Ever since my first Franklin Planner, I've been a big believer in PIM (Personal Information Management). Boy, was I ever glad to get rid of the paper and go digital with my Palm Pilot. I went through a succession of Palm products, including the Sony Clie and a Treo. When I heard that Palm was giving up on smartphones after the Pre, I was devastated; I had no idea what I would do when my Treo finally broke down.

The decision was forced upon me, shortly after I took my Treo for a swim. (Note to self: ziploc bags aren't waterproof, even three layers deep.) I'd seen Apple's idea of PIM from my wife's iPhone: barely functional, unless you paid for their Mobile Me service, in which case it was tolerable. I decided to go with Android and got a Samsung Galaxy S.

Good lord the AT&T Samsung Captivate sucks. But the hardware itself is a post for another time; right now, I'm considering the Android PIM software independently. I rate it about equal to the iPhone: barely functional. The one big advantage is automatic sync with Google Calendar.

Notes are a big piece of PIM, though. Over the next few weeks, I intend to run several note-taking apps through my personal PIM wringer. The winner will get the coveted "place on my phone" award. And I'll have a record of what made the losers... well, losers.

Let's get to the rules!

What do you want in a note-taking app? Chances are it's a little different from what I want, which is listed below:

  • Text Entry: The basic functionality. A notepad app needs to take notes. It should perform well with both short and long text.
  • Data Synchronization: The big problem. Android doesn't have a computer backup program, like Palm and Blackberry. The data has to be stored somewhere OFF the phone, where I can restore it when necessary. Google Docs would be fine with me.
  • Search Integration: The second big problem. I've got years of notes on my phone. They're no good to me unless I can search through them. And I don't mean from the program itself; I want notes to be searched from the main Android search button, duh.
  • Import/Export: I've got LOTS of notes from my Palm days. Wait... Palm years. Whatever I use needs to import them, because I'm NOT entering them again. Likewise, I realize someday I'll need to switch programs; exporting to CSV or some other format will help me when that day comes.
  • Data Hierarchy: A big word for "tags". It should be easy to categorize notes. Palm used categories, a one-level hierarchy, like allowing a single tag on each note. I like hierarchies (like directories) and multiple tags on a single note.
  • Data Integration: When I enter a phone number, it should be recognized as a phone number; when I click on it, it should dial the phone directly from my note. Same sort of thing for URLs and GPS coordinates.
  • App Integration: I should be able to attach a note to an appointment in the calendar, or a task in the to-do list. This is where I'm likely to be most dissapointed; I don't think there's any such integration anywhere on the Android platform.

I think that's the basics of PIM. I suppose I could go looking for extras like images in notes, or icons, but those aren't essential to the task of managing my data. Everything else is subjective: ease of use, interface colors and icons, and so on.

Since I've got so many Palm notes, I exported them to CSV so other programs could import them. Unfortunately, that includes a lot of weird characters, and the title was saved in a separate field from the note. I actually gave up Starcraft 2 in favor of 8 hours taking care of all the abnormalities. When I was done, though, I had several different formats of my Palm notes, including OpenOffice and Excel spreadsheets, and three different CSV files. Earlier programming efforts gave me a directory full of individual notes that I'm not sure really reflect my memos... I'll have to spend another couple of hours tweaking that code to make sure it works as I want.

I've already searched the market for notepad apps, but if you think yours will beat my current champion on these grounds, let me know! I'll be happy to give it a fair shake. Links to the programs will appear below. Let the best app win!

Currently reviewed apps: