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In Search of Treo PIM Heaven Part 1: Intro, Overview & Today

The fact that it has taken me almost four days to research, test and ultimately write a comparative review of PIM applications should be indication enough of the daunting task that many Treonauts face when choosing to upgrade the standard PIM on their Treo.

I can only begin to imagine the combined millions of wasted hours that we have all spent doing this at one time or another.  I was therefore not at all surprised to find out that some 60% of Treonauts still use the standard PIM on their Treo.

I wish that I could now tell you that your search for the perfect PIM is over but I have unfortunately not found one single application that would merit this label even though all have many features and functionalities far superior to those found in our standard PIM.

As we are all well aware, getting organized is a challenge and we'll each have our own particular tricks to help us along the way.  In this respect, PIM applications have always held out the portentous promise that their use would help us to simplify and streamline both our business and personal lives and take us to 'organized heaven'.  However, considering that these applications are themselves less than perfect how could they possibly help us in our pursuit?

We are thus often bound by the 'imperfections' found in these applications and must adapt to them in order to get anything done (no pun intended).  Our quest is therefore for a tool to help make our complex lives simple.  It all sounds perfectly straightforward except for the widely acknowledged fact that transforming something complex and making it simple is damn hard.  Some have labeled this the pursuit of 'simplexity' - or the art of managing complex systems simply.

I therefore judged the suitability of these PIM applications based not on how many bells and whistles they counted but on how well they understood and delivered on the simplexity concept.  As I've stated before: "The overall use of a system is directly proportional to the ease-of-use of that system".  Stated in economic terms, "High Complexity = Low Customer Acquisition" - the developers of these applications should recognize the economic benefits that would accrue to them by jumping on the simplexity bandwagon.

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I have split my comparative review into the five PIM components (Today, Calendar, Contacts, Tasks and Notes) and selected four applications on top of the standard Treo PIM (Agendus, Beyond Contacts, KeySuite and DateBk).

Considering the length of the review, I decided to post a brief overview of each application below as well as the comparison of each of their 'Today' views.  I will follow-up tomorrow and Friday with the remaining four PIM components and post these separately as Parts 2 and 3 of this review.

Finally, please note that I am writing this from the viewpoint of someone who uses Outlook and has some 3,000 contacts, multiple folders and hundreds of categories so apologies in advance to our Mac Treonauts as well as those using Palm Desktop or another PC PIM solution if I am unable to answer questions to their particular needs.

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Overview (Standard Treo PIM)
According to our survey, many (60%) of Treonauts use the standard Treo PIM and that about half take the view that "it ain't pretty but it does the job" while the other half appears ready to make the jump to a better PIM but have simply not yet found one.

There are certainly some things to like in our Treo 650's standard PIM but in equally good measure there are many to dislike.  For example, among its greatest flaws are the inability to perform Contacts searches by company or to list them by First/Last name - things which I consider 'basics' of any PIM.

Overview (Beyond Contacts)
Beyond Contacts is undoubtedly a PIM application geared principally towards Outlook users and its main advantage lies in the fact that you'll be able to synchronise as many Calendar, Contacts, Tasks and Notes folders that you may have while also supporting unlimited categories. 

I happen to fall in this category and was greatly looking forward to the promise of a seamless replication of all of my Outlook data on the Treo.  However, you cannot perform a search across multiple Contacts folders which somewhat negates their benefit.  Were Beyond Contacts to resolve this issue alone would significantly increase the value of this application to me and the many others who use multiple Contacts, Tasks or Notes folders.

Having said this, if you are an Outlook user with only single folders but dozens or hundreds of categories then you should at the very least take Beyond Contacts for a spin since it will most likely fit your needs well.

Overview (KeySuite)
KeySuite is an application targeted at existing Oulook users supporting an unlimited number of folders (including public folders and subfolders) as well as multiple categories per item (over 250 per folder).  Close integration between Outlook and the Treo naturally makes it easier to organize data at both ends in a much more intuitive manner without wasting time with unncessary 'tweaks' to the standard Treo PIM.

KeySuite also provides the facility to synchronize multiple PC's (work/home) and to keep both sets of data separate.  However, KeySuite annoyingly and disappointingly fails to allow searches across multiple folders which again significantly reduces the appeal of this solution for those who happen to use more than one folder.  For those with only one main Outlook folder for each component it will however prove to be very interesting.

Overview (Agendus)
According to our survey, Agendus appears to be the most popular PIM application after the standard one that comes built-in to our Treo.  After testing it over the last couple of days I can now understand why.

Agendus is an excellent, slick and fully customizable PIM solution that offers some of the most innovative features and functionalities available.  However many minor issues related to full Treo-optimization hold it back from being considered a home run.

Additionally, Agendus uses the standard 'conduit' to populate its database so if you're an Outlook user with multiple folders you'll need to buy PocketMirror Professional XT (Treo 650) or PocketMirror Professional (Treo 600) for these to be available.

Overview (DateBk)
After looking at the survey results, I realize that many Treonauts use DateBk5 and rave about 'loving it' but I do not unfortunately share this view as I found it to be extremely complex and often quite counterintuitive to use.

At the same time, DateBk does not offer its own standalone Contacts application but instead uses the standard Treo one.  Also, in my opinion it provides only minimal Treo-optimization.  For these reasons, after installation, testing and considering it further I ultimately decided not to include DateBk in this review.

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Today (Standard Treo PIM)
There isn't a 'Today' section per se in the standard Treo PIM but rather an 'Agenda' view that you can access by selecting the first square case in the 'Calendar'.  I barely knew this view existed before and had never used it nor am I likely to as it is not particularly useful.

- About the only thing that I can think of that is positive in this view is the ability to modify the background with any image stored in internal memory or on your expansion card and includes a useful 'fading' option.

- One major flaw is that you can't have a 'clean' Today view because other weekly events will show up in the list and there's no Preference to remove these.
- Customization is pretty much nonexistent and this is as 'basic' a Today view as you can get
- Cannot link to another email application than Versamail (of course...) or to Contacts, Tasks and Notes
- Cannot use left/right 5Way to view next day's Today page.
- Top date display uses 'March 16' even though my default is '16 March'...

Today (Beyond Contacts)
This view unashamedly borrows from Outlook's classic look and feel and is perhaps the most 'corporate' of all applications tested.

- Very clean and simple display.
- Easy navigation (thumb or 5Way) to other PIM components

- No 5Way support to browse appointments and tasks in this view.
- Cannot select to display only due tasks and does not display total number of tasks.
- Cannot use left/right 5Way to view next day's Today page.

Today (KeySuite)
It may look bland but KeyToday provides just the right amount of information in a clean and simple view which does not 'explode' with data.

- Excellent and simple direct link to all KeySuite PIM components (bottom left arrow - but could/should be bigger for thumb access).
- PIM component icons on left link directly to relevant view.
- Can 'expand' view of appointments and tasks and states number of items.
- Left/right 5Way moves to previous/next Today page.
- Shows only Tasks with a due date and states number of tasks.
- Option to display Today on powerup after specified interval.
- Easy and simple 'New' Contact, Appointment, Task or Note within one click and easily accessible by thumb.
- Fonts options allows for large 14pt display (not shown) which is extremely useful to quickly 'absorb' the information in this view.

- Still trying to figure out why the 'Owner' information appears as default here (I know it's my Treo thank you) and what 'No Contacts' means considering that I have nearly 3,000...  Both of these can be removed in Preferences though.
- Default colors cannot be changed and aside from fonts no additional customization is available.

Today (Agendus)
Agendus boasts one main Today view (pictured) and two others called Split and List which can be accessed by a menu appearing under "1" at the bottom left of the screen.

- Fully customizable background with complete color palette or images from RAM or expansion card (no fading option though).
- Most comprehensive access to all other PIM components and views as well as easy access to 13 'New Actions' including email and SMS.
- Best utilization of bottom of the screen for easy thumb navigation.
- Clicking appointment item automatically opens relevant detail view for editing.
- Separate and full customization options for each view including extra large or extra small fonts.

- Shows future Events but does not allow change in preferences if user does not want or need this.
- States total number of Tasks and Calls due, past due and undated but does not list them.
- Not always intuitive or easy 5Way navigation.

Today 'Heaven'
There is not one of the above Today views which can be singled out as the clear winner but instead my Today 'Heaven' would ideally combine the best of the features discussed above and then add a few more that nobody appears to have thought of yet:

  • Show only appointments and tasks due on that date (but provide option to add weekly events and all tasks with no due dates)
  • Map to any default email application, show number of unread emails and link directly to application
  • Allow full display customization with larger/smaller fonts, background (images or color) as well as data options.
  • Direct 'one hand thumb-accessible' links to all other PIM components (Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, Notes) - preferably at the bottom of the screen (KS)
  • Selecting an Appointment or Task should link directly to that item's 'detail' view and another icon or link should be provided to open Calendar or Tasks view (AG)
  • Have a Calls Task list from which you can dial relevant contacts directly (NA)
  • 'Expandable' view of appointments and tasks - state number of Tasks due today, undated and past due (KS)
  • Easily navigate to next/previous day Today view using left/right 5Way (KS)
  • Full Treo-optimization and integration with the built-in phone, camera, SMS and email applications among others should be an absolute must.

Legend: KS=KeySuite; AG=Agendus; NA=Not Available

Ideally the relevant developers of these PIM applications will read our surveys, this post as well as the forthcoming sections to not only determine what it is that we are looking for but more importantly to actually make it happen in their next releases.

What other features not listed in this post would make your Today 'Heaven'?

You can download a trial version or buy any of the PIM applications reviewed here by visiting your Treonauts Software Store.  Also, you can use the promotion code TN15 to get 15% off any purchase made there throughout the month of March.

Treonauts will work to create the perfect 'Today'...

Posted by Andrew on March 16, 2005 at 03:01 PM

Treo Software | PIM

| Permalink


by Bubbler | Mar 16, 2005 4:57:09 PM

Thanks for the overview of PIMs, Andrew. I look forward to tomorrow's segment. You mentioned how well some of the candidates interact with Outlook, and I'm wondering if you can share how well, or even whether, they work with Address Book and iCal on the Mac platform? For example, I would love to find a PIM for my 650 that would keep separated each of the different calendars that I have on iCal.

by John | Mar 16, 2005 9:56:03 PM

You cant compare 'Today' solutions without including www.shsh.com's 2Day! app. It is by far the most Treo aware and customizable- including integration with almost every key Treo app out there from IM to Voice Memos. It would be a disservice to the Treo community to not include this in any comparison.

by Stephane | Mar 17, 2005 6:35:42 AM

What about A5 Agenda? It's free..

by Andrew | Mar 17, 2005 1:37:30 PM


Sorry but my Mac knowledge is somewhat lacking... I'm thinking about getting a Mac at some point though so there is hope yet :-)


I agree that 2Day is an interesting application but as it does not provide a complete PIM suite I did not include it in this review. I'll work on this separately.


I was not aware of A5 Agenda before but it does not support the Tungsten T5 and by extension I also believe that it does not properly support the Treo 650. Again, it also does not include a full PIM suite and therefore would not have been included in this review.



by Tony | Apr 1, 2005 4:38:58 PM

Good overview, but I would recommend adding something to each overview: whether the app uses the internal Palm contacts database (even though the PIM uses a different *application* to access them). I feel this is an important consideration. Apps that use their own database (KeySuite, for example) will then cause other apps not to work. Many other 3rd party apps *require* the built in database. In addition, using a separate db means that caller ID pictures no longer work, as the Phone app uses the picture field in the built in db.

The comments to this entry are closed.

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