Windows Phone Thoughts: PocketDay v1.0.3 Review

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Monday, April 21, 2003

PocketDay v1.0.3 Review

Posted by Don Tolson in "SOFTWARE" @ 08:00 AM

If you're looking for an alternative PIM to handle Calendar, Tasks, and Contacts which has more power, functionality and flexibility than Pocket Outlook, you may want to take a look at PocketDay by Mark Tirschwell. It's not quite as all-encompassing as Pocket Informant, but it does have a simple, straightforward look and feel. The unseen beauty, however, is that it's written on the .NET framework! As far as I know, it's the only commercial PIM available under .NET! Take a look....

The most important function of my PDA to me is the PIM. I've always been on the lookout for something better than Pocket Outlook. Pocket Outlook is okay, but the interface is rather simplistic and it has very limited customization capabilities. I also found it just wasn't presenting all the information I wanted at one time, in a useful format. I tried Pocket Informant (version 3) for about a week and a half, but here I found there was too much for me to handle, and I couldn't get the interface to display the way I wanted or expected it to. There was just so much on the screen that I couldn't deal with it all, and some of the icons got too small for me to consistently select. I know, I know, this may border on heresy to some, but I needed something in between these two extremes. Enter PocketDay....

Here we go again...
For those who have read my previous reviews (PocketRadio and PocketMusic) you'll know that I have a propensity to get into a new product at its very early release stages -- either during its beta test or pre-release. I don't know, I just love playing with new stuff before it's completely polished. With PocketDay by Mark Tirschwell, I was fortunate to see a very early version of the product, when Mark was beginning to float the idea of a PIM for Pocket PC, based on the .NET framework. I liked his initial concepts for the interface, and sent him a note with encouragement and some ideas I was hoping could be incorporated into the next version. To my happy surprise, Mark sent back an email with a new version, including fixes for the bugs I found, and most of the changes I had suggested! Next began an on-going communication of new test versions and suggestions. I understand Mark had quite a few members of our Pocket PC community responding to him, which is good to hear. Apparently, Pocket PC Thoughts is one of his favorite sites! (totally unsolicited plug, Jason!)

During the last week of March, Mark released version 1.0 of PocketDay -- the first 'official' release. It has now become my primary PIM interface, and the one I show off to friends as they ask to look at my Palm Pilot (ouch!!!).

PocketDay is shipped as a .zip file which, when extracted, consists of four parts:
  • Installation instructions
  • Microsoft's .NET framework for Pocket PC (ARM & XScale processors) in a CAB file
  • A Readme file, which describes basically what's in the version you have
  • A CAB file (marked .ARM) containing the program
Installation of PocketDay consists of copying the CAB files to your Pocket PC, then tapping on the files to execute them. As per Mark's instructions, you need to install the .NET framework first, then PocketDay. I would highly recommend doing a soft-reset in between installation of the two programs -- just to ensure the registry is properly set.

Because of the CAB file installation, I wasn't able to get precise sizes for memory requirements of the two portions. However, the size of the .NET framework CAB file is approximately 2.3MB, while the PocketDay CAB file is about 447KB. (Imagine, one of Microsoft's frameworks taking up more space than the application! :-))

Beware!! I do not recommend attempting to copy the CAB file to a memory card, then running the installation from there. I tried that, and the installation did not complete properly. Mark and I are chasing this down now, but for the meantime copy both CAB files to main memory, then install them one-by-one from there.

After a successful installation, you should see an icon, similar to the one shown at the top of this review, on your Programs menu.

I really like the look and feel of Pocket Day, from the overall layout to the fonts used. The displays presented seem very natural to me -- just the way I'd expect them. It has a simple, uncluttered feel to it which I much prefer to Pocket Outlook. One of the neat features of PocketDay is that through the Options menus, you can also change much of the look and feel to customize it to your own preferences.

But let's go through each of the main functions of PocketDay...

When you run PocketDay, the first screen you will see is the About screen shown below.

Figure 1: PocketDay's About screen

Once you register your version of PocketDay, this screen will flash by very quickly, rather than waiting for you tap the Continue button at the bottom of the screen.

PocketDay defaults to start with the single day Agenda view shown below. You can change this however, using the Options selections.

Figure 2: Single Day Agenda View

The version shown here is the 'One Line Display' per item agenda, which is the default. It's not really one line, since as you can see from the screen shot, if the description takes up more than one line, PocketDay will wrap to two (or more) lines. I appreciate that the All Day events are put right up at the top. On this view Tasks are shown along with the appointments in the Calendar. You can select whether Tasks with no due date are included in this display via the Options selected (more on these later).

Going along the top bar, the down arrow located to the left of the date being displayed presents the standard calendar gadget which lets you select a new date to display (very handy). The date displayed is a fixed format -- there is no way to modify it at this point. Beside the date are three icons representing the single day, week, and month views. Examples of each are shown in the screenshots below.

Figure 3: PocketDay -- Weekly View

There is also an alternate weekly view, which is more vertically oriented, rather than horizontal.

Figure 4: PocketDay -- Alternate Weekly View

In the weekly view, if you tap on the day separator, you are taken to the single day agenda view for that day and if you tap on one of the entries, the Outlook standard full-screen appointment is displayed, complete with the notes associated with the appointment. PocketDay also provides the option to have the notes displayed with the appointments on the single day or weekly views.

One of the neat features of going to the weekly view from the daily agenda is that display is automagically pre-positioned at the current day of the week, even though an entire week is available via the scroll bar at the right. If you go to the next week from this view, the display is repositioned at the Monday. This seems natural and expected to me, but it may be different for others.

Figure 5: PocketDay's Monthly View

Getting to the Monthly view can sometimes take a moment or two, especially if like me, you have a lot of appointments in a given month. I'm a consultant, and I use the Calendar to track not only my meetings, but also the time I've spent with various clients so that I can fill out my timesheets at the end of the week. For my own CYA, I also keep all my appointments for at least a year, so there's a lot of material to go through. What is displayed is the full month in 'normal' calendar mode, with clock faces showing the already scheduled time during the day -- left half for morning appointments, right half for afternoon/evening appointments and full for all day events or appointments in both halves.

In the monthly view, if you tap one of the days, you move to the single day agenda view for that day. Unfortunately, there's no way to go directly to a particular week from the monthly view. You have to tap on a day first, then tap on the weekly view.

Getting back to the top bar, after the view icons comes the familiar Go To Today icon (the arrow pointing into the box). The Right and Left arrows next to the Today icon are used to move to the previous or next day, week, or month -- depending upon your current view.

Going along the bottom bar, the New menu provides options to directly create a new Appointment, Task or Contact. The Tools menu provides:
  • a switch to show Completed Tasks
  • access to the Options screens (more on this later)
  • access to the Registration screen for PocketDay and
  • a link to the About screen, which is basically the same as the Disclaimer screen I described earlier.
Next to the Tools menu are icons to take you directly to the Agenda, Tasks, and Contacts portions of PocketDay.

The Tasks view of PocketDay shows all incomplete tasks, including their due dates. For me, this is a good thing/bad thing. I like it because it shows me what's coming up in the future, but there are times when I only want to see the things I really have to deal with now. A lot of my tasks are simply To Dos with no due date, as reminders. It would be handy to have a view of the tasks which only shows those with no due date or which are already overdue.

Figure 6: PocketDay's Tasks View

Figure 7: Tasks View using highlight colour as background

Along the top are two dropdown boxes. The first selects a Category which can be used as a filter to display only certain tasks. Unfortunately, PocketDay doesn't seem able to pick these up from the categories assigned in a desktop version of Outlook. The task has the category assigned from Outlook, but the dropdown doesn't add it to its list automatically. You need to add these from the Options screens.

The second dropdown box is for the Sort Order for the Tasks. In version 1 of PocketDay, the options are DueDate and Priority. Currently, I prefer the Due Date option, but I wish there was a way to have the tasks with no due date (open-ended) show up at the beginning of the list, rather than at the end.

Each entry in the list has a 'Completed' box at the left, and can be highlighted (again, using the Options screens) by a colour --- either as the text of the item, or as the background stripe behind the text. Tapping any entry will take you directly to the full-screen review of the Task, just as in Pocket Outlook.

The Contacts screen (shown below) is pretty similar to the one provided in Outlook, but again with some extras that make it more usable.

Figure 8: PocketDay's Contacts View

The top bar provides the following:
  • a search box for inputting text to search on the name
  • a CLR button to clear the contents of the search box and
  • a drop down box to select the sort order for the contacts list.
Currently the options available for sorting are File As (which uses the way the records were stored in the database and is the fastest; First Name; Last Name; and Company.

Next is the familiar 3-letter select box which, when tapped, allow you to go directly to a portion of the list. Tapping the 'cde' box once takes you to the c's, another tap will take you to the d's, and a third tap will take you to the e's. What I like about PocketDay's display is that it only shows you the entries that match that criteria. In other words, when you tap the 'cde' box once, you only get the entries which start with c -- rather than simply positioning the display at the first c entry and continuing on to the d's, etc.

One of the Options available (I know, I know, we'll get to those screens soon!) is to display alternating entries in the Contacts view with a different colour than the background. This makes it much easier for me to find and correlate the phone number with the entry.

Entries in the Contacts list show either the first available phone number from the entry, whether it be Home, Work or Mobile. Tapping on any entry will (as you guessed) take you to the full screen display from Pocket Outlook.

At the bottom of the Contacts view, there is a new menu entry called Category. If you have defined additional categories in your Options screens, then you can use these to filter the display of contacts.

Access to the selectable options in PocketDay is through the Tools menu at the bottom of each view. There are 5 sets of options available:
  • Agenda
  • Tasks
  • Colors
  • Category and
  • General

Figure 9: Agenda Options

On the Agenda Options tab, there are two sections -- one dealing with options for the single-day 'Agenda' view, and the other for the Weekly view. Most of the options are fairly self explanatory, but a couple probably need some further explanation. Selecting the One Line Display for Agenda view causes the start and end times of each appointment to be displayed to the right of the description, instead of below. With long descriptions, (as shown in the example at the top of the review) the description will be wrapped to a second line. I'm not sure why you'd really NOT want to see recurring appointments. I know I do, since most of my meetings are regularly scheduled ones. The 'Show Items w No Due Date' refers to Tasks.

In the Week View section, there is the option to select the Alternate Week view, as described above, plus the ability to determine how many days are shown in each week. PocketDay assumes the start of the week is Monday and there is no way to alter this (yet). So, if you select to display 5 days, you will see Monday through Friday only. You would have to specifically go to the Sunday or Saturday (via down arrow beside the date) to see that day plus the 5 days after.

Figure 10: Task Options

On the Task Options tab, again, the options are self-explanatory. The Use Colors as Foreground Color selection allows you to select whether your colour is applied to the text itself (when it's ticked) or as a background to black text (when it's not selected).

Figure 11: Color Options

The Color Options tab lets you change the colours of various separators and Task entries within PocketDay. To change the colour, you tap on one of the entries in the list at the top of the screen -- the name of the entry should then appear in the boxed area. Then scrolling through the selection of colours in the bottom half of the screen, you select the colour you want by tapping on it.

Figure 12: Category Options

Using the Category Options is a bit tricky in PocketDay -- mostly because of the lack of integration with the categories defined in Pocket Outlook. To create a new Category, you tap on Add New Category, and type in the name of the Category in the box provided. Then you select the default sort method for that Category, when used in the Contacts view, from the drop down box provided. After making your selection, tap on the Update button and the new category should display in the box at the top of the screen. To use the Category, it must exactly match one already assigned to a Contact or a Task, or you will have to create this category in Outlook and attach it to the Contact or Task.

Figure 13: General Options

On the General Options tab, this is where you can tell PocketDay to use Microsoft's Clear Type font enhancements (I don't really notice the difference on my display); select the default view when PocketDay is started up; define a pre-filter for Contacts; and set the sizes of text for all the various views.

Response Time
The response time isn't too bad, and it's been getting better and better with each release. While it's quite reasonable with release 1 (on my J568), it's not quite as snappy as Pocket Outlook and about the same as Pocket Informant. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to convince myself (or my dearly beloved, who holds the keys to the bank account) to upgrade to an XScale processor, so I can't tell you how much better it would be at 400Mhz. It's certainly good enough for daily use on my pokey 206Mhz processor.

One thing to watch for is that when you tap on the OK button at the top right, PocketDay exits completely, rather than setting itself aside, as do other Pocket PC applications. Other than that, here is a list of 'wishes' for the next version of PocketDay --
  • I wish, like PocketInformant, there was some way to make this the 'default' PIM, instead of Outlook. It would be cool to remap the Hardware buttons and the Start Menu to go to PocketDay instead.
  • Also neat would be some 'keyboard' equivalents for those of us who leave our pocket keyboards permanently attached to our units. (It's another reason why I don't want to get rid of my J568, but that is a discussion for another article)
  • It would be nice to be able to map jogger dials, etc. to next/prev day/week/month functions for moving around the calendar without having to pull out the pen
  • An ability to flip times into 24 hour format would be nice for those of us with a more military bent
  • Better integration with Pocket Outlook on the Categories side would make this feature easier to use
Where to Buy
PocketDay is available from Handango for US $15.00. [Affiliate]

According to Mark's site, PocketDay will only run on ARM and XScale processors. I only have a Pocket PC 2002 device, so I wasn't able to test it on earlier versions of the operating system. As mentioned above, the .NET framework will take approximately 2.3MB of memory and PocketDay takes about 447k. Because the program is installed from a CAB file, there is no option to install PocketDay onto a memory card. I tried moving the CAB file to my CF card, but when I activated it, it installed the programs to main memory.

This is a great PIM with lots of functionality and very reasonably priced. I would love to see it replace Outlook when the new generation of Pocket PCs come out with .NET burnt into ROM (we're seeing the first of them now with the new ViewSonic).


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