SplashID 4 ReviewBy: Tim Carroll
August 17, 2007
Back in the dark days before the invention of the PDA, primitive humans had few options other than their own memory when it came to storing their personal data. Some innovative tribes, like the Narwaak of Africa, used an ingenious system of clay tablets and stone stylii, but these had serious stability issues – especially in wet weather – and didn't provide the portability that was essential to the nomadic lifestyle. After the well-publicised security scare of 1300 B.C. - in which the rival Habeen clan raided the Narwaak library and used the subsequently stolen credit card details to order stylish new mammoth-skin outfits from the famed storehouse of Amazonia - this system was abandoned, and humanity once again entered a dark age of forgotten login details and passwords scrawled on the backs of hands.
Fast-forward to the present day. Mobile software developers SplashData have recently released version 4 of their popular personal data keeping application, SplashID. SplashID came along too late for the Narwaak, but just in time for the information era. It's secure, has both desktop and handheld components and carries a price tag of $29.95 (or $9.95 for owners of earlier versions). Is it worth it? Read on for the full review...
The SplashID installer comes wrapped up in a standard Windows executable. When you run it, you’ll be taken through the usual EULA and installation path screens, and asked whether you’d like to set it up for all Hotsync IDs on your system or a specific one of your choosing. After that, you just need to run a Hotsync to complete the installation. And you’re ready to go...
The Narwaak Would Be, Like, So Jealous
The first time you run the handheld SplashID, you’ll be prompted to enter your registration code. If you choose not to or haven’t purchased a key, you’ll begin a 30-day trial. A short Getting Started guide will greet you after this, which succinctly explains the various views and how to set a password for the app (after all, as it reminds you, SplashID is all about security).
Once you’re in the app proper, you’re presented with the main screen. The ubiquitous drop-down Category picker along with an ID type menu is located at the top of the screen next to the title bar. As is par for the course with Palm OS apps, tapping the title tab will bring up extra menus: in this case, Options and Preferences. Underneath these are the column headers, which you can customise via the Prefs menu. By default the Icon, Description, Field 2 and Note columns are displayed. Tapping on any of these headers will re-order the records by that header in ascending or descending order, and you can tap ‘n drag to resize the columns however you like.
SplashID’s main screen is thoughtfully pre-populated with several sample IDs, in order to give you an idea of all the different kinds of information it can store. Unfortunately SplashData have gone a bit overboard with these: there are 17 samples in total, and if you’re like me you won’t be using half of those types of record anyway. (Calling cards? Phone numbers? Isn’t that what Contacts is for?) This wouldn’t be such an irritant if it wasn’t for the fact that deleting records is a four-step process: you need to select the record, tap the summary screen to edit it, then tap the delete button, then confirm the deletion. Thus, in order to clear out all the sample records, you’ll need to tap the screen a grand total of 68 times. Which is just a little inconvenient. (A far faster way to accomplish this is to select them all in the SplashID Desktop and press delete, but we’re talking about the handheld version here.) Don’t even think about trying to do it with the one-handed navigation...
Along the bottom of the screen is a handy Lookup field, where you can tap out a few letters and quickly display any matching IDs. Next to this is a New Record button, a Mask button which will show or hide masked fields, the View button which lets you toggle between List and Tree views, and the fast Lock button which will (unsurprisingly) lock the app and require you to re-enter your password to get back in. You can also set SplashID to automatically lock itself up in a preset amount of time after exit or power-off. My only complaint is that these buttons are a bit too small to reliably hit with your thumb: you’ll want to break out the stylus to ensure fast, accurate operation.
In a nice touch, you can alter the font and colours of the main screen however you like, via the Prefs menu. On a hi-res device there’s a choice of up to 8 different font sizes, plus all the colours of the rainbow and then some.
Finally, you have two different methods for displaying your records: the default List view and the aforementioned Tree view. Tree view displays your records as a hierarchical tree, with the Categories as the first level, the Types as the second level and the records themselves at the bottom. Tapping the plus/minus icon will expand/collapse the trees. Again, these icons are difficult to accurately hit with your digits, and in a double-whammy of annoyance the Tree view doesn’t support one-handed navigation. It’s stylus or bust, pal.
Tapping any of the records displayed on the main screen will bring up the Detail view, which displays all the various fields of a particular record on one screen. At the bottom of the screen is a Back button that will return you to the main view, a New Record button that will handily create a new record of the same Category and Type, an Edit button, Mask button and Lock button. As with the main view, these buttons are too small for thumbscreening, but they do support the D-pad. It seems like a strange design decision; there’s a fair bit of wasted space beside these that could have been put to good use.
If you bring up the Options menu on this screen you can Duplicate the record, Beam the record or use the superb Email Record feature which will unfailingly crash your Palm. I tried it three times just to be certain it wasn’t a one-off thing: every time I used it, my Treo 680 would reboot right after I assigned a password to the newly-created VID file. Was it the evil Versamail’s fault? My unofficially-supported 8GB SDHC card? Or a fault with SplashID itself? Doesn’t matter really. The point is it doesn’t work reliably.
Tapping anywhere on the screen or pressing the Edit button will bring up the Edit dialog, where you can alter the record to your heart’s desire, so long as your heart desires a maximum of 9 customisable fields, one icon and additional notes of up to 4000 characters. Again we’re plagued by tiny buttons, but the fields themselves are big and readable. Web Login records have a nice bonus called Active URLs: when you tap on the URL field, SplashID will pop up a dialog asking if you want to go to that site. Tap yes and you’ll be whisked away into Blazer. There’s a large and varied selection of icons to choose from and SplashID also supports custom icons, so there’s no worries on that front.
You can also set individual passwords for records, using either one of your own choosing or one generated by SplashID’s automatic password generator, which is a godsend if you’re as uncreative with your passwords as I am. You get the choice of what kind of characters to use, how long the password will be and whether you want it to be pronounceable – although SplashID seems to have a very strange idea of what’s pronounceable. (Dicmidesvupvi? Maybe if you’re a Klingon...) A coloured bar will graphically demonstrate how strong a particular password is. Unsurprisingly, the longer the better.
At any time, pressing the Back button will return you to the main screen. And now it’s time to move into Desktopland...
The Better Half
Like its handheld counterpart, the desktop side of SplashID is simple and attractive. Along the top of the window is a standard drop-down Palm category picker, an ID Type filter, the view selector, the Options button and a self-explanatory Lock button that will lock the app and won’t let you or anyone else back in without the password. There’s also a handy Find box, which will search your various IDs for any string you type in.
Below this, we have the main window. By default, it displays your records in List view. You can use the aforementioned view selector to switch between List, Panel and Tree views. List worked just fine for my purposes, but power users with dozens of IDs will definitely appreciate these additional options:
List view displays every record on the one screen. You can use the various field headers to sort them however you like.
Panel view divides the screen into two panels. The first will display the assorted ID Types and the second displays all IDs of that type.
Tree view displays your IDs as a hierarchical tree. Clicking on the plus/minus icon beside the ID type will expand/collapse the lists.
On the right side is the Record Detail pane, which will display the currently selected ID in greater detail. In a wonderfully thoughtful touch, each field of the selected ID has a tiny clipboard icon next to it, making it quick and easy to copy-and-paste information from SplashID to wherever you need it. Even if the field is masked it will still copy the correct text.
Along the bottom of the screen are the self-explanatory New & Duplicate Item buttons and a Show/Hide Details toggle. Opposite these underneath the Details pane are Edit, Delete, Mask, Email and Web Auto-Fill buttons. The Auto-Fill feature is excellent: simply click it while displaying any “Web Login” record and SplashID will automatically launch Internet Explorer and fill in the login fields for you. The only thing missing is an option to use Firefox/insert-alternate-browser-here instead of IE.
Functionality is identical to the handheld version, but the SplashID desktop has a few extra advanced features, including options to print records and export them in a variety of different formats. You can also manage multiple ID databases and import many different kinds of files as records. Finally, SplashID desktop is just as secure as the handheld version and has the same automatic locking ability.
Simple, Powerful, Useful
Let’s wrap it up. SplashID 4 is a very powerful program that takes a common frustration of the information age – the difficulty of remembering reams of data – and remedies it with a simple and secure solution. Had it been around in 1300 B.C. the Narwaak of Africa might have survived, instead of destroying themselves in a violent civil war that stemmed from the festering anger of constantly forgetting their shoe sizes.
I used to keep all my personal info on my Treo in the Memos application, which was not a very efficient solution. No longer. Despite a few bugs and one or two odd UI choices, SplashID 4 is an excellent program and well worth the investment. It’s exactly the kind of thing the PDA was invented for.
My Rating: 4.5 / 5
SplashID 4 is available from the PIC Software Store for $29.95 or $9.95 for upgraders. A free trial is available. It is also availble for WIndows Mobile devices and as part of the SplashWallet Suite. This review was conducted on a Treo 680.