HanDBase Professional v3.0 for Pocket PC

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, November 2005
Published by: DDH Software
Requires: Pocket PC 2002 or newer or Windows Mobile Edition
MSRP: $39.99

I did not get serious about the concepts and fundamentals of computer databases until about my fifth year in the research business. After reaching the point at which our paper files (we're talking late '70s folks) had become an enormous hydra threatening to destroy every vestige of our sanity, we invested in a rather expensive Honeywell system and never looked back. Fast forward to 1998. If you have a good look at a lot of the software on the consumer and small business market, you'll discover that every data tracking and management program (and PDA application) has at its core a database of some sort. A digital container of some sort, with categories, points of reference, searchable information and several other key factors are the essential components of any database. The degree to which all of those components can be customized to suit the needs of any particular category of data and your particular information access needs is what sets one database program apart from another. HanDBase seems to have been designed with one main factor in mind, essentially that because no two people have the exact same set of needs or views of any particular body of data, it therefore makes sense to create a product which anyone can use to create databases precisely suited to their needs and views.

If the thought or concept of databases chills you into a technophobic seizure, relax for a moment and remember that Kickstartnews tries at all times to bring you reviews of products which will help, not hinder, your productivity. In fact, HanDBase is one of a rare breed: Jack of All Trades—Master of Several! Now when was the last time you heard a compliment like that? The simple truth is that HanDBase can be used successfully by anyone from a technically illiterate octogenarian who wants to create a smart birthday and anniversary tracking database, to a busy electrical contractor who wants to have full control over service calls, work orders and you-name-it. If you can think of a work or data application which involves the creation of organized lists of information, even if some of the information has dependencies on the status or presence of other information elsewhere in the database, HanDBase will likely be one of the best choices for Pocket PC or Palm OS PDAs.


I initially installed HanDBase on a creaky old iPaq 3950 and a very zippy new-ish Dell Axim X51. The software ran at (fast) identical speeds on both devices, which is not surprising considering the somewhat small sizes of the databases I created during the review period. On the other hand, text-based databases (unless you get into sizes which are normally outside what you'd expect to see and handle on a PDA) are not exactly resource hungry. Even if you've got a three or four year old Pocket PC, HanDBase should run just fine. A database containing graphics and photos will slow things down, but any Pocket PC PDA manufactured in the last couple of years likely contains a processor that can handle the load nicely.

After perusing the enormous number of free HanDBase database downloads on the DDH Software web site, I was not only overwhelmed by the amount of completely free support and content, I was also 'jazzed' about the remarkable number of possibilities. That got me thinking seriously about taking many of the programs I'm currently using on my Audiovox PPC Smartphone and plugging the data into a couple of HanDBase databases. So I installed the software on the Audiovox and tried to trip up the database. The first test (which in retrospect was kind of dumb) was to move my contacts into a database that contained only the data fields I normally use: call name, best contact phone number, 2nd best contact number, placing the rest of the contact information at the back of the record (only three other fields actually). I wanted to see if the phone dialer could pick up the phone number from the appropriate field and dial it. Of course it worked just fine, because once you select the correct field format when creating the database in the first place, any program which can access the field will read the data properly. I proceeded with a number of other tests before reminding myself that the review was supposed to be about real-world use, not lab tests. So I then spent about two hours on a Sunday evening entering data, creating a total of three databases (contacts, to-do, acquisition) which I started used the next morning.

As of this writing, it has been three weeks and I'm not looking back. It was a bit of an effort of will to break some long-held habits, but I'm really delighted with the changeover to HanDBase. The idea of having one program capable of creating highly customizable databases to suit almost all of my daily data and information management needs is more appealing than ever. My personal use for database software on the PDA has its limits. Your mileage may vary. I could not begin to reach (let alone actually see) the limits of HanDBase. Peruse the vast storehouse of free databases (2,000 and counting) on the web site and you'll see what I mean.

For the technically inclined, and just in case you're wondering, I had no trouble integrating HanDBase data with Microsoft Access and Filemaker Pro databases on my main workstation. I did not try (and I don't use) any other PC databases on a regular basis, but DDH Software offers a desktop conduit for ODBC databases as well. List and form printing is easy enough because the print command communicates through the default desktop conduit so that output can be sent to the default printer connected to the desktop PC. I don't normally do a lot of list or form printing, but on the few occasions I tried it, the whole thing worked without any problems. Databases can be stored in main memory or on the storage card.

Cons: As with any computer database, HanDBase sports a learning curve. Keep in mind that the amazing and solid versatility of this software absolutely demands that you concentrate on clearly planning your initial database configuration each time you actually create a new one. Of course you can go back later on and correct mistakes. But making decisions about what characteristics to assign to a data field can be daunting for anyone who is new to this sort of thing. Keep repeating to yourself, "It's better to have something customized specifically to my needs," and you'll feel better later. The UI is not as versatile as it could be. For example, once you've created a database, it would be nice to have a "New Record" selection in the File menu in addition to the new record icon on the bottom menu bar. I could wish for some visual enhancement capabilities in the form designer to help add some zing to the database you're designing—some color highlighting controls would be nice. Does not yet take full advantage of the gorgeous 480x640 resolution of the Axim X51.

Pros: Between the amazing versatility of the software and the huge selection of free database forms on the DDH web site, it's almost impossible to think of a database application that HanDBase can't accommodate. The bottom line is simply that if you're someone who uses a PDA for contacts, appointments, lists of all kinds, inventory, data storage, recipes and so on, it's not only possible to use HanDBase to create customized individual databases for all such needs, but to also create handier and more useful databases than those found in most of the standalone, third-party programs and utilities already on the market. That's a wonderful accomplishment and DDH Software really seems to be leading this product category. Full search and report query capabilities. Full printing capabilities. Excellent compatibility with Microsoft Access. DDH software provides a Runtime Tool which can be used to compile a database you create into a standalone Palm OS or Pocket PC program. I confess to having spent very little time using this type of software on my PDAs over the years. I also now confess to being a convert—I'm addicted to HanDBase. After having spent a couple of hours creating databases for my needs (among other things, I now have the Memo Pad of my dreams) and entering existing data into the new databases, finding everything from contacts, old notes and you-name-it is child's play. Some of my databases contain hundreds of individual records, a volume of information which was becoming unwieldy without a robust database application. My databases and I are feeling much better now. DDH Software provides a solid set of training videos and tutorials online to help you learn to use HanDBase, Forms Designer and Conduits. Entering, editing and querying data (I'm a research specialist at heart) has never been easier. If you're willing to spend some time reorganizing and customizing, you'll be rewarded with faster access to and more efficient use of all your data. Highly recommended.





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