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Review of Spb Diary 1.0 for Pocket PC

Posted on 27-Apr-2005 06:00 by Brendon Steer | Filed under: Reviews

Spb Diary is a powerful feature-rich Today plug-in for your Calendar, Tasks and Contacts. The standard software from Microsoft does have the Today plug-ins for appointments and tasks. It is well known that these plug-ins are rather poor. That's why we've decided to create a really powerful plug-in. As a result when using Spb Diary the most of actions related to appointments, tasks and contacts can be performed even without leaving Today screen at all.

Among others one can note the following features of Spb Diary:

  • Three Today plug-ins in one
  • View up to 31 days of upcoming event
  • Clear, intuitive and customizable interface
  • Most frequent actions can be made without leaving Today screen
  • Deep integration with all the most popular PIMs
  • Smart filters and various sorting modes
  • VGA resolution (480x640) and landscape screen support

    Spb Diary supports both Pocket PC 2002 and Windows Mobile 2003 devices. Installation is via the usual ActiveSync mechanism. One feature I do like is the standard Spb feature of being able to install the app already registered if you have a registration code. Rather than making the user find the right place in the application on the device and enter the registration code. Great feature!

    If you are using the standard calendar plugin, the Spb Diary install prompts you and asks whether you want to turn off the standard plugin. This is a thoughtful feature to have included in the product as it saves you having to go into the Today screen configuration and change it yourself.

    Plugin Layout
    The plugin has a nice clean layout that blends in well with the today screen. I found the scroll bars a bit difficult to see at times due to them being quite a pale colour and reasonably transparent. But overall the layout is generally pleasing to the eye and easy to read. By default the plugin uses the standard Today screen font to display it’s information. I found that this was too large for my taste. I prefer to see as much as possible at a glance without having to tap items to view them (if I can help it). But this is a very personal preference and one that is very easy to change using the extensive configuration options.

    Items that have subjects that are too long to be displayed in one line are truncated. To view the entire text you simply tap the item and it is expanded to let you read the entire line. This is a useful way to display the items as it use the minimum of screen real estate but still allows you to quickly and simply view the entire item.

    A nice feature of the plugin is its ability to collapse the filter selection bar at the top of the plugin giving that little bit more vertical space.

    You can also use the d-pad to move around the plugin. Up and down move the list up and down. Left and right switch tabs. One notable omission was that while you can move the list up and down with the d-pad, the selected item doesn’t change so you 1. can’t use the button to perform an action or 2. view the entire item without having to tap it (so why bother with the d-pad). I also noticed during my testing that you had to tap the plugin to give it the focus before the d-pad movement function worked.

    An indicator of how good a default layout is (at least to me anyway) is whether or not you go straight into the options to change or “tweak” the layout. I found that with Spb Diary, I didn’t have the immediate urge to “tweak” the layout. Also after using the product for a few days and “tweaking” the layout, I found I ended up mostly going back to the defaults again. To me that indicates that Spb have got the default layout pretty much spot on.

    The Tabs
    Calendar Tab
    The calendar tab gives a combined display of appointments and tasks in a daily view. The number of days shown defaults to 7, but is easily changed using the selection bar at the top of the plugin. There are a good number of ranges to choose from, and if you can’t find the one you want you can also make a selection from a calendar popup and display the precise range you want.

    Tapping-and-holding on an item brings up a context menu that gives access to lots of actions you can perform on the item. The actions are specific to the type of task that you have selected and are similar to those actions you can do in the applet for that type of item.

    One useful feature of the Calendar Tab is the small “time span” icon displayed on the right-hand side of the day title. Tapping this give access to a day-long time scale which displays any existing appointments. Dragging along this time scale will select a block of time and when you lift the stylus, Spb Diary pops up a “Create Appointment” menu. Tapping “Create Appointment” launches the standard appointment creation screen for you to enter the details of the appointment. I think this is a perfect example of the design philosophy behind Spb Diary - to enable you to manage your calendar, tasks and contacts without having to leave the Today screen. You can also tap-and-hold on the Calendar Tab icon or in any blank space in the main area of the plugin to get a popup menu that lets you create a new appointment or task or open the Calendar or Tasks applets.

    Tasks Tab
    The Tasks tab lets you view your task list in just about any way you choose.

    You can group your tasks by category, completion status, due date, start date, priority, and sensitivity or not even grouped at all. With each grouping type, there also comes a variety of sort orders that are relevant to the type of group you selected.

    Along with all the grouping options you have, there are also filters. This lets you limit the tasks displayed to a single category and whether to display Active Tasks Only or show Completed Tasks. You can also define your own Category Filters to display multiple categories by selecting More… from the menu. This brings up the Category Filter and lets you pick which categories to assign to the filter. This new filter then appears on the Filter menu for you to use at any time.

    Contacts Tab
    The Contacts Tab is a compact version of the default contacts applet but with some neat extra features. All the actions you get when tapping and holding a contact in the contacts applet are there. You can tap the small contact type icon to popup the other phone numbers/email addresses for that contact and select one as the default just as you can do in the contacts applet.

    What you can’t do in the default contacts applet is use the fantastic predictive search capability built into the contacts tab. Simply start typing the name of the contact using the standard letter groupings at the bottom of the screen and the contacts tab starts filtering all your contacts. This is similar to what the Smartphone OS does, but is one thing that is a definite improvement over the default contacts app .

    Then when you have found the contact you want, simply tap and hold to bring up a list of actions for that contact. The actions list is filtered based on what fields the contact has entries in and what the capabilities of your device are. For example, Pocket PC Phone Edition devices get Dial entries in the popup menu whereas non phone-capable devices don’t, etc.

    One downside that I did notice with the Contacts Tab was that it sometimes took a long time to refresh when you had a large number of contacts on your device. This could have been related to the fact that I was using a pre-release version of the software.

    What is there to say about the Options in Spb Diary? There are a lot of them. Far too many to go into any detail about here suffice to say that if there’s something you think you’d like to change then there’s probably an option for it.

    Some notable items though…

    Here you specify the height (in pixels) you want the plugin to be (from 80-300 pixels), which PIM you want Spb Diary integrated with (it supports all the most popular), whether the header is minimisable or not and what action to take (Open or Edit) when you double-tap an item. You can also specify the font you want to use and control the way the plugin displays dates.

    Here you control what is displayed in the Calendar tab and how it is displayed. You can also select which icons to display for each item and which one to display at the left-hand side.

    Tasks and Contacts
    Again, control what to display and how to display it for the Tasks and Contacts tabs.

    Category Icons
    Here you can assign an icon to a category. These icons are displayed on the main tabs next to the item.

    Nice Features
    Here's a quick summary of some of the really useful features in Spb Diary that appealed to me:

  • Tapping and holding on entries gives you nearly every standard action you can perform with that type of item (and a few extras besides).
  • It is really easy to change the reminder times on tasks to something other than the default 8:00am. Simply tap the little alarm bell icon next to the task and up pops a dialog that lets you specify which day (up to the due date) and time you want to be reminded.
  • It is extremely simple to reschedule an appointment or task from the context menu. Simply tap-and-hold, select reschedule and enter the new date and time (for and appointment) or even easier for a task click on the new day to reschedule to. Couldn’t be easier!
  • Search feature in contacts: Uses predictive text to narrow down your contacts list quickly to find the one you want.

  • Nice, clean layout that’s easy to read.
  • Great functionality from the context menus on each item.
  • Good control over layout and display through options settings.
  • Predictive search feature in contacts
  • Can set the reminder time for tasks on your device (rather than in Outlook). Hooray!
  • Integrates with the most popular Windows Mobile PIM software. Not just Pocket Outlook.

  • Screen width slightly restrictive with the tabs down the side. No option to move them elsewhere.
  • With a lot of contacts on your device, the contacts tab can sometimes take a while to refresh the list.
  • D-pad navigation functionality needs a bit more work.

    Personal Opinion
    I’ve been a user and fan of PocketBreeze for a long time now and I was initially sceptical of Spb Diary. Spb Diary seemed very similar to PocketBreeze in many ways but initially I didn’t think that the layout provided enough screen real estate to give me a good view of all my appointments and tasks with the tabs down the side (Pocketbreeze puts them across the top). But after using Spb Diary for a few days now, I think it’s going to stay on my device. The much greater functionality that the context menus give you far outweighs the minor inconvenience of losing some screen space at the side for the tabs.

    Basically, I think the developers at Spb Software House have done an great job of making a Today plugin that gives you the ability to manage your appointments, contacts and tasks without having to leave your Today screen at all.