SplashData has recently released another in their wide line of productivity tools for Palm users. I�ve been a long-time fan of their suite of products including SplashPhoto, SplashID, SplashWallet and SplashShopper, so my expectations were high for this new product. In this collaborative era of wiki-knowledge and groupthink, SplashData bills this product in their external communications as �a software tool aimed at helping people outline and organize everything from work projects, meeting agendas and speeches to class notes and event plans.�
Perhaps I expected too much from SplashNotes before I took it for a test drive. I had anticipated a Palm-based application that might actually stimulate the process of brainstorming and group collaboration. What I discovered was more of a brain sprinkle instead of a storm. The software itself is an adequate note-taking and outlining tool, but it offers little in the way of stimulating the creative process. I chalk that up to user error, not the fault of the developers.
So let�s take a look at the application itself and what it does well, outlining and organizing your thoughts in a format which can fairly easily be transferred between your Palm and your PC or between handhelds.
Installation was simple and straightforward. The application takes up about 350k on your handheld and promises to eat up about 10k more for each list you save, so it�s not much of a memory hog. The installation includes the application for both the Palm platform and for PC, as well as a 20 page user guide in pdf format. And that�s a good thing, because the software isn�t exactly intuitive from the menu command on the Palm, so it�s definitely mandatory to RTM. (For my first review on www.geardiary.com I�ll be on my best behavior and remove the �F� from �RTFM.� Oops.)
I personally found the PC application much easier and faster to use for outlining due to the limitations of my Treo�s keypad, but again that is not the fault of the good folks at SplashData. More on that later.
One immediate fear I noticed upon opening my first trial outline was that the first command under the Outline menu window was �Delete Outline.� Although it does ask you to confirm deletion first, could it be possible to accidentally delete all your work simply by hitting the center button in an attempt to leave the menu? Yes, I did.
A clever option under the preferences was a check box you could select for �Lefty� mode. This moves all of the scroll bars to the left side of the Palm�s screen so that they will not be blocked by a southpaw�s hand. Although my curve ball breaks to the right, I might leave that option on since I occasionally like to scroll with my left thumb while I type with my right hand. Not while driving, I swear.
Starting an outline is fairly simple, although it did help to have the User Guide printed out and sitting in my lap while I worked. Figure you need to add about four bucks to the price of the software for 1/10 of an inkjet cartridge for that one. I found it easy to simply list items in memo or single-level outline form, but since there is no easy way to tab on a Treo without using the Keyboard menu, it was difficult to nest sub headings under the main topics. It turns out that you have to tap on the bullet for the item that is lower down the hierarchy and then use your arrow keys to nest it deeper or shallower in the list. i.e. I-A-1-a-i
In the PC version, it was much easier as the use of the Tab and Reverse Tab keys allowed you to set up the outline as you type as opposed to regurgitating all of your ideas in the order that you think they need to be expressed. However, the Palm edition does have a nice drag and drop feature that makes this sort of rearranging a less cumbersome feature. I just prefer to organize my thoughts as I write. When I was a History major in college, my idea of a rough draft was the first draft before I ran the spell checker.
As a substitute for Palm�s native Memo application, I�d say SplashNotes is an upgrade. The ability to group and sort memos and the attractive, easily readable format in which they are presented will probably lead me to make this my go-to notepad for the time being. You can also attach notes and drawings to your outlines to illustrate or illuminate specific topics.
One caveat though, the sample illustration which is included with the software probably isn�t an accurate representation of what you can really do with the freehand image editor. I know my old Treo doesn�t have the resolution of some newer models, but when I tried to reproduce this image, it looked more like the work of a third grader being held in from recess.
Whether you choose to work on the Palm or the PC, SplashNotes can synch the outlines between the platforms or export them to a Word file. If you do try to transfer them to Word, none of the notes or drawings will be attached and the formatting of the outline will be significantly altered. I also noticed that the title of the outline appeared twice at the beginning of the Word file. Perplexed, I looked this up in the user guide. Sure enough, in my own Hewlett Packard ink it clearly stated, �the title of the outline will appear twice in a memo.� Great�but why? In the time it took to add that to the manual, you�d think someone might have been able to fix that little bug.
As is normal for most Palm applications, you cannot print directly from SplashNotes unless you have third party software like PalmPrint from Stevens Creek Software or TealPrint from TealPoint Software. If the idea of using this sort of application is to collect information and then distribute it, then the ability to print it out directly would be appreciated. Luckily, there are always the options of exporting to other formats or beaming between other Palms with the software resident in their libraries.
Again, I don�t think that most of the weaknesses I have pointed out are necessarily the shortcomings of the software. Rather they are disappointments in how I hoped it might work for me. So who would benefit from using SplashNotes more than I did?
On their website, SplashData recommends SplashNotes for:
- Busy people to stay on top of detailed to do lists
- Managers to track projects and people
- Teachers and professors to create lesson plans and monitor student progress
- Students to take fast, organized notes
- Salespeople to stay on top of clients and opportunities
- Computer support professionals to create trouble-shooting checklists
- Doctors and nurses to create and keep track of patient progress and treatment
- Anyone who wants to set goals, plan events, and generally get more organized
I can see how a teacher might use this application for repetitive lesson planning, daily and weekly schedule templates and student assessment. My significant other is a kindergarten teacher and sometimes it seems like her entire life is a big �to do� list. I just hope she doesn�t check me off any time soon.
I don�t think this program will ever replace medical transcriptionists in the health care industry, but it might be a useful product in concert with tablet PC�s to keep checklists and standard procedures at hand.
One situation where I think SplashNotes might be incredibly useful would be for keeping track of notes as part of a brainstorming or forward planning process. I�ll bet we�ve all been through at least one of these sessions where either a company we work for or possibly a charitable organization tells us to come to a half day meeting and �bring a snack and an open mind.� At that point, you can pretty much expect that you�ll be playing with Legos and writing on some of those big Post-it notes on a wall all afternoon.
Part of the process is inevitably the unfiltered compiling and organizing of ideas and priorities. Someone writes as fast as they can and then it is the job of the participants to sort them out and organize them. SplashNotes would be great at facilitating a process like this. Unfortunately, the Palm version simply won�t allow for fast enough inputting to keep from slowing everyone down. But I could definitely see using the PC platform and then synching up to individual handhelds so that everyone has an immediate record of what was discussed and decided. Sometimes the worst part of going to one of these retreats (other than the healthy snack) is the loss of momentum between the process and the subsequent report out and call to action.
Handheld computing�s portability allows for immediacy and transportability of data. That is what SplashNotes does best.
SplashNotes is available directly from SplashData�s website for purchase through Handango.
What I Like: The ease and attractive display of memos. The ease of use of the PC platform edition.
What Needs Improvement: Help functions for the handheld application. Ease of input when using Palm platform.
Images courtesy of SplashData.com