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SmallBase: Small By Name, Not By Nature Print E-mail
Written by Richard Bloor   
Friday, 11 February 2005
SmallBase, from French developer Corisoft, may sound like a small, basic database application, but it belies its name with a host of powerful features. From simply keeping list of stuff through to mini applications SmallBase pretty much does it all.

Most users are probably not aware that their Nokia 9500 Communicator or Nokia 9300 includes a powerful database hidden away under the covers. It is used by several of the built-in applications but is not available to the user. The absence of a database application has provided the third party developer community with the chance to fill a gap.

SmallBase is one of those "gap fillers". Originally developed for the Nokia 9200 Communicator range it has recently been updated for the latest incarnation of Series 80.

Despite its name SmallBase is a big application by smartphone standards. Its capabilities include:

  • Multiple active databases.
  • Multiple tables (files) in a database.
  • A comprehensive range of data types, including a number of custom fields, for such things as telephone numbers and file lists.
  • Data filtering and record coloring.
  • Multiple column sorts.
  • Report generation.
  • Data import and export.

If all that was not enough SmallBase also has the capability to link data items either within or across tables. Once items are linked all open tables can then be filtered to show the linked records.

Databases, Tables and Data Items

Each SmallBase database file can contain any number of tables for storing data records. The table in turn can contain any number of fields for storing data records.

SmallBase supports a wide range of data types. All the basic ones such as text, numbers, Boolean, dates and times are supported. SmallBase also includes a number of extended types with special functionality, including:

  • Choices list, a user defined list of items that can be selected when entering data. The list can be displayed in the order items were entered or sorted.
  • Telephone number, which can be used to initiate a telephone call from a record.
  • File list, a list of files associated with a record, which can then be opened from a record.
  • Folder list, list of folders associated with the record, which can be opened from a record.
  • Formula, which enables calculations within a record, for example the extended price, unit price multiplied by quantity, in an order record.
  • Calc, which obtains the result from a calculation or query performed on another table. A summary of the value of all open orders, for example.
  • Variable, which can be assigned to fields in a file or used in formula and calc fields. Price could be calculated from a base price multiplied by inflation stored in a variable, for example.
  • Image file, for storing images, but unfortunately limited to Symbian OS multiple bitmap (mbm) files.

SmallBase support a wide range of data types.

It is possible to change the order of the fields at any time and all static data fields have the option to set a default value.

In addition to the content of the files SmallBase provides several features to control the display of data. These options include font, field visibility in the list or card views (described below), display of labels and the size of a field in the data entry, list display and report views. Fields hidden in the list and card views remain visible in the data entry form.

SmallBase has extensive field control options.

Views and Reporting

SmallBase provides two basic views, the list and card views.

SmallBase List View

SmallBase Card View

Each table has its own unique view with control over the percentage of the screen occupied by the card view, whether grids are shown, full screen mode selection, fonts and an activation hot key. The hotkey is very useful in databases with multiple tables, greatly improving table navigation.

The other view provided by SmallBase is the report view. Reports reproduce the list view but with separate controls over the width of fields. Reports also provide the option to sum any reported numeric fields and print a total at the end of the report.

Report view

Data Entry, Importing and Exporting

Data entry undertaken in a simple form.

Typical Data Entry Screen

In the data entry form the last Command Button, labeled Auto, performs different tasks depending on the field being edited. For example in date fields it populates the current date while for a file list field it allows files to be selected and added to the list.

The other way to populate tables is to use the Import function. This handles data from CSV, DBase, Epoc database files or other SmallBase databases. When importing from anything other than CSV the database tables are created automatically, with CSV files the table, and its fields, to store the imported data must be created before the import is performed.

Data can also be exported from a table in CSV, HTML or card view formats. The card view export is simply a text copy of the current record as seen in the card view. The CSV and HTML exports both include items in the current list view.

Data exported to an HTML view.

Finding, Filtering, Coloring and Sorting data

Once a SmallBase database has been populated with data there are several methods to locate and manipulate it. A straightforward Find option allows a record to be located based on text, numeric or time information. Options allow for control of search direction, case sensitivity, word match or whether to look in all or a specific field. A powerful feature of find is that it can also be used as a filter to display just the records matching the search criteria.

In addition to the filter on Find SmallBase provides a more advanced Filter option which uses simple SQL like "where" statements. These filters can also be dynamic. Dynamic filter work by either referencing a record in the comparison or by using variables.

Setting up a data filter.

An alternative to filtering is highlighting. Using criteria similar to filtering SmallBase allows records to be colored. Again variables can be used in comparisons.

Data can also be sorted. Sorts can use any number of columns, and provides for both ascending and descending sort orders.

Linking Records

Arguably SmallBase's most powerful feature is the ability to create links between records, either within a table or between records on different tables. Linking is not based on table joins, so it does not allow truly normalized tables to be created, it is none the less a powerful feature.

Adding a link between records.

Records are linked by simply selecting the start record and using the menu or shortcut keys to initiated the linking process, then the "link to" record is selected and the link formed, again using the menu or shortcut keys. Once a number of records have been linked the Links, Select option filters all the tables in the database to show the records linked to a selected record.

This ability to make ad-hoc links is one of SmallBase's best features (and it has many good features). Not only does it save having to formally analyze links between data when creating a database but allows new relationship to be created on-the-fly which may be both surprising and productive.

In Use

Generally SmallBase is a well thought out application. However there are one or two areas which are not intuitive. For example, when applying a filter, highlighting or sort the following is displayed:

How do you exit the screen?

Add, Edit and Delete are self-explanatory, Activate selects the filter to be applied, but how do you exit the screen? Using the escape key. Those reasonably familiar with computer conventions will find this quite quickly, but the average user could be a little frustrated.

Another issue is that filters and highlighting can only be activated from the menu, they have no shortcuts. In small "application" databases filter may be used frequently. A quick key would improve usability.

These are minor issues and generally SmallBase is well thought out and easy to use.

Conclusion

SmallBase is a powerful tool for anyone who wants to store and manipulate data on their Nokia 9500 Communicator or Nokia 9300. This review barely scratches the surface of what is possible with this flexible application. Options such as the calculation and formula fields allow powerful applications to be created. The ability to link records makes classification or cross referencing of data simple and easy.

SmallBase will suit the more technical user, someone with a little knowledge of databases would benefit most from its capabilities.

Availability

SmallBase is available for both the Nokia 9200 and Nokia www.corisoft.net. The full version costs $20 and is also available on its web site. Owners of the Nokia 9200 version can upgrade to the Nokia 9500 or 9300 version for $9.95.

The test version was 4.2. The primary test machine was a Nokia 9500 Communicator. SmallBase was also tested on a Nokia 9210 Communicator with the same results.

Last Updated ( Friday, 11 February 2005 )
 


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