Review of Documents To Go for BlackBerry Smartphones
Most BlackBerry users are familiar with Documents to Go. Not necessarily because they downloaded it from the top 50 list on the CrackBerry App Store, but because it comes pre-installed on most users devices. But the version that comes pre-installed might be lacking for some of your day to day tasks. The ability to create new documents right from your BlackBerry, being able to edit existing documents or spell checking in word documents might be enough to make you want to upgrade. Having the ability to sort or update charts in your spreadsheets, or delete and insert slides in your presentations might also be appealing to you. If so, read on.
Premium vs. Standard
The premium version allows you to download two addition programs to your BlackBerry that are not available in the basic version. One is the PDF to Go component, 1.5MB in size, let's view any document in the PDF format. The second component is simply called Files and has both a BlackBerry and desktop component. It's a little bit more memory friendly at just over 300 KB, but you also have to install the desktop component to your computer for it to have any value. Sorry Mac users, there is no Mac counterpart.
A better way to handle office files?
After you download the pc installer from the Dataviz website and complete the install, you will get a shortcut on your desktop that opens the Files application. But before you can start transferring files back and forth between your desktop or laptop you will have to "pair" the desktop to your BlackBerry. This is a simple process that starts up automatically on the initial desktop program launch that does require you to plug in your BlackBerry via USB cable. No wifi or ota synchronization is available at this time. After you've "paired" your BlackBerry to your computer, you can either add your documents to the folder that is setup in the files application (which is by default is stored in your documents folder under XP, Vista & Windows 7 under a sub folder called My DocsToGo) or you can select any one folder or multiple folders from anywhere on your computer to sync to the BlackBerry. You are required to press a round sync button that has arrows on it to start the sync each time. From the way it appeared I assumed that if the files app was running on the pc and the BlackBerry that the sync would start as soon as I plugged in the USB cable. I waited a minute while checking the My DocsToGo folder for my pc files before I figured out that it was not automatic.
I also noticed that the files application starts after ever reboot on my 9700. Since I don't use the syncing feature too often, I found it annoying, and there is no option to stop from starting automatically on each reboot. So I am forced, every time I reboot, to open up my task switcher, and click close, followed by yes at the prompt the warns me that I will have to restart the app to synchronize my documents if I close the app. I guess re stating the obvious is trending for even app developers these days. A remember my choice check box should have been included at least, but I would prefer to not have it up start up at every reboot. Or at least have the option to disable it.
The sync itself takes little time and I found all the folders I setup for syncing with the respective documents ended up on my BlackBerry. You can't select the folder on the media card you want the documents to end up in, and any sub folders or separation of Power Point, Excel, or Word files is not possible. All the files will be lumped in one folder which is the root of your sd card in a folder called DocumentsToGoDesktop - then a sub folder that is the name of the pc you are syncing with. If you move these synced files to different folders on your media card however, they will be restored again to this default folder on your BlackBerry next time you do a file sync as they are "missing" to the sync app.
Where are my files?
After all this setting up just to get the documents on BlackBerry, you are probably anxious to actually see or even edit one of your actual documents on the BlackBerry. Upon starting any of the four actual document modules (PDF to Go, Word to Go, Slideshow to Go & Sheet to Go), you can either open a file from a list of your recent documents, browse your memory card or internal memory for compatible files, or browse your desktop files if you have synced your BlackBerry to your pc. The browse desktop files takes you to the sync folder on your media card as there is no real-time connection to the pc.
Docs to Go Files application
Finally manuals on the BlackBerry
I started with the PDF to go module as I was anxious to know if I really could finally read my beloved manuals on my BlackBerry. I was happy to find that PDF files take only a few seconds to come up on the BlackBerry screen and look just like on the desktop, albeit smaller on my tiny 9700 screen. Formatting and colors stay intact and the text was surprisingly crisp and easy to read. Useful controls such as word wrap (mobile type view that has the document in a single column shrunk to the width of your screen); zoom and fit to screen are just a click away. But other than checking the file properties, there is not much else that can be done with this component. It is definitely great to have if you like the idea of reading any PDF right on your BlackBerry and you're nowhere near a computer, however.
Word to Go in edit mode
I decided to try Word to Go next. In fact for this review I decided to use Word to Go on the BlackBerry to write the entire review. I ended up having to use my laptop to change the layout and pictures however. The application is extremely fast to load and whether you are starting a new document or opening an existing one, it is equally fast. I found familiar tasks such as copying & pasting and spell check worked well and without any problems. Features such as tables and formatting are also available (I did not use those) as well as changing between editing and viewing modes. The one negative I did experience was during text entry. Throughout writing this, there were several times that the text I was typing in simply would not show up on screen. Sometimes it would eventually "catch up", and appear, while other times the text that I had typed would not, and I would have to input the entire word, sentence or even paragraph. This may be a limited issue that is due to my BlackBerry configuration or other software I have installed or could even be due the specific OS I am running. I did find this extremely irritating and would definitely influence my decision as to whether I would write long documents using the software. A quick Google search did find users that experienced some sort of lag with the Dataviz suite, however none where identical to my problem.
A multimedia slideshow on your BlackBerry?
The next module that I tried out was Slideshow to Go. After choosing to open one of those joke type slideshows I had received in an email, which I'm sure a lot of you also receive, the first thing I noticed is that the slideshow does not have any sound. This is another big disappointment since I can't remember the last time I got one of those crummy inspirational power point emails that didn't have sound in the form of a piano playing song throughout the whole slideshow. The other thing I noticed that the slideshow does not advance automatically like it does on the desktop. A simply click takes you to the next slide, but you are forced to have your hand on the BlackBerry the whole time as opposed to the no clicks experience of a movie or true multimedia slideshow that has the next slide timing setup from start to end. It can get a bit tedious for large slideshows. There is an indicator at the top right that indicates how far you are along in the presentation however, and is nice to see. You can either use the trackpad (ball) to go forward and back through the slides or use the n & p keyboard shortcuts. You can view an outline of the slideshow, change the zoom or view slide notes, and with the premium version you can delete a slide, edit the slide text, as well as select a slide sorter that lets you change the order of the slides. If you create a new slideshow, it allows you to create new slides with text and change the formatting of that text, however I was again disappointed to find there was no way to put pictures that you have on your BlackBerry into your newly created slideshow. Starting a new file was not as fast as opening an existing slideshow stored on the media card, but still well under 30 seconds. You can select, in the options, whether file will be saved in the MS PowerPoint 97-2004 format or the newer 07-2008 one.
Opening or starting a new presentation
Excel in your pocket
The final component in the premium version I tried was Sheet to Go. Depending what OS your BlackBerry came with (if you haven't upgraded) you may or may not have the basic version. Not only does the premium version include the ability to view you Microsoft spreadsheets, you will also be able to do some basic editing. Now I'll admit I'm not a big spreadsheet user so I didn't spend much time with this module. Users familiar with spreadsheet functions will appreciate functions such as being able to insert cells, sorting of cells and the favorite AutoSum feature. Using the menu you can switch between worksheets and view categories that have Excel like functions. Being able to display a graph on your BlackBerry is a nice touch.
The version I reviewed was 2.0004 and is the latest at the time of this writing. It includes bug fixes found in previous versions that mostly relate to the premium version as well as if your edition is activated over BES. Dataviz states that this version is also compatible with the Kodak Print App, which Kodak state is coming soon. International users will like the fact that Docs to Go now supports 29 languages including Arabic, Simplified and Traditional Chinese & Russian. Another feature that some users may miss however is the support for .odf files (open document format) , so if you use Open Office to create documents, you won't be able to view them on your BlackBerry with Documents to Go; basic or the premium version.
You will have to uninstall any version 1.xxx of the software you may have on your BlackBerry, whether it was pre-installed or if you have recently updated to any version pre version 2. A restart of the BlackBerry is required after the install. The download without the extra PDF and Files components takes up huge 3.8 MB. This is by far one of the larger applications on my 9700 by far. You may have to delete some other apps if your low on memory to start with if you want to take advantage of the new version 2 and even more if you want the additional components offered in the premium version.
Dataviz is offering an Independence Day special right now that is good until July 11-2010 for $17.76 (regular price is $49.99) for upgrading your pre-installed version 1. That's a 64% discount. You will have to register your copy first, but it is free and takes less than a minute to complete from you BlackBerry. The discount is only available for purchase direct from their website. You can also the standard edition from BlackBerry App World which includes a 30 day trial you can activate any time. Of course the app can be purchased from the CrackBerry App Store.
If you've been thinking about getting the premium version, now may be the time. Despite missing some features I assumed would be present in an app labeled "premium", I would say that if you can get it at its current special price, it is well worth for being able to edit your documents as well as viewing your PDF files while being able to sync with your desktop. I would, however, like the missing features I mentioned to be included, if I were to pay the $49.99 regular price. Perhaps Dataviz should sell the current version as the enhanced version for $19.99 and incorporate the missing features into a true premium version for $49.99. I'm sure that would make a lot of us BlackBerry users happy.
** This review was written as part of the CrackBerry Idol 2010 competition. Click for details. **