Compartments by LittleFin is a home inventory application. In other words, it’s built to help catalog and track any and all of your worldly belongings, from software licenses, to furniture, to your brand new car.
Compartments doesn’t track anything purely financial, like loans or investments; it’s strictly limited to possessions, although those possessions can be digital files or information. It’s especially aimed at people who want to have a full inventory of their belongings in case of a disaster.
As LittleFin’s website points out, having a home inventory prepared in advance can mean less to worry about if an unexpected event should claim your house. Let’s take a look at the app, and see how it works!
Compartments has a very simple setup at the heart. At the most basic level, you can create ‘Locations’. A location is any physical place in which you can store belongings—a house, a vehicle, a bank, even luggage if you want to keep very careful account of what you take with you on vacation.
You can also set a computer as a location if you want to use Compartments to track digital information, which we’ll come back to later. Each location has a name (any name you care to give it) and a type (chosen from a default list).
Each location can hold any number of “items”. Items aren’t really worth the quotation marks—they’re exactly what they sound like. An item is any object you want to track. Just like physical objects, items can only be in one location at a time.
Conveniently, Compartments offers several easy ways to move items between locations.
Each item has a name (whatever you choose) and a type (chosen from a default list), just like locations. Items can also have a date of acquisition, a warranty (expressed as a number of days, months, or years for which the warranty is good), a monetary value, a make and model, a serial number, notes, tags, and an image associated with them.
Finally, if you want to attach some sort of file to an item—a software license file or a scanned receipt, for example—you can do that too.
The last big concept in Compartments is the ‘collection’. Like a smart playlist in iTunes, a collection is composed of items that all match a certain criterion. Since you can’t exactly sort belongings by artist, the options for collection are a bit more limited: names, kinds, and tags.
Unfortunately, there isn’t an option for creating collections based on date, which might come in handy if you ever have a disagreement with a roommate or the IRS regarding exactly when you purchased an item.
Once you have your locations set up, you can add items in a couple of ways: first, you can add items one by one, filling out all the information about one before moving onto the next.
Second, and more conveniently for those who own a large library or collection, you can add a number of items all at once from the Quick Add dialog by entering the name of one item on each line.
You can then move or set tags or type on a number of items using Quick Apply by selecting them and choosing the action you want to take.
Compartments offers a feature called WarrantyGuard. Essentially a glorified search, it shows you all the items you own with warranties, although you can also choose to view only items with expired warranties or warranties expiring soon; strangely, there’s no easy way to show only those items with currently-good warranties.
While LittleFin’s website claims that “WarrantyGuard also keeps track of the warranties that are about to expire, so you can be ready to purchase extended warranties if necessary”, as far as I can tell, that just means the application shows a tiny yellow exclamation point shield next to the warranty expiration date.
Once you’ve got everything entered into Compartments, you can easily print out a report of either all your belongings or just those in a particular location. A report includes the name of each item, the date it was acquired, its value, its make and model, its serial number, and any notes you may have added about it.
Issues and Accolades
Compartments is a strangely contradictory application. In some respects, particularly the attention paid to the icons and the major metaphors of the application, it fits in well on the Mac desktop.
In others, it feels like a sloppy first effort. It’s not—LittleFin also created the popular Chronicle—but it feels that way nevertheless. The typography is all over the place, buttons and icons for common actions like delete, edit, and move are non-standard, and the application provides preferences (like where its database is stored and whether to show a background behind certain buttons—yes, really) that most users will never want and some may be confused by.
Reports don’t provide a ‘Save’ option; to save them as a file, you have to go to File—>Print and choose ‘Save as PDF’. If you don’t manually set an item’s ‘Date Aquired’ [sic], it will be automatically set to the current date. The developers use the words ‘type’ and ‘kind’ interchangeably throughout the app.
Finally, at one point during my testing, Compartments refused to start properly, instead complaining that its Application Support folder didn’t exist and throwing an AppleScript error dialog. Quitting and re-opening Compartments resolved the issue, but it didn’t instill confidence in an application whose purpose is to store information about the sum total of my worldly possessions.
There is also the small issue that you cannot have two items with the same name in the same location. For example, if you have two chairs of the same sort, one of which has been damaged, you cannot track them separately unless you want to call them by separate names.
Strange Applescript errors excepted, LittleFin has clearly put some thought making sure this list of your worldly possessions isn’t easily lost. If something were to happen to your house, your computer would likely go with it, in which case your carefully-collected home inventory would be lost along with the physical items.
The option to choose where Compartments stores its database is actually an attempt to solve that problem. You can choose to store it on your iDisk or in your Dropbox, in which case it will sync to the web and other devices so you can access it on another computer.
Unfortunately, their directions for setting up this syncing are for their other application, Chronicle, which may confuse some users.
I’m not sure why they LittleFin exposes this feature to users in the way they do; it would be simpler if the application asked on first run whether you wanted to use Dropbox or MobileMe to sync your information and then handled moving the database in the background. Users who subscribed to either service later could find a Preferences item with the same effect.
Overall, Compartments has a very 1.0 vibe. From overly large text to the difficulty of saving reports, it just feels like it needs another major version before it really hits its stride.
Part of this feeling probably comes from its competitors: Compartments competes directly or indirectly with apps like Delicious Library and 1Password. For those not familiar with Delicious Library, it’s a very mature catalog application with the ability to identify books, albums, and other items with barcodes by simply holding them up to your Mac’s iSight camera.
Like Compartments, it has a limited number of categories to which an item can belong, and Furniture, for example, isn’t among them. If you’re willing to mislabel items at the category level, though, you can add them to ‘shelves’ with whatever name you want. In other words, you could call your desk a Gadget, and then place it on a shelf called Furniture.
1Password is an equally mature password manager and software license wallet that does a better job of tracking your high-security information than Compartments does—but at a significantly higher price. Depending on your needs, though, the higher prices you’ll pay for Delicious Library and 1Password may very well be worth it.
Compartments is on sale for $14.95 until the end of July. It’s a price worth taking advantage of—LittleFin offers free upgrades for life, so if you get your copy of Compartments now, you’ll get a free upgrade when the app eventually hits 2.0.
If you decide to purchase Chronicle from LittleFin as well, make sure to put Compartments in your shopping cart first, and add Chronicle on the special offer page that shows up; for whatever reason, your bill will wind up a dollar more expensive if you do it in the reverse order.