparison for example of runners in a race. You could then start all the runners at one time and then tap the lap button as each one goes past. As it is, you have to tap the start button for each timer to start them individually.
If you know anything about the Pocket PC platform, you will know that one of the basic requirements of these devices is somehow flawed and tends to be erratic as to how (or if) it works. Spb Time alas cannot make up for the shortcomings of the platform, and I found that alarms did not always sound if the device was turned off - either that or the dog barking noise just didnít wake me up.... which is possible, but not as likely as flakey alarms.
On the bright side, if you can get your alarm to go off, Spb Time should work fine for you. The really cool thing about the alarms is that you can change the alarm sound to any .WAV or .MP3 file on your device. So now you can wake up to any sound you like without having to change the file format of your favorite song or noise.
The screen saver feature is quite nice. Using this you can have your device start Spb Time in whatever mode you desire (analog clock, digital clock or world clock) after a timeout period. You can set the time out period in Spb Time. You can also set any exceptions you need. The exceptions essentially prevent the screensaver from starting if any of the apps are running. It has a bunch of exceptions that are there by default including Windows Media Player, which means that the screen saver wonít come on if windows media player is running. You can add any exceptions you wish or remove the default ones if necessary
Everything has to be able to be skinned these days it seems, and Spb is no exception in this respect. It comes with four themes by default. More can be downloaded from the Spb website, and I suspect a few after market ones will too.
The skins donít affect every aspect of Spb time, only the analogue and digital clocks. The rest donít seem to be affected at all. The themes can include the alarm clock image - the blue alarm clock in the previous image is replaced with this cartoon dog in the cartoon theme for instance.
I like the idea of skinning the application, but I detest having the skins turn up in my add/remove programs applet. At least if this has to happen, bundle the skins so that I get one entry rather than one for each skin I have installed. I like to have several skins available so I can swap them around to match my mood, so this annoyed me slightly.
Spb Time is a whole lot more than I expected. I like the interface and the features that it packs together. Frankly I was surprised at how useful this app is, however, Iím still debating how often it will actually be used during a normal day. The screen saver function is nice if your Pocket PC spends a lot of time in the cradle (which mine doesnít), the alarm functions are cool though, as is the world time screen. It may be that these two features are enough for it to stay on my device.... I guess only time will tell (pun intended ).
Loaded with features
Great interface - easy to use without a stylus
Good alarm options
Skins are not packaged together by default and clutter the add/remove programs applet