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ALON Contact Guide: Streamlining Contact Navigation Print E-mail
Written by Richard Bloor   
Thursday, 18 August 2005
Is there a better way to navigate contacts on a UIQ or Series 60 phone? ALON software believe there is and have created Contact Guide to prove it. Are they right? We find out in this review of the UIQ implementation.

When a developer embarks on choosing applications to develop trying to outdo one of the built in applications might not be the first choice; but this is exactly what Alon Software has done with its Contact Guide application.

Available for Sony Ericsson's UIQ smartphones and a range of Nokia Series 60 devices, Contact Guide is designed to provide a more streamlined, yet powerful way of interacting with your contacts list. To find out if this is true we get to grips with the UIQ version running on a Sony Ericsson P910i.

Opening Contact Guide for the first time could easily leave you thinking you were simply looking at the standard P910i contacts application. However it soon becomes clear that there is something different at work here.

Standard Contacts (left) and Contact Guide (right).

The first difference is contacts navigation. Rather than the jogdial stepping through contacts one by one Contact Guide has a two stage action. In the first stage the jogdial scrolls contacts page-by-page then, following a press on the jogdial, it switches to a contact-by-contact scroll (highlighting the selected contact as it goes). This a significant improvement for large contact databases, as it makes single handed navigation much more practical. Should you wish to use the alphabetic search tabs Contact Guide automatically go into the contact-by-contact scroll mode when a tab is selected. However, if this new capability leave you thinking the alphabetic tabs are superfluous Contact Guide allow you to turn them off.

The second big difference with Contact Guide is searching. Rather than providing a simple string search, in a separate window, Contact Guide performs a search based on the ITU alphanumeric keypad. Each key press matches contacts to the keys assigned letter, so 5 matches all contact details (including personal and company names) starting with J, K or L. As each key is pressed, via an onscreen keypad when the flip is open, the contact list is dynamically filtered. (The original contact search, which allows data to be found in any of the contact record fields, is also available in Contact Guide.)

Contact Guide really comes into its own when the flip is closed. Here you get the same fast scrolling and filtered search, a real improvement in navigation. There are also useful features such as the ability to view birthdays and filter contacts by category.

In fact categories are significantly improved in Contact Guide. Unlike the standard contacts you have the ability to add a contact to multiple groups, providing excellent flexibility in organizing contacts.

There is also a very handy "Last" category which is useful for redialing someone other than the last person called. It is also possible to assign a ring tone to a groups.

Once a contact has been opened Contact Guide provides full access to calls, SMS and MMS as well as email and web pages (in flip open only). It also provides the ability to view and edit a contacts notes in flip closed mode too.

Contact Guide provides extensive options for determining what is displayed in the contact details with separate options for both flip open and closed views. It also has option to reassign the three external keys: power, camera and browser, to any application on the device. One tip though, don't put Contact Guide on the power key in both modes or you loose a way to turn off the phone.

Contact Guide provides similar sending capabilities to the standard Contacts application, with options to send a selected card and a Send Manager for sending several cards at once.

There are options to compress the contacts database, view the database properties and backup and restore the contacts database, to the phone memory or memory stick.

Contact Guide does have a couple of imperfections. For example after editing a contact you are returned to the standard contacts application, something of a disconcerting link. However generally these issues are minor and outweighted by Contact Guides advantages.

Alon Software have certainly created an application which makes accessing the P910i's contacts database much more functional. It is now practical to use a large database with one hand in either flip open or closed mode. It also adds several useful features, such as backup, birthdays and the ability to add notes in flip closed mode. So do you need it? The built in Contact application certainly works, but Contact Guide works better. If you only have a few tens of contacts Contact Guide is probably not a justifiable purchase, but if you have hundreds of contacts Contact Guide is well worth a look.

Contact Guide is available from Alon Software's Handango powered storefront for $17.95. Versions for Series 60 (both a PRO and Lite) are also available.

 


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