The To Do List To Do
An Android task app showdown
This was originally going to be a video on my youtube channel, but then I received the suggestion that I should make a blog, and I opted for a product review blog, so here we are. If you wish this was a video instead of a document, you only have my friends and family to blame. Start with my mom and work laterally from there. Kind of like I’ll be doing here with the slew of apps I want to talk about.
For the purposes of this list, I am simply defining a task app as any app you can list tasks and due dates. For my own sanity, I’m limiting it to apps I have personally used. For Android. Because I use Android. Sorry, Apple patch kids.
For Karma’s sake, let’s start with something that started with iPhones. Wunderlist’s pretty. Wunderlist’s flexible. You can throw a due date on any task, pin a totally separate reminder on it, prioritize it with a cute red bookmark, give it subtasks,stick it on a list specifically for tasks around your house involving your girlfriend’s dog, and then look at it on a “smart list” that only shows tasks you have prioritized.
It’s got a pro subscription, but if you’re a normal human being you’ll pretty much never need to subscribe. If you want to clear out completed tasks with a button press, maybe because you’re anal retentive and don’t like them cluttering up your app, you will not have a good time. You’ll complete a few tasks, and then find yourself manually deleting 300 tasks five or ten at a time, because your life is less defined by what you could be doing and more by the meaningless busy work you’ve already done.
If you look at the reviews for this app, this thing is apparently the beloved gem of the task list community. It’s custom built for Android, and it shows. It’s a buttery smooth thing of beauty that takes full advantage of everything the operating system specializes in. It exists to make the Apple users eat crow.
Except it’s made for crazy people and I hate it passionately. It’s only here for the sake of completeness.
You can organize your tasks by pretty much anything under the sun. But you know that one feature you saw mentioned on the install page? It’s hidden deep inside one option in one branch of the date-based organizer. You will not find it unless you’re the same kind of savant as the people who made Any.do. What’s more, there’s a pro subscription on this too, which I rubbed up against twice. I’m sure there’s a better way of doing it, but I didn’t have the time or the eidetic memory to learn it.
One of the new kids on the block, Swipes still doesn’t have a pro mode as of writing. Instead of dumping all your tasks in front of you so you can stress out and get angry at your cat for no reason, it splits off your tasks into three categories: complete, now, and later. If you complete a task under now, you swipe it to the right. If you decide to put off a now task, you push it left to later, where it asks you about when you intend to quit being lazy and do the thing. When that time rolls around, it spits up a little notification and moves your task back to now so you might actually get it done.
The main downsides right now are that its due date selection question is kind of vague and hazy, the later list can become an unruly monster, and it’s so rigidly task-based that you’ll look like a nitwit trying to make a grocery list.
Let’s see… task clearing… lists… due dates… visually pleasing… What’s the problem?
Oh wait of course. You can only make a handful of lists, and any of those lists can only have a maximum of 20 items on it. So if you’re like me and you make a packing list before you go on vacation, this app is going to demand you jump on board with their subscription plan. It’s nice, and has a great name, but it’s only got one negligible advantage over Wunderlist. If that one feature makes it for you, go to town. The rest of us will be continuing to the next app.
Did you know that President Eisenhower actually invented his own type of to do list? It’s true. It was a grid with four zones he’d drop different tasks in.
The app IKE updates the grid a little bit, replacing the “Decide” and “Delegate” boxes with “Goal” and “Fit In” boxes. It provides a few themes and a couple lists, as well as the ability to rename those boxes (in case you do have someone beneath you to foist your work on).
You’re looking at a flexible, attractive app that provides you some organization like Swipes and some flexibility like Wunderlist. Oh, and it doesn’t have a pro subscription. There’s a pro version, but it’s a couple bucks for some themes and more lists. That’s not a big deal. So where do they screw it up?
First, if you’re not careful, it’s really easy to forget where you’ve stuck a task or list item, especially if you were debating its urgency or importance in the first place. Secondly, I hope you love notifications, because this app is going to throw one at you every time a task has a due date. You can’t split due dates from reminders, and you can’t set a reminder without a specific time. You either have hazy tasks without due dates, or you have an obnoxious phone.
This is one of those goofy apps that live on the idea that games make everything easier to tolerate. And as a general rule, it’s not wrong. Set up tasks and subtasks, get rewarded with fictional gems and experience points for getting stuff done, grow as a character, develop skills, and spend your gems to make your life happier- whether it’s watching another episode of your favorite show, giving yourself another hour of Grand Theft Auto, or going to that Japanese place you love.
For the creative types in the room, you’ll like that it gives you total control over descriptions, rewards, and experience. Productivity junkies will be glad to know that its task repeat settings and due date system are on another level perhaps beyond Wunderlist’s amazing standards. All this, for the pro rate of nothing at all. They don’t charge you. Because it’s one guy who knows that having a great app comes before making a buttload of money.
I hope, however, that you’re a genius. There’s almost no tutorial for getting the most out of this springloaded treasure chest of tools. No explanation what affects what and what could screw up your “game”. You just sort of glibly figure it out as you go. Also, while we’re talking about you, on the go, you’re going to be doing a lot of typing. Every single task and skill has a description area and 3 sliders to control what experience points you’ll get. Making tasks will eat up almost as much time as doing the tasks.
While we’re here, a quick and grim shoutout to EpicWin and Habitica. EpicWin’s seen almost no development in a couple years now, while Habitica demands that you are always online and connected into the experience of others so your procrastination or OCD can be the highlight of someone else’s day.
Todoist, like Wunderlist, is kind of everywhere. There’s probably a version that runs on your toothbrush. Like Wunderlist, it offers a million views, tasks, subtasks, priorities, and lists. Like Any.do, it locks most of its goodies behind a subscription model. In my experience, it’s a little easier to use than Any.do and a lot more flexible, but it always reminds you you’re missing out and always leaves you wanting that full version. Not that the full version is worth it, mind. But you want it. It’s the principle of the thing.
Some people won’t find this as bothersome as me. There’s a reason it’s one of the big ones, sitting on its throne of alabaster, shouting at us about laundry and credit card bills. But I can’t tolerate the teasing.
Remember The Milk
This beast was born back in 2004. We’re looking here at one of the original to do list apps, built on the web back before phone apps were actually a thing.
Generally speaking, all that time brewing has created something kind of awesome. Due dates, reminders, and priority are codes that get added to a task. With a little practice, you can compose tasks without a single assistive button to guide you. There are similar ideas in other apps, but RTM tackles it in a uniquely flexible and robust way.
Okay, maybe not as flexible as I would like. I found the coding kind of restrictive as I tried to set my due dates. I found the design boring. I didn’t particularly enjoy it, and I deleted it almost as soon as I installed it. My experience might not be yours. It’s here because it’s interesting.
So we’ve seen lists that look like lists, lists that look like 3 pads of paper beside each other, lists that look like a video game pause menu, and lists that look like you stole a web developer’s notepad. What else could there be?
OH. Well okay, yeah, that’s a thing. So what Accomplish does differently (besides have a killer name) is give you a really generic list of color coded tasks, then a day agenda to stick those tasks on. You have total control over the exact window of time where you put your tasks, and tasks can blend with appointments in a way most task lists don’t really permit.
My quibble here is petty, but more legitimate than any other complaint I have listed. It’s a scientific fact that people underestimate how long something will take. We’re bad at that. We say something will only take an hour, when it takes us two. We say we can knock it out in 15 minutes, and we’re still there after 45. This app is asking us to rely on our judgment of something we’re bad at judging, and that’s not a good thing to build an entire app around, even if it’s a revolutionary idea. I wish this app the best as I put it firmly in my rear view mirror.
Okay, fine, no, let’s keep it simple. If revolution isn’t our flavor, maybe we need something more basic. So Google steps up with its note software Keep. Keep is colorful, entirely free, and allows you to make pretty much any kind of note, list, or memo you can imagine. If your brain made a thing, it can be kept inside of Keep. It’s a thing of elegant beauty, primed for pretty much any device.
It even lets you assign reminders. To a list. Yup, there’s no due dates in Keep. Nothing to bring into focus all the stupid little debris of your world. It’s Keep, not “articulate”. It keeps your notes- it doesn’t point out that you need to empty your cat’s litter box tomorrow and your trash today. Not unless you give each individual dumb little thing a note. But who would do that? That’s insanity.
There isn’t a winner. There are a couple losers- apps I found nigh unusable for one reason or another- but none of them actually stand up to take absolute victory.
If I had a gun to my head and had to pick a top 3, I’d point you toward Wunderlist, Swipes, and LifeRPG- and I say this in spite of the fact I bought the pro version of Ike and use it regularly. Swipes and Wunderlist are simply too good to ignore, and LifeRPG might save people who can barely motivate themselves to survive some days.
If your favorite is Remember The Milk or ToDoist, you do you, good reader. If your favorite is the free version of EveryDay, I humbly apologize to you on behalf of the universe for your masochism.