Sunday, February 17, 2008

Review of IntelligentFind and FindWiz

Like many of us, I do a lot of things on my Treo 680. I listen to MP3s, watch TV shows and movies; I view and edit Microsoft Office documents and spreadsheets; I find my way around with Google Maps; I've got a Bible, a dictionary; I browse the web, send/receive email and text messages; I've got a voice recorder which is great for recording a conversation while I'm driving and can't write down some information. I do all kinds of things on my Treo 680, but the main reason I have a PDA, the single most important thing I do is not as exotic or glamorous: I manage my "life data" - personal ID info, online user IDs and passwords, family dates and obligations, the kids' doctor's appointments, work-related info, notes on speaking engagements (where, when, subject, etc...), travel information, notes to self, contacts information, to-do lists...

The built-in PIM - Contacts, Calendar, Tasks and Memos - is the primary purpose for my carrying a Treo. I throw every bit of information in there so I don't have to remember it. The challenge, however, is to FIND some piece of information if/when I need it - days, weeks or even years later. If all I had was Palm's built-in find, "good luck" would be a vain wish.

The built-in find function is so useless it makes me want to swear. Sometimes, I know I wrote something or copied an article to a memo, and I don't need to see hits from my calendar during a search. Otherwise, I may have years of event notes in my calendar, and only need to search the last three months, or specifically between two particular months, or up to 2003... with the built-in find I'm out of luck. Or, I may need to search my entire history and would like to narrow the search by using multiple words to zero in on what I'm looking for...but with the built-in? Forgetabadit.

I searched high and low, far and wide, for something better. After testing several potential replacements, two search apps rose to the top for me: FindWiz and IntelligentFind. Both have their strengths, perhaps one is right for you.

FindWiz is simply remarkable. There are enough configurable options in this app to satisfy the most technical user. Among the key things that make this app very powerful:
  • it searches databases directly rather than requiring the host app to do part of the searching. The bottom line here is that it can search pretty much any area of your device, including text messages and email;
  • it provides a case sensitivity toggle for EACH of the three search criteria, so you can change which of the criteria should be case sensitive, which should not;
  • it shows results in a split screen so you can see the context of the hit, and decide which is the information you are looking for before launching the native app. If that's not what you're looking for, you can continue by moving on to the next hit or scanning through the results;
  • it's zippy fast;
  • convenient buttons you can configure to save specific often-searched databases;
  • stores saved searches in a filing cabinet.
The sheer amount of documentation, help and support for FindWiz may seem overwhelming at first, but once familiar with the environment, it's a snap to use.

One of the few knocks on this app is it can't search parameters within an app, like, say between two specific dates in Calendar or only within specific fields in Contacts. The developer does communicate openly with the user community and is working on revisions that may include this functionality.

IntelligentFind is pretty awesome itself.

The developer has tried to depart somewhat from the typical search approach by offering two different ways to search - the typical way, where you would enter a few words or a phrase, and a new, novel way whereby you would type in a question in plain english and the app would find hits ranked by relevance. Personally, while novel, I haven't found this approach particularly useful for my purposes. But the standard approach is slick and that's what I use.

In the standard approach, IntelligentFind offers the ability to search with parameters. In Calendar, you can search a particular period of time, be it a particular month, or between two dates, etc... I love this. In Contacts, you can search different parts of the contact entry, whether various categories and/or even fields within the contact entry.

You can choose between space separator or carriage return - with the carriage return option set, you can enter any number of words and or phrases (not limited to two or three as is the case in others, or the single criteria of the built-in app) and it will only return hits that have all the criteria - this means you can really drill down to exactly what you're looking for. The hits are shown in a tab view that also shows the app in which the hit is found; clicking on the hit takes you to the entry in the app. Since it doesn't limit the search criteria, the more information you keep in your PDA, the more valuable this app becomes.

IntelligentFind searches email, which is also very cool, but I haven't successfully been able to search text messages for some strange reason. It also soft-resets my Treo a little too frequently. What's particularly irritating is that it requires me to re-enter the registration information, which is more characters long than I care to remember. This may be due in part to conflicts with other software, but FindWiz doesn't crash at all. A new version of IntelligentFind may clean this up, however in speaking with the developer it appears there will be no further revisions until Palm releases its highly anticipated new OS platform which is believed will be be based on Linux and may become available in late 2008 or early 2009. If Palm beefs up its built-in search, 3rd party search developers may be rendered moot - if not, you can bet they'll continue to provide their wares, much to the delight of users who need search muscle on their PDAs.

IntelligentFind's main strength is its interface - it's clean, pleasant, easy on the eyes. And it has its fair share of search muscle. FindWiz is a little less pretty to look at, but offers some powerful features including stability, which is important as well.

If I had to pick one, I couldn't, so I paid to register both apps. I tend to use IntelligentFind a little more often just because of the available search parameters that FindWiz doesn't offer. However, FindWiz is also highly valued for me since it handles text message searching flawlessly. Palm TX users might prefer FindWiz because IntelligentFind does not utilize the big beautiful screen TX users love about their PDA. Either way, if you juggle your life's information on your PDA, a beefed up search app can be very helpful, and these two provide enough muscle to find any bit of information you've tossed into your Palm.