Anyone who has published content online knows how difficult it is to create tables – especially if HTML is a foreign language for you. Be it a simple specification sheet or a more complex comparison chart, it’s an absolute pain to have to make tables suited for publishing online that actually look good.
It’s a problem I faced often when I was writing for a phone blog. Every time a new handset launched, I wanted to create a comparison table with a competitor. While making that in Excel was easy, translating the table into an eye-pleasing online experience drove me nuts.
Compare Ninja seemes to offer a solution, as an easy-to-use table-making app with beautiful results. Let’s take it for a spin.
The site has a really nice looking design that showcases the great tables you can create with the app. Signing up is optional, which makes it simple to try out, although I recommend you do sign up in order to find your tables easier the next time you go to the site.
The first step in creating a new table is choosing the table skin. Compare Ninja currently offers 20 skins, eight of which are only available to Premium users. While the skins aren’t reason enough to upgrade to a Premium account for $3 a month, there are some others perks, the most important of which is the CSV import. But I’ll come to that later.
Once you choose a skin, you’ll see Compare Ninja’s simple interface, ready to do your bidding. You can choose to change the skin any time you want by going back to ‘Table Style’.
Making A Table
For the sake of this example, I decided to create a comparison table between the Samsung Galaxy S 3 and the Apple iPhone 5. My objective was to compare their main stats, add an image, give each a rating, and add a link for people to buy the phone.
The whole process turned out to be surprisingly easy. I’ve never been too adept at Excel or other spreadsheet software, so I didn’t find Compare Ninja too limited. But power users are bound to feel stifled. For example, Compare Ninja does not allow you to input special characters in any box. So I had to write 4.8-inch screen instead of the more colloquially acceptable 4.8” screen. It’s a small thing, but when you are looking for a beautiful table, small things make a difference.
Hover over any cell and you get options to edit it. The header cells for columns only let you edit the text and add an image. But with other cells, there is a multitude of options. If you don’t want the default tick, cross or neutral icons, you can click More to get further editing options. You can add text, link, button, image, rating or a PayPal button, along with a URL where necessary. And yes, you can choose the size of the cell.
The one big problem with Compare Ninja here is that you can’t edit the first column, which is called Category by default. I don’t get why there can’t be such customization offered to the user. Sometimes, you don’t really need a category or don’t have one to offer, so this column is just going to sit there, taking up space and looking out of place.
Of course, if you don’t want to make a whole table in a new Compare Ninja interface, you can still rely on good old Microsoft Excel, Google Docs or any tool of your choice. With the Premium account, Compare Ninja lets you import CSV files – although it was a hit-and-miss affair for us.
When a CSV file had only two columns – the category and the input – it seemed to work just fine. But when the CSV was a comparison table, things went haywire. Only half the file was imported, and with improper formatting.
Take, for instance, this CSV of the phone comparison I created in Google Docs.
When I tried to import it into the Compare Ninja table (it’s a simple drag-and-drop process), here’s the result I got:
As you can see, it skipped half of the rows. Even the formatting is off: It’s added quotation marks to the Screen parameters and increased a quotation mark where inch is denoted. And hey, suddenly Compare Ninja doesn’t seem to have a problem with special characters here?
The CSV Import feature was one I was really looking forward to, since I find it easier to make tables in Excel. If there was a way to just take my Excel table and put it into HTML, that would have been ideal, and I thought Compare Ninja would offer that – but alas, I’ll have to continue my search for a more perfect solution.
Once you are done creating your table, it’s a simple matter of publishing it. Where Compare Ninja shines is that it only embeds the table in your site. So what this means is that if you create a table right now in Compare Ninja and put it in three different places, you only have to go back to Compare Ninja and change the table for it to be updated in all three places automatically.
The Basic tab gives you two sets of HTML code to paste into your post, and you’re good to go. There’s also another cool feature here. The Advanced tab gives you an SEO-friendly version of the HTML code, and if you’re in it for the page views, I would highly recommend this.
The end result is actually pretty cool. Here’s what I came up with:
All in all, Compare Ninja is a pretty decent table-making service, but there are still a few problems that stop us from recommending it whole-heartedly. First, I can’t recommend signing up for the Premium plan right now since the major reason for it – the CSV import – just didn’t work properly in our experience. Second, the lack of control offered to the user was disappointing, be it deleting the first Category column or adding special characters in the text.
It’s not that Compare Ninja is bad by any measure, but I do think that it needs to mature a bit before I’ll put down good money for it.