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Old 09-24-2003, 05:40 PM
David Prahl
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 1,398
Default The Dog Ate It! Really! - "The Dog Ate It" Student Organizer Reviewed

I've been carrying a PDA with me to school for the past several years. Almost every time I show someone its features, they ask me "do you keep your homework on there?" For some reason I've always written it down on paper. Birdsoft, developer of The Dog Ate It v2.02, has developed an application designed to replace that paper planner. Is it simple enough to use? Will I actually use it for the rest of the year? I've come to a decision - read on to see what it is!

It's hard to make an application that can really replace a paper planner. Besides the obvious reliability concern, it has to be easy to use, just as fast, and must be flexible and adaptable. Does "The Dog Ate It" meet these requirements? Read on to find out!

Getting It Set Up
Just like most other Pocket PC Applications, The Dog Ate It installs quickly and creates a shortcut in the "Programs" menu. The first time you run it, a Welcome Screen pops up. This, in my opinion, is a lot better than just a Help section. Most students just want to find out how to use the program and get going. This does exactly that.

Figure 1: The Welcome Screen provides the essential information.

Once into the main screen the user can add a class. Fields are provided for room number, instructor's name, and the number of credits. Users can also keep track of an instructor's telephone number, Web site, and e-mail address. It would've been nice to see these contacts added to the Pocket PC's Contacts, even though few students would probably access them. If a teacher has already been added to the list, you can select him or her from a drop down menu.

Figure 2: Adding a Class.

Adding Assignments, Meetings, and Quizzes
Adding a reminder (quiz, meeting, practice, etc.) is pretty straightforward. Tapping on a class from the main menu will bring up a complete list of that class's assignments, which can be added or removed using the "+" and "-" symbols on the bottom of the screen. The Due Date can be selected by entering in the date manually, or the user can tap on the down arrow to get a calendar view. I was initially disappointed that I had to know the dates for the next week, but then found the Calendar function. This is a great idea, since most students just know that something is "next Tuesday" and don't have time to figure out the date.

Figure 3: Specifying a due date for a reminder using the Calendar.

There's also the ability to set a Due Time, but I found this to be kind of redundant. I know when I have a class, and any special deadlines can be written down in the "Description" field at the bottom. Not a big deal, it's just an unnecessary option. If the assignment was graded in a point scale, the user can go back to this menu and enter in his or her score. I didn't take advantage of this functionality, but some students would find it most helpful. If the student considers the task very important, he or she can mark it as "High Priority", which will add a red exclamation mark to the record.

It's All How You Look At It
There are four different views in The Dog Ate It: "Classes" (which I refer to as the Main Menu), "Dates", "Calendar", and "Grades". After using The Dog Ate It exclusively for three weeks, I found that I only really used the first two. The Classes view will display each class and the next two tasks that are due. For a complete list, the user can tap on the name of the class. The Dates view lists each day and the tasks due that day. I found this to be very helpful when looking ahead. "That project isn't due until Friday, but I have tests on Wednesday and Thursday."

Figure 4: The Dates view. Having four different ways to look at your grades can either be a bad thing or a good thing.

Figure 5: The Classes view, which I found to be the easiest way to glance at my homework.

The two other views, Calendar and Grades, also offer different perspectives on a student's homework. Calendar is just that - it places little icons on days of the month that have assignments, and inserts a red exclamation point if the task is marked as "High Priority." The Grades screen offers a summary of current grades for classes, point totals, and the cumulative Grade Point Average. This is something that that old paper planner can't do!

Testing It In the Field
For one thing, it's much easier to access information when it's on a PDA (yes, even a Palm). It takes about as long to write it on paper as it does to write it down on The Dog Ate It, which I found to be about 15 seconds. If you're in a real rush, taking a voice note and then adding it later is also an option. Something that really helped me was setting one of my hardware buttons to launch the application.

At one point I was confused because I had accidentally turned off "Quick View Mode". Quick View allows the user to navigate with single taps, whereas in Normal Mode you have to tap on a class or assignment and then hit the magnifying glass icon. Users can change this by going to the configuration screen (below). Users can backup their data as well, which creates a 2KB file in the My Documents folder.

Figure 6: The Configuration menu lets the user change the view mode, color scheme, and other options.

There's one thing that really annoyed me while using The Dog Ate It, but it wasn't so much a flaw as poor programming. If you remove a reminder and close the program using the "X" on the top right corner of the screen, that reminder will be there the next time you run the program. At first I thought this was a flaw, but quickly found out that you have to hit the program's "X" on the bottom left side to close the program and save changes. This was clearly marked in the welcome screen and included Help pages, but I had forgotten about it. If there's one major weakness to this app, it's the fact that you have to shut it down their way, and not the normal Pocket PC way (which doesn't even close it! :lol: ). Besides this, I think the program is well-designed and functional.

Where To Buy
The Dog Ate It is available for download for $18.95 USD at Handango. A desktop version is also available, but I don't believe you can sync information between the two. A demo version (limited to two classes) is also available.

The Dog Ate It version 2.02 will run on any Pocket PC 2002 device that has at least 355KB of storage space available.

Can it replace a paper planner? Yes. In fact, I found it to be easier and faster than a paper solution. The interface is clean, quick, and easy to read (ClearType is supported). My only grumble is the awkward closing procedure, which hopefully will be fixed in the next release. The Dog Ate It 2.02 accomplishes its goal of "making accessing your schedule convenient and fun." The price is reasonable, and it knows a few tricks that that old paper planner doesn't!
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Old 09-24-2003, 06:44 PM
Sven Johannsen
Editorial Contributor
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Join Date: Jun 2007
Posts: 5,411

Not sure you should ding them for following Microsoft's interface guidlines. You are not supposed to be able to close the app from the X. I'd have to defer to the developers hereabouts to explain the degree to which MS 'enforces' that. I have heard that you are not getting the Designed for PPC (or WM2003) designation if you have a way of quiting, but don't know that first hand.

Maybe a suggestion to provide a way to accept, or commit, changes while the program is running might be in order, but the X not closing the program is absolutely standard.
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Old 09-24-2003, 07:03 PM
karen's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 412

Some students will need the due time (in addition to date) as it is common in university settings for assignments not to be turned-in in the classroom, but at a different locations (like the department office before 4:30pm).

Very few of my professors wanted to schlep a full class's worth of assignements themselves.
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Old 09-24-2003, 07:05 PM
Jason Dunn
Executive Editor
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Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 29,160

Originally Posted by Sven
You are not supposed to be able to close the app from the X.
He's not talking about the application itself - he's talking about a reminder window of some sort. I haven't used the program, but if this reminder window is an overlay on the main program, it should have an "OK" button to dimiss it rather than an X.
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Old 09-24-2003, 08:22 PM
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 21

I won this program a while back in a contest and have been quite pleased. Nice interface, pretty straight-forward. Takes some time to get used to, but over-all its a great replacement.

My biggest gripe though is that unless you choose to backup the file throught the program, there is no way to recover the data if lost. Backups must be done manualy so you have to remember to do it regularly. I have had my iPAQ hardreset once since the beginning of the semester and because the data is not synced with the desktop, or stored in my documents (unless you remember to backup) all was lost. :evil:

I have seen suggestions in the program's forums about adding in a Today Screen view and I must agree that would be awesome. Hope the developer continues to tweak and add more to this program. 0X
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Old 09-24-2003, 09:58 PM
Janak Parekh
Editor Emeritus
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Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 15,171

Originally Posted by Sven
Not sure you should ding them for following Microsoft's interface guidlines. You are not supposed to be able to close the app from the X.
But even if you don't use the X, and use a task manager, the effect would (should?) be the same. The program should recognize it's being shutdown and save changes, so you don't have to worry if you use a third-party task manager.

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Old 09-24-2003, 10:23 PM
David Prahl
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 1,398

Exactly, Janak!

It does close like other programs, but your data is not saved if you close it the normal "PPC way".

Users must close it the "Birdsoft way" if they want to save any changes.
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Old 09-24-2003, 10:25 PM
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 212

I haven't used the app..... but I sure wish something like this was around when I was in school........
I remember my Sharp Zaurus having nothing like this!
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Old 09-24-2003, 10:31 PM
Join Date: Mar 2002
Posts: 138
Default Good Review

Thanks for the Very Fair Review.....

I will address the closing X so it is compatible with WisBar etc... in the next
version, so that on doing so it saves the information. I will try to rethink
the "my documents" backing up as well.

When viewing a Teacher you can hit the Outlook button, and it will add
them to the Outlook contacts..

Thanks again!

A Bird in the Hand...
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Old 09-24-2003, 10:33 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 5,616

Does this integrate with the PPC calendar/tasks in any way?

It could be done by using categories and filtering out anything this program doesn't use, eg. have assignments, due dates and instructors/students be assigned certain categories when entered via the program. Those items will then also show up in the standard Calendar, Tasks and Contacts apps on the PPC but anything else in those apps will not show up in The Dog Ate It. The Grades view is the only area I can see in the review that would need to be a separate program.
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