Windows Phone Thoughts: Keeping Up With The Joneses: PerfectHome v1.2 Reviewed

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Friday, April 25, 2003

Keeping Up With The Joneses: PerfectHome v1.2 Reviewed

Posted by Tim Allen in "SOFTWARE" @ 08:00 AM

How confident are you that you have enough home contents insurance coverage? How much would it really cost to replace everything in a worst-case scenario? These questions have always nagged at me come insurance renewal time, and picking a rough figure out of the air just didn't seem very accurate. PerfectHome looked like it might help to provide a more scientific approach to the problem, so I was keen to try it out.



PerfectHome, from Two Peaks Software, is a collection of home-related tools: inventory/asset manager, room/location manager, task/shopping list manager, video/DVD/CD manager and loan manager. These can be used independently if you like, but obviously you gain the most benefit if you make use of them all. I looked at version 1.2.

Home Alone
The first thing you need to do is enter some basic information about your home (or homes if you're lucky enough to own more than one).


Figure 1: Entering basic information about your home

A Room With A View
The next task is to setup all the rooms and other locations in and around your house that you want to record information about.


Figure 2: The room/location list


Figure 3: Entering room information including dimensions

You can also log the colors of the walls, curtains, floors, etc - by choosing the actual color rather than just entering a description. The neat idea here is that you can then take your Pocket PC out shopping to make it easier to match furnishings in the store.


Figure 4: Selecting the actual color of a wall or floor

Needful Things
Once you've specified all the rooms in your house, you can go about filling them with all your stuff. Unfortunately this is a major chore that no application is going to relieve you of doing. Whilst you may start off keen by cataloguing every single little item, you'll quickly discover that for even the smallest home this is a huge undertaking. I ended up grouping things together and estimating the total value.


Figure 5: The inventory


Figure 6: You can specify custom categories for an asset, and which room it's in


Figure 7: Details of where and when you bought it


Figure 8: You can even add your own photo if you like

Even if you only enter basic asset details - like I did - it's a very slow process, not aided by the fact that you can't make the location and category sticky: you have to select these each time you add a new item. Two Peaks says you should use the accompanying desktop version (see below) for the bulk data entry, but to me this seems to defeat the whole purpose of a handheld application that you can take round with you from room to room.

Once you have a complete inventory (I ended up with roughly 150 entries), PerfectHome will give you the magic number - how much it's all worth in total.

Videodrome
As an extension of the home inventory, PerfectHome provides a more customized asset screen to enable you to catalogue your video, DVD and CD collections.


Figure 9: Entering a video, DVD or CD

This only allows you to enter the most basic information and doesn't go into anywhere near enough detail for the serious collector. Similarly there's a simple 'Recommend Movie' feature, but all you can do is search by genre.

The Odd Job
You can also use PerfectHome as a simple to do list for DIY items as well as a shopping list.


Figure 10: The task list, showing shopping tasks only

Pre-defined tasks and shopping list items are supplied, but you can easily add your own.


Figure 11: Creating a new shopping item

Whilst these features may be useful, they are pretty simplistic and are unlikely to replace the many more advanced to-do list or shopping list applications on the market. Even worse, there's no attempt to link the tasks to the rest of the home data you've entered. For example, I'd expect to be able to add a task such as 'Buy paint for study' and have the application tell me how much I needed based on the room dimensions I've already entered.

The Loan Ranger
There's also a loan management tool that allows you to track your mortgage and any other loans you may have. This includes amortization, loan comparison and basic 'what if' analysis of the impact of making extra payments. This is all fine if you have a repayment mortgage where you're actually paying off the principal, but I'm saddled with an endowment mortgage so this feature is not a great deal of use to me.


Figure 12: The loan manager

O Brother, Where Art Thou?
PerfectHome is also available in an identical desktop version, although this does cost extra. You can synchronize your home data between the desktop and Pocket PC versions.


Figure 13: Synchronizing with the Pocket PC

Whilst we're on the subject of data, it's worth noting that you can store your home data file on the Pocket PC in your My Documents folder, so it gets backed up automatically.

Gotchas
  • I found inventory data entry quite slow and cumbersome. It should be possible to enter assets by room or by category without having to re-select these every time.
  • Also on the inventory, you can't filter the list by location and get a subtotal value of items in a single room.
  • Similarly you can't sort or group rooms and locations by floor or region, such as indoor/outdoor.
  • When specifying room colors it's difficult to match them to the actual color as you have to drag individual RGB sliders rather just picking from a color chart.
  • To edit an asset or location, you have to tap and hold on the item in the list, wait for the pop-up menu and select Properties. The ability to double-tap or a simple properties icon would be so much easier and quicker.
  • The application did crash on me twice in the shopping list section, but having reported it to the developers I was unable to reproduce it, so can't really say what the cause was. It could have just been my setup, but having said that I can't remember the last time I had a crash like this.
Where To Buy
The software can be downloaded from Handango or purchased for $19.95 for the Pocket PC edition only or $35.00 for PerfectHome Suite which includes both Pocket PC and Desktop editions (affiliate link). A trial version is available.

Specifications
This program will work on any Pocket PC or Pocket PC 2002 device and takes up 577Kb of RAM on the device. It can be installed to a storage card, but this does significantly affect performance.

Conclusions
Whilst PerfectHome did enable me to meet my initial objective - I discovered that I was under-insured to the tune of 10,000 - I can't say I really enjoyed using it, and I could have achieved the same end with a spreadsheet. Similarly the other tools in PerfectHome really don't add enough 'bundle' value to compete with more specialized shopping list managers, video catalogue managers or financial calculators.

I'm always a bit wary of suite-style applications like this which bundle together a number of relatively simple tools and attempt to position the resulting whole as something a lot more than the sum of its parts. Now maybe there's just not enough meat in the home-related application space to warrant a killer application, but with a bit more effort on the usability front to speed up data entry, the addition of more advanced features in the existing tools and more integration between them, PerfectHome could be so much better.

So if you're serious about DIY, or you make a living out of renovating properties, or you're a landlord with many houses to look after, then PerfectHome could be worth a look - but even so I suspect you'll find it wanting. For the average home-owner like myself, though, I think it's just too expensive for what it offers.

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