Review: DEVONsphere Express

When you’re working on a document or an email message, or when you’re viewing a web page, it often is useful to have immediate access to a list of related information. If that list is updated in real-time, while you jump from app to app and document to document, you always have associated or related information at your fingertips, literally. That is essentially what DEVONsphere Express offers.

DEVONsphere Express was developed by DEVONtechnologies, a company that has been developing information management applications for a long time. DEVONtechnologies have even developed their own Artificial Intelligence (AI) engine to make searching and managing information more powerful.

IT Enquirer rating

8.5/10
URL: devontechnologies.com

Pros
  • AI functionality
  • ease-of-use
  • integration with DEVONthink
Cons
  • memory usage quite high
Price (approx.): €6.75

DEVONsphere installs as a menu app. Once installed, you can set it to automatically update its suggestions, which is in my opinion, the way you should be using DEVONsphere at least in the beginning — just to see how quickly and accurately it will suggest related information.

Options for DEVONsphere include automatically showing and hiding, automatically suggesting, and automatically indexing. When you install the app, it will only index the local volume; any external volumes you’ll need to add by hand. From then on, all added volumes are indexed.

DEVONsphere interface
DEVONsphere interface

Previews of the related data — which can be email messages, web pages, document pages, images, etc. — can be created directly or via Thumbshots.com. The latter is somewhat faster but results in worse quality thumbnails.

Version 1.6, released October 2, extends its reach to mountable network volumes. If you don’t want to index a folder with irrelevant stuff, you can now add it to the exclude list in the preferences. In addition DEVONsphere Express 1.6 passes OS X 10.8’s Gatekeeper, adds a beautiful Retina icon, lets you close the panel with the Escape key and makes it possible to copy text from Quick Look panels. The update improves the results retrieved from web sites and the compatibility to some HTML and XML encodings.

DEVONsphere’s Preferences allow you to choose from 17 categories, including archives, property lists and code. Finally, in the interface itself you can set suggestions to appear in real-time, or only when you click on the radar icon. There’s also a switch that lets you use DEVONsphere as a sort of Spotlight on steroids. Personally, I think Spotlight is powerful enough; it’s the automatic “See Also” functionality that I found interesting and useful.

DEVONsphere context menu
Context menu

The real-time engine that sits behind DEVONsphere did its job flawlessly. For example, when I started typing this article (I always type my drafts in BBEdit first) DEVONsphere immediately after typing the title suggested 4 email messages I’d sent and received to/from DEVON Technologies. The messages were all equal in relevance as shown by the yellow dashes running underneath each topic.

When I switched to Pages, to an eBook text I’m writing, the interface immediately — and I do mean “immediately” — switched and showed me texts on the same subject I wrote last week, a LinkedIn discussion on that topic that I joined last month, and two web pages on the subject with less relevance.

If I wanted to, I could click on a settings flyout that would allow me to narrow my results list based on relevance, categories, and date settings. I could also have switched to earlier results related to other documents by going back through the history. Because I had automatic suggestion updates turned on, when I switched back to this story, the results list changed again. However, I could “freeze” the previous list by pausing the update mechanism using the radar icon.

The DEVONsphere app by default is a menu app, so it’s easy to get away with it, but that can be a pain when you want to use the app by dropping documents on its input field — which is yet another way to work with it. No problem there, as you can detach the window from the menu temporarily and drop stuff as much as you like.

In that floating mode, you can resize the window. You can’t resize the thumbnail view, though, which could be useful too. In whatever mode you use DEVONsphere, you can always double-click a found document to open it in its default app, or look where it’s located (context menu), and even drag it somewhere to duplicate it.

DEVONsphere comes with a Service menu that allows you to use the app when in other applications. DEVONsphere finds web pages and all other related information if you’ll allow it (by setting the categories appropriately). Its usefulness is undisputed, but its power is unique — only when apps like DEVONsphere are really accurate and complete are they effective at offering you information you din’t know exists.

DEVONsphere is accurate enough, alright. It’s a great tool for anyone interested in quick access to related data.

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