Monday, September 1, 2008

What's on my Blackjack: PhatNotes

Pros:

  • very fast load time
  • follows the Keep It Simple Stupid model
  • automatic update detection
  • provides quick and easy categorization of notes
  • customizable display and note sorting/organization
  • Spellchecker!
  • password protect sensitive notes

Cons:

  • can only assign 1 category per note
  • doesn't integrate with Pocket Outlook categories (i.e. it's a separate list)
  • can't insert existing tasks and appointments - can only create new ones to attach to notes

Wish List:

  • Customization on a per-database level. For example, my "home" database would have a different default category than my "work" database. 

Introduction

PhatWare PhatNotes 5.3 is a fantastic little note taking application for Windows Mobile devices.  I've been using it for a few months on my Blackjack II and am so impressed with it, I felt compelled to give it a thorough review.  In a nutshell, Phatnotes does 99% of what I want a note taking app to do and nothing else.  It's rare to find an app that blends simplicity and functionality so well! This is what Windows Notepad should have been all along!

Getting Started - Your First Note

When you fire up PhatNotes for the first time, it'll be ready for note taking before you are!  There's no fancy splash screen here - just a lightning fast load time and you're ready to go.  PhatNotes first presents you with a list of sample notes and categories.  Click the left soft key (LSK) to start a new note.  Type a few words, then click the LSK again to finish your note and save it to memory.  That's all it takes - your first note is done!

Advanced Note Taking

One of my favorite features in PhatNotes is the spell checker.  After you type a note, run the spell checker to fix up your typos.  Because of this, I'm less careful (and therefore faster) when I type notes. A quick spellcheck at the end catches most of my mistakes, and if it doesn't recognize a new word, I just add it to the dictionary for next time.

For more control over your note, click the Right Soft Key while editing for the note options menu. From here, you can specify the note's subject/title, assign and/or create new categories, specify a color, priority, and date for the note. Colors are great for quick visual categorization.  For example, when something is urgent, I assign it the color red so it catches my eye while I'm scrolling through my notes list.

If basic text doesn't do it for you, you can also edit font and paragraph layout options such as indentation widths, line spacing, paragraph spacing, etc. For some reason, I only see 1 available font to choose from in the fonts menu, but you can choose font size as well as the standard bold / italic / underline / strikethrough renderings. Although Windows Mobile Standard Edition doesn't have built-in selection or copy/paste, PhatNotes gives you these options to ease editing and font formatting.

For even more fun, you can insert voice attachments, files, reminders, contacts, appointments, or tasks to notes.  You can also link notes to other notes, though I haven't quite found a great use for that feature yet (have you?). I was a little disappointed I couldn't insert existing appointments or tasks to notes; you can only create new ones. Once you've saved a note, you can send it via IR or e-mail from the main notes list. You can also receive notes from others via IR.

Note Organization

After you've used PhatNotes as long as I have, you may have accumulated a long list of notes.  fortunately, PhatNotes allows you to filter the notes you see by Date, Text, Color, or Priority. I found it a bit odd I couldn't filter by category, but I haven't found this to be limiting. You can also sort and organize by category as well as other attributes (sorting seems to be the same as organizing, only you can specify the sort order too).

Another option for organizing your notes is to use separate note databases for different classes of notes. For example, you could use one database for work notes, and another for personal notes. You can even group databases! For an organizational nut like me, the possibilities are endless!

For the extremely prolific note writers out there, you can even search for notes using regular expressions! 

Customize Your Experience

PhatNotes' options menu allows some simple customization of the user interface.  For example, you can show gridlines in notes if you like lines, turn colors on/off, manage the date format, and choose a default category, color, and priority for all new notes.

How I Use Phatnotes

Here are some ways I'm using PhatNotes every day on my Blackjack II to keep myself more organized:

  • jotting down interesting web links to follow
  • as a shopping list
  • recording my mileage, fill-ups, etc.
  • keeping track of the ever-growing honey-do list (a great stress test for Phatnotes!)
  • tracking ideas for new blog posts
  • keeping thoughts on Windows Mobile apps I'm reviewing as I use them
  • remembering all the stuff my kids want for their birthdays

The list goes on and on...

Conclusions

I'm constantly finding new ways to use PhatNotes.  In fact, I use it so much, it usually just stays active in my BlackJack II's memory!  I've tried several other competing notes applications for Windows Mobile, and this is the first one I've felt deserved a full review on JoeFuture.com. If note taking is your thing and the built-in Notes applet just isn't cutting it, you certainly owe it to yourself to give PhatNotes a try.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

shopping list?? how can you do don't when there's no checklist?