Ronen asked me to write a review of Dynoplex eOffice and I accepted the challenge. I hope you have a lot of free time, because eOffice has many components and each one has several aspects to consider, so this is going to be one long review.
Most reviews end with the pros and cons, but I thought I’d start with them right away. The good thing about eOffice is that it is powerful. You can achieve a lot with it. The bad thing about eOffice is that several flaws ruin part of the whole experience. Or maybe I am too picky. You be the judge.
NOTE: We did try to contact Dynoplex about this review so they could respond to some of our concerns but it has been a couple of days and we have still not heard back.
There is no OTA installation of eOffice, you really must have the Blackberry Desktop component, which is more or less the same as saying you must have Windows. Well, if RIM thinks that everyone prefers to use Windows, why can’t Dynoplex? Seriously, if you don’t have any Windows box hanging around, you probably don’t have a Blackberry either. It just makes sense. When installation was done, I had 4 icons in my home screen: eFile, eOffice, MasterDoc and eSpell. Since eFile will integrate with most of the programs, it makes sense to start the review with eFile.
eFile is a file manager that not only lets you access files in the phone or SD card, but also move files to and from a remote account that is bundled with eFile. It is not a subscription service, it’s part of the application and there is no storage limit. That adds some distinguished and interesting value to the application. Look at the screenshot:
eFile is pretty much what it looks like: a tree-like structure and folders. The tree-like structure presents 3 base folders: Local, Internal and Network. For the life of me, I was unable to figure out what the Local folder is supposed to represent. Neither do I know the purpose of anything it contains. Apparently, those are sample files you can open in their respective eOffice applications and complementary files like dictionaries. Maybe that is all documented somewhere, but I won’t go any farther than describing that folder is highly non-intuitive. The Internal folder is the phone. It has two sub-folders: Device and SD Card. Their names are more than enough to give away what they contain. The Network folder is the remote folder of the free account you get when you purchase eOffice or just stand-alone eFile.
Those two panes can be resized at any time and it is very easy. You can copy, move and delete files all over the place: from the device to the SD card, from the SD card to the remote folder etc. Navigating is a bit tricky at first, but I got the hang of it quickly. When the program is run for the first time, it offers the option to activate some sort of “mouse mode”. The trackball moves a mouse cursor around and lets you select items. I hated it. I thought the movement was too slow and quirky. Besides, everything is very small in a cell phone screen, so I was forced to scroll sloooowly way too much to hit the target of whatever I was desperately trying to click. After I disabled the unrealistic mouse mode, everything got a lot better and navigating was a breeze. The entire program is very easy to use and seems to work very well. I’ve had standalone eFile for some time and never noticed any major bug or inconvenience.
EFile also brings an assistant ePad application, something like a mini Notepad for txt files. That one component I thought was pretty lame, I don’t think anybody is really going to bother with it. Besides, it froze and made me soft-reset the phone several times.
eOffice starts with a two-story screen: a row of programs and a row of documents that are shown here for easy access. Two samples are included.
The first program is eWord, probably the best of the entire suite. Writing is something I do a lot, and eWord was good enough to make me feel at home. Personally, I think that actually trying to write anything useful into such a small screen with such a tiny keyboard is nothing short of insane. I was one of the few looking forward to the Palm Foleo, and if that makes me insane, then fine! But eWord certainly proves that it is not impossible. The writing area is generous, it takes almost the whole screen. There is only one on-screen font, but several other fonts can be applied and they do look like they’re supposed to look if you open the document in a desktop application like OpenOffice or MS Office, and this one on-screen font looks pretty good. You can also control the size of the on-screen font from “8” to “72”. Typing flows just as well as the Blackberry’s keyboard allows a typist to, so a QWERTY phone certainly will be more convenient than a Suretype model. Auto Text works flawlessly and that is some more invaluable help to all of you brave mobile typists out there.
I was impressed by the number of functions that Dynoplex crammed into this tiny editor. I wasn’t very happy trying to access the tools in the tool bar above the text editing area, but I was very happy hiding the toolbar, having even more text editing area available and accessing all the tools from the Blackberry’s Menu key. Everything is there and there is very little scrolling involved. The only thing that bothered me is that the toolbar comes back if eWord is closed and launched again. I really wish eWord would remember my toolbar’s presence/absence preference from the previous session. The menus contain commands like Open, Save, E-mail, Print, Fax, Copy, Cut, Paste, Font, Bold, Italic, Underline, Alignment, Lists, Indentation, Dictionary, Spelling, Word Count, among other less relevant ones.
Files are opened and saved by means of the integration with eFile, so it looks like you can open and save documents in the phone, the SD card or that remote account folder. That is not so in practice. Here comes the first big disappointment with eOffice. First problem: eWord cannot read native MS Word .doc or even RTF documents off the SD card. If you want to save files in the Blackberry and edit them later with eOffice, you must convert them with eFile Desktop, which – you guessed it – runs on Windows only. There is a workaround. You can achieve conversion by sending the files to yourself via e-mail. When the Blackberry receives the message, a couple of new menu entries that eOffice installs in the native mail application’s menu let you view or edit the attachments and save them… somewhere. The 30-day trial version of eOffice I have won’t let me save any files, so I can’t determine for sure where I would be allowed to save them and, most importantly, if these converted files saved by eOffice say, in the SD card, will open in a desktop word processor and if any formatting or any data at all is lost in the process. Second problem: opening these attachments was too unstable for my liking. Every request would take at least 10 seconds to return anything, one or two full minutes was not uncommon, and I’d often get a message saying that the file “was not ready” and that I should “try again later”. That was not news to me. It does happen quite often and is very frustrating. I could open all the attachments eventually and, although they didn’t look exactly the same as they look in a desktop editor, they look pretty good and editing them in eWord was always a breeze.
Editing files in eWord was always a breeze, but the same can’t be said of editing spreadsheets in eCell. I never liked spreadsheets and, coming from the Palm platform before I became a Blackberry addict, I’ve never seen an application successfully beat the challenge of displaying spreadsheets in these tiny glass rectangles we call “screens”. eCell won’t perform any miracles either, the columns and cells look awfully crammed. Note that I have a Blackberry Curve. Spreadsheets should look even more crammed in Pearls. Even worse than that, eCell has its fair share of inadequacy too. The whole application felt a little bit slow to me and that was with the very small and light samples provided with the application. I sent myself a bigger spreadsheet through e-mail and it didn’t feel slower, but it didn’t feel better either. Navigating and editing cells was no fun at all. Editing text in eWord has a much more natural and easy “flow”, while editing cells in eCell had me straining to “aim” and click the right cells all the time, as if I was playing a game. Resizing the columns is awkward: you have to select the Resize command then enter a width number instead of simply dragging borders around like those two panes in eFile. There is no zoom function either, and I was outraged when I discovered that Auto Text did not work inside the cells.
The program is certainly not useless. You certainly can examine data someone has sent to you and, in a pinch, you can edit some of it too. But you had better not throw away your laptop and dare rely on eCell to edit spreadsheets on the go very frequently without going nuts. No one should ever inflict that upon themselves.
In case you’re wondering, eCell has the following menu items: Open, Save, E-mail, Print, Fax, Cut, Copy, Paste, Find, Function, Chart, Column Width, Row Height, and a few less relevant others. Note that eCell can’t open native Excel spreadsheets off the SD card either. They have to be converted into eCell’s special format like Word documents in eWord.
Maybe I should point out that I just played around with another spreadsheet application called Grid Magic and that may have influenced my evaluation of eCell a lot. Grid Magic left me with a much better impression. It is light, quick, snappy and has a great zoom feature. Maybe that makes me come down a little harsher on eCell but they are in competition. Here is shot of Grid Magic:
eZcase is a data vault application. It keeps lists like passwords, credit card numbers, account info and other custom lists securely. All lists are kept in a single file that is saved via integration with eFile, so it looks like it can be saved anywhere in the device, SD card or eFile network folder. That file is protected with a master password and you had better not forget that password. If you do, you’ll no longer have access to the lists. That’s how the program will treat anyone who doesn’t know the right password. eZcase is remarkably flexible. It has a few pre-built templates, but you can change them to your heart’s content and build your own from scratch too. At first, I thought the built-in templates were a bit “dumb”. For example, some fields are supposed to contain a phone number, but you still have to use the Alt key to type the numbers in. The application doesn’t automatically “know” that you’re typing numbers. A space won’t automatically become a “@” sign in an e-mail field. But then I realized the templates and the fields are probably too flexible to allow that kind of smart recognition. I liked eZcase. It is simple, but very effective and easy to use. Even customizing it didn’t strike me as complicated. It must be the least “exciting” of the entire eOffice suite, but could also be the least flawed.
View All is an odd embarrassment that Dynoplex thought would be a good idea to include in the eOffice suite. They really should think that over. View All is an incredibly lame application. It is supposed to be a media viewer. A very limited one. It navigates on those eFile folders and slows down to a crawl whenever it tries to open a folder that contains many files. I don’t know for sure what it expects to find. Most folders looked empty to the poor misguided fool although they weren’t. It found those test documents I had saved in the SD card, but whined about converting them with eFile Desktop so that it could open them. I know it can view PDF files, but they have to be “converted” too. It found and opened my camera’s pictures though! And did a miserable job with them too… First of all, it opens the picture at 100% aspect ratio, even if the picture is 1600×1200. If it’s a person in the picture, you’ll get a detailed view of their navel really close… Then you have to open the menu and select “Zoom Out”. There doesn’t seem to be any keyboard shortcut for that operation. There doesn’t seem to be a keyboard shortcut for any operation. Zooming out can be pretty slow if the picture is large. Something like 30 or 40 seconds. Close the program, open it again, select the same picture and View All will try to open pictures at the full scale again. It is the default every time. There is an “Options” menu entry, but it doesn’t include changing the default scale at which pictures are supposed to be viewed. There is a “Thumbnails” menu entry that completely mystified me. It just displays the same current picture but smaller, not thumbnails of all pictures in that folder as anyone would certainly expect. View All is a disaster. It actually damages Dynoplex’s reputation and should be thrown into oblivion today, first thing in the morning.
I don’t know why MasterDoc is installed on my phone in addition to eOffice. That must have been Dynoplex’s desktop installation that wanted to make sure I would try ALL of their products. MasterDoc is supposed to be a file viewer, but it didn’t impress me. Guess what: the first module, identified as “View”, is View All! Oh, boy… Let’s just skip that. MasterDoc has other modules. “Store” and “MyPC” both bring up eFile. I’ve been unable to tell the difference. “Print” and “Fax” were unavailable in my trial version. There is also “eZcase” again. “Send File” does… erm, it sends files you pick via eFile. We can already do that from eFile, so I really don’t see the point. The last item worthy of notice is a module called “Play All”. It’s as abysmal as its cousin “View All”. The first thing it throws at us is a black screen and 3 icons in a carousel: a camera, a pair of headphones and a microphone. They have no names or subtitles, we’re just supposed to guess whatever on Earth they mean. The headphones icon, sure enough, brings up a sound player. It had no problem finding my MP3 files and playing ONE of them. That’s right, one at a time. The phone’s Menu key doesn’t work and there doesn’t seem to be any way to make the program play a folder, queue or playlist. The microphone launches a voice recorder. It works reasonably well in spite of the primitive interface. And the camera probably launches a video player. The only files it recognized in its own file browser were video files, 3GP and AVI. I selected one of them and, after 3 minutes of hourglass flipping, it bounced back to the MasterDoc initial screen. The same happened when I tried an AVI file. I may never know if it was indeed a video player or not.
That media player could explain a lot of the problems I ran into with the entire suite. The idea of bundling a media player in an office suite may sound like a generous and valuable addition to an already power packed bundle. But these media components are so disappointing that their inclusion does not make any sense after all. Maybe a very serious businessman who has no time to fool around with music and video would appreciate having these extras just in case he needs to open a media file in an extraordinary case, but a Blackberry phone these days already has media applications that make this “Play All” module of MasterDoc’s absolutely pale in comparison. Why waste device memory on such poor redundant implementations of capabilities that we already have? The answer could be that MasterDoc is quite an old suite, reminiscent of old days of yore when a Blackberry could barely whistle a tune, much less play video and MP3. That would explain most of the embarrassing components I have described and ranked so low. Hopefully, new versions will be very different.
eSpell is part of the suite too. It is supposed to be a spell checker that integrates not only with eOffice, but with the entire device and spell check your musings even in applications that have nothing to do with eOffice or Dynoplex. I absolutely hate eSpell. I have to justify that statement by saying that I don’t use spell checkers on my Blackberry. I don’t think I really need a spell checker in a phone. I am an extraordinarily good speller and, come on, it’s just a phone. Nobody is going to frown upon me for misspelling an occasional word in a quick e-mail or text message. But for the life of me, I can’t find any obvious way to turn it off.
So it goes into action. Oh, does it go into action! It pops up every now and then when I begin to type into whatever eSpell thinks it should be watching. E-mail, notes, calendar, browser address bar, you name it. It just won’t leave me alone. To be fair, the reason it pops up so often is to remind me that I am using a trial version of eOffice. It probably won’t pop up at properly registered users’ noses, but I still don’t want the darn spell checker. How do I turn it off? The installation of eOffice put an icon for eSpell on my home screen, maybe that’s where I’m supposed to change its configuration. But whenever I launch it, it tells me I’m using a trial version and shuts down on me without any consideration. That’s why we won’t have any eSpell screenshots. I can’t run it for long enough to get a screenshot or even get a glimpse and try to describe what it seems to look like. But here is a screenshot of another annoying thing it does:
Do you know how easy it is to move icons around in the home screen? You just hit the Menu key and select Move. But since I installed eOffice in my phone, eSpell has become the very first entry in that menu, selected by default. Why? I have no idea. If at least we could “hang” documents on that screen like we do on our desktops, it would make sense. We would select the document then “Full Spell Check”. But we can’t spell check applications or their shortcuts, can we? Now every time I want to move an icon around, I have to scroll and skip that useless spell check entry.
– eWord is a very good component;
– you can edit Word files and Excel spreadsheets that you receive through e-mail;
– you can edit Word files and Excel spreadsheets that you upload to the phone with a special software if you have Windows;
– eFile is another very good component, it really helps in moving files around and provides a handy remote extra storage place;
– eZcase is useful, flexible and efficient.
– eWord and eCell won’t open native MS Office files saved in the device or SD card;
– eCell is a well-meaning but clumsy component;
– the Windows operating system is required for full functionality;
– slow network-based operation makes editing attachments painful;
– some components’ behavior is somewhat awkward or obtrusive or ineffective;
– additional components are pointless or extremely inadequate and will use up device memory.
This is hard to judge just because of all the components in eOffice. Probably 7.0 because of all the cons and because of the really embarrassing “extras”. I would actually rate it higher if they removed some of the junk.