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OmniGraph Sketcher review


An excellent tool for quickly making graphs of quantitative data or just abstract ideas.

Review Date: 21 Apr 2009

Price when reviewed: (about £20.35)

Reviewed By: Giles Turnbull

Our Rating 5 stars out of 5

The Omni Group has a reputation for developing good quality, good-looking applications, and newcomer OmniGraphSketcher is no exception.

If you're familiar with OmniGraffle, the company's diagram editing tool, you will immediately feel at home inside OmniGraphSketcher. That said, anyone will be comfortable using it for the first time, since the controls and supplied 'sandbox' document are very simple to understand.

The application is primarily a drawing and sketching tool. It's not a spreadsheet, although it is capable of simple calculations in some circumstances, and pasting in data from spreadsheets is easy. Rather, it offers an alternative to the often frustratingly basic drawing tools found in larger, more powerful spreadsheet applications.

It also takes graphs beyond the realm of the spreadsheet. It's so quick to throw a graph together that you might find yourself using them more often, and exporting or pasting them into other documents.

OmniGraphSketcher has four modes: selecting and modifying, drawing, filling, and adding text. You can switch between them with a keyboard shortcut, or hold down the D key to draw and the F key to fill. A floating Inspector palette is the primary means of editing what you see. It has panes for the data, the canvas and the axes of your graph.

Everything can be dragged and edited, which makes this program very intuitive from the start. Schoolchildren would get the hang of it in no time, which is not to say it's only good for education; quite the contrary.

Much thought has gone into keeping the workflow smooth. You can throw lines and text labels on to a blank canvas, and then fine-tune them until you get the effect you want. Data points can be moved, and the lines connecting them adjust themselves, so you always end up with a smooth curve. Text labels, when dragged on to straight data lines, snap alongside them. Filled areas also neatly hug any curves they've been matched with while drawing.

Graph axes are similarly smart. Edit one end point and all the intervening figures will adjust accordingly. The X axis doesn't automatically create a series of months if you put 'December' at the final point, though. Having set your scale, you can adjust the range by dragging an axis point to the intersection. Any data you have already entered will re-align itself when you do.

OmniGraphSketcher does have some limitations. At present, it can only create line or bar graphs, so if you want to create a pie chart, you'll have to stick with Excel or Numbers. Text labels are a little plain, and while it's possible to change their font, size, and colour in the Inspector, it would be nice to give them frames or boxes.

This is nit-picking though, because OmniGraphSketcher is one of those programs that does one thing and does it very well. If you want to draw graphs, it's the best tool for the job. The current release is officially a beta, but it's older than the title implies. Omni Group purchased GraphSketcher when it was already a mature application, so don't let the beta label worry you; we found no significant bugs during our tests.

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