I promised to take a look at a bunch of productivity applications last week, and now is the time where I deliver my reviews.
First off, here’s a reminder of what programs I looked at:
And here are their icons on the dock in the order they were mentioned:
The programs are all compared to one another in the areas of intuitiveness, visual design, and functionality. Intuitiveness was judged by how easy and comfortable I was from the moment I first fired a program up, without pouring through documentation, online help forums, or anything of the sort. My findings on visual design are based both on usability and raw aesthetics. Functionality was assessed after I’d gotten to know how to use the program already, and is the overall determination of how well the program’s capability ended up satisfying what I wanted from it. Price was not a consideration at all.
To test them all consistently, I came up with a list of the same things to enter into all of them. Here it is in plaintext form:
Red Alert 3 – Soviet Campaign
Red Alert 3 – Allied Campaign
Red Alert 3 – Imperial Campaign
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
Half-Life 2: Episode 1
Half-Life 2: Episode 2
Thank you note to Uncle Bill and Aunt Joan
Letter to Leila
Letter to Father Mike
Send back Dr. Strangelove
As you can see, it’s actually four different lists with different kinds of tasks and items. Also, because I entered the same stuff into all of the programs, you can directly compare the screenshots since they convey the same information.
Without further adieu, here my conclusions!
The biggest issue here is that it uses a specific terminology without explaining itself. The all-important Inbox is front and center, but what’s all this about “Contexts,” “Perspectives,” and the “Library?” That plus being daunted by all the example events basically paralyzed me.
I guess the developers knew that’s how people would react at first, which is why the first thing you’re supposed to do is watch this short video. Sure enough, it seemed simple afterward, and my paralysis was completely gone after I deleted all their example events.
Actually using the program was simple though. There are lots of advanced things users can do with this program that would probably require them to go through the documentation, but the most important stuff is actually very straightforward and easy. It looks nice when there aren’t a trillion things entered into it, and I only wish that it had a sexier icon. Oh, and what’s with not labelling its columns?
OmniFocus started out as a scary mess that I was sure I’d hate using, but ended up surprising me and becoming one of my favorites.
OmniFocus can be purchased from the Omni Group for $79.95.
Visual Design: 8/10
Final Rating: 8/10
There’s nothing scary about Things. The icon is polished and simple, just like the program it represents.
The moment you open it up, you can see how you’re supposed to use it. It doesn’t use any terminology that you wouldn’t, and everything you can click is immediately explained in a sentence or two in a way that doesn’t annoy you or require you to click more. Entering information was very easy and obvious.
With my first impression of it being so good, I was sure that this would be one of my favorites of the bunch. However, after I entered in the information, I realized that I didn’t actually like the way it did some things. I like to be able to look at all of my things at once, and while you can do this, it doesn’t use negative space very well in my opinion. It ended up bothering me more and more the longer I had it open. Things also isn’t very customizable in that you can’t rearrange elements or get rid of ones you don’t use, and the preferences it offers you are very limited.
Things can be purchased from Cultured Code for $49.95.
Visual Design: 7/10
Final Opinion: 8/10
I had a hiccup in the beginning when it didn’t save what I’d started to enter into it. Indeed, there is no general inbox, and since it allowed me to enter items and tasks right away, I figured that was good enough. It turned out that you have to make a project and then select it before you enter anything, or else it won’t save anything.
After realizing that though, it was simple enough to use. It also has some interesting features that let you link your tasks to files on your computer, web sites, and built-in notes.
Aside from the lack of an inbox, there were a few other frustrations though, like how I couldn’t have a due date without a start date or vice versa. But the biggest shortcoming of this program is that you can’t view all of your lists and upcoming tasks together. If I was a project manager and I was only managing completely separate groups of people, maybe that wouldn’t be a problem, but since I’d be using this program to manage events in my own life, I’d like to have the ability to see all of my upcoming tasks from all of my activities at the same time. Furthermore, the design of it was boring and made me feel like I was using a spreadsheet.
Process can be purchased from Jumsoft for $39.
Visual Design: 5/10
Final Opinion: 6/10
The Hit List
Even though this program is still in beta testing, the attention to detail that has already been put into it already makes it stand out. It’s gorgeous and totally easy to use right from the start.
The keyboard shortcuts to the most important actions appear on buttons at the bottom, allowing me to get around and do things as efficiently as if I’d been using it for a long time. Very impressive. It also offers some unique features that I actually think I’ll use without feeling bloated. For example, I can have different lists open in different tabs at the same time. Nothing gimicky about that.
Entering in the information took noticably less time time then any of the other programs during my test, even after I added a few start and due dates.
The programs’s shortcomings are very few and were only encountered because I was specifically looking for them, and they they are obviously just part of it being in beta still. For example, the link to the FAQ web site that appears in the help menu doesn’t load anything yet since that web page hasn’t been made yet, so I ended up having to learn some of the hidden tricks from the user group.
The Hit List beta can be downloaded for free. The final version can be pre-ordered from The Potion Factory for $49.95, and after it’s official release it will be $69.95.
Visual Design: 10/10
Final Opinion: 9/10
This program is definitely designed for people who very, very strictly adhere to the Getting Things Done dogma. If that’s you, then you might appreciate how it ambitiously attempts to provide for all parts of the GTD program instead of just the to-do list part.
However, it makes no apologies for its utter lack of accomodation for anybody who isn’t totally on board, and even if you are, you might still be turned away by it’s complete lack of minimalism and simplicity.
It has some interesting ideas, like the iTunes-like timer that you have to see to believe, but I mostly felt like it was just trying to do too much. The interface feels chlostrophobic, and there’s a lot of questionable typographical decisions (such as making lots of things italicized) that make it even more frustrating to look at.
Still, it’s certainly innovative and deserving of attention, and since it’s still beta, there’s still time for the developers to make changes based on a heuristic evaluation before the final is released.
Inbox is available from Midnight Beep for $35.
Visual Design: 4/10
Final Opinion: 4/10
Remember The Milk
This is a popular web-based application that uses Google Gears to make itself available for offline use. It’s straightforward, and the developers clearly kept it’s main purpose in mind.
However, you can definitely feel the limitations of being trapped in a browser when you compare it to some of the other programs. It doesn’t use folders, so you’ll have to make do with tags alone, and you can’t reorder very much of anything.
The lack of sophistication isn’t a problem for simple lists (like the kind that the name “Remember The Milk” makes you think of), but for anything more, it leaves a lot to be desired.
Remember The Milk is free, but you can upgrade to a Pro account for $25 for one year.
Visual Design: 7/10
Final Opinion: 6/10
The only open source contender on this list, Listo accomplishes what it set out to do in a somewhat utilitarian way that makes it immediately obvious how to use the program. It doesn’t do anything groundbreaking, but it does cover all the necessary bases, and is certainly one of the more adapable programs.
It’s too spartan for me however, and I think that most people would feel the same way. For instance, when I look at my to-do lists, I appreciate seeing them more organized than just dumping them all together, which is what Listo does. The whole interface suffers from a wall-of-text feeling that holds it back. Also, it would be more useful if the numbers that appear next to the folders indicated upcoming events instead of total contents.
It would do the job fine, but the lack of polish makes it feel like another chore, and the lack of innovation hurts it too.
Listo is free, but plans for an optional syncing service are in the works.
Visual Design: 4/10
Final Opinion: 6/10
Evernote bills itself as the perfect note-taking tool that will never let you forget anything again. It integrates tightly with the web, but also has an attractive stand-alone program that can be used.
Unfortunately, the to-do list functionality seems like an afterthought, and basically consists of the ability to add clickable checkboxes to your notes. A clever user with a plaintext note program could just use symbols as ad hoc checkboxes and get the accomplish the same thing. But then again, Evernote is a note program, so perhaps it’s not even fair to expect more than that.
Evernote is a wonderful tool with all kinds of great features that makes it worth creating an account with (and sharp observers will see from that screenshot that I’ve started using it for lots of things), but when it comes to task management functionality (which is what it’s being graded on here), it just doesn’t really compare to the other tools.
Evernote is free, but premium accounts are available for $5 per month or $45 per year.
Visual Design: 8/10
Final Opinion: 3/10
Here they all are listed from from favorite to least favorite, along with the final numerical grade. Just to clear, even though some programs got the same numerical grade, the higher up on the list, the better. In other words, there are no ties even when the scores are the same, but there were close calls.
- The Hit List – 9/10
- OmniFocus – 8/10
- Things – 8/10
- Process – 6/10
- Listo – 6/10
- Remember The Milk – 6/10
- Inbox – 4/10
- Evernote – 3/10
Congratulations to the winners, and better luck next time to everybody else.