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Get things done: 10 to-do apps for Android and iOS

Get things done: 10 to-do apps for Android and iOS

Losing control of your to-do list? These task managers can keep you on track.

In today's over-scheduled society, a solid task-management app can help keep you on top of your to-do list -- and prevent last-minute panics. For example, it can help you meet milestones for a work-related project, or remind you while running errands that your dry cleaning is ready for pick-up.

Most task management apps work similarly, abiding by the " Getting Things Done" (GTD) principles of time management. First, you create a new "task" by briefly describing it. You can then add notes, assign a deadline for its completion, designate its priority level, organize it into a folder or list category (e.g., "personal errands," "work duties") and set an alarm to remind you about it on a certain date and time.

In this manner, you build a sequential order of to-do's. When you complete a task, you mark it as finished; depending on the app in question, this could be done swiping across it, or tapping a box by the task to mark it with a check or "X."

In this roundup, we looked at 10 task management apps: five for iPhones ( Checkmark, Remember the Milk, Reminders, Schedule Planner Pro and Smart Time) and five for Android-based smartphones ( Any.DO, Astrid, GTasks, Taskos and Wunderlist). Several of these apps have versions for both operating systems (and for other mobile OSes as well); in addition, most of these also work on tablets.

Our evaluation of each app focused on its ease-of-use and user interface, and on any features that set it apart from the others.

-- Howard Wen

Any.DO

Free OS reviewed: Android Other OSes: iOS

This task manager sports a bright, airy blue and white design that emphasizes white space and large, readable fonts. Its overall look is easy on the eyes and fits the smartphone format well. (The theme can be flipped to an inverted version, with white text set against black.)

Any.DOClick to view larger image.

You add a new task by tapping the entry box at the top of the screen and then inputting your text. Tap on a task and a toolbar will slide open below it; you can then mark the task as urgent, move it to another folder, set an alarm to alert you about it on a specified day and time, add a note to it, or forward it to someone in your contacts book as an email or Facebook message.

You can reorder your tasks by pressing on a task and dragging it to another place on the list. I found this easy and fast to do, even when I held the phone with one hand and used my thumb to move them around.

A "shake to clear" function lets you shake your device to clear your list of tasks that you've marked as finished. I'm not too fond of this (I personally feel most shake functions on smartphone apps are gimmicky), but it does fit with the one-hand operation approach of Any.DO.

You can sync your task lists with any other devices that also have the Any.DO app installed by signing up for a free account on the Any.DO site. You can also sync your Any.DO lists with your Google account to use with Google Tasks.

Bottom line:

Any.DO has a simple, easy-to-read interface and allows you to effortlessly create, edit and adjust your task list.

-- Howard Wen

Astrid

Free OS reviewed: Android Other OSes: iOS

Like Any.DO, Astrid wears a default light-blue-and-white theme. (You can change its colors to another scheme listed under its settings.)

AstridClick to view larger image.

The entry box for entering a new task is set at the bottom of the main screen. Two buttons below that labeled "Who" and "When" let you choose people from your contacts to assign to the task (and allows them to collaborate with you on it) and designate a deadline.

Tap on an existing task and you're taken to an "Edit Task" screen that lists details such as deadline, a log of changes and progress, and people attached to it. You can also set an alert, add notes and rate its importance (using three levels). You can even add an image (snapped from your device's camera or one already saved on it).

Press and hold on a task to copy or delete it -- and like Any.DO, Astrid lets you drag it to another place on the list. But first you have to set it to do so by tapping the lists icon (or alternately your Android device's settings button), tapping Sort & Subtasks, then choosing "Drag & Drop with Subtasks" as the way you want to sort the order of your lists.

However, Astrid includes a useful function few other apps do: Timer controls let you input how long (in hours and minutes) a task should take to complete, and how much time has already been spent on it. In addition, there's a stopwatch tool on the Edit Task page. Tap it when you start your task, and tap it again when you've stopped working; Astrid will log how much time you spent on it. Very handy, especially for contractors who charge by the hour.

You can sync your task lists with other devices running Astrid by setting up a free account on astrid.com. And like Any.DO, your Astrid task lists can be synced with Google Tasks.

Bottom line

Astrid is obviously well suited for multiple users who need to collaborate. It's a good task manager, beating Any.DO in the number of features. But unless you need its timer tool, it may be overkill when you don't need to share your tasks with others.

-- Howard Wen

Checkmark

$2.99 OS reviewed: iOS Other OSes: None

Checkmark is an interesting implementation of the task list, with a heavy focus on organizing your tasks based on where they need to be performed.

CheckmarkClick to view larger image.

On first launch, you're greeted by a friendly setup wizard that makes you choose between miles/kilometers, followed by a hint to change app settings within the iPhone's Settings.

The one thing I liked right away was Checkmark's simple and elegant interface. There are two main views for this app: a default icon view and a list view. Views can be toggled by tapping a button on the upper left. On the upper right, there is a button to add locations. At the bottom of the screen, there is a toggle button that lets you view different types of reminders, aptly described as Where and When.

Like other task managers, Checkmark allows for time- and location-based reminders. Checkmark's strength, though, is its ability to sort tasks by locations.

These locations can be anywhere you choose, including work, home, frequent shopping spots, banks, gyms, airports, hospitals or anywhere else you visit. Add as many locations as you like; each selection allows you to modify the radius size of the geo-fence, as well as the exact point of the location.

By default, the first thing Checkmark encourages you to do is to create favorite locations by tapping the Add Location button on the upper right -- you can add locations using Apple's Map services, add your current position or import a location from your Contacts list.

Once you set up your favorite areas, double-tap them to assign tasks or to-dos. The app's clean interface offers a title area, notes, arrival/departure and the ability to set an alert a few minutes after you arrive or depart an area. Whenever you're near any of the locations you created, you'll be reminded to complete tasks specific to that location.

If you want, you can toggle from Where to When on the main page before creating a task, and options will be based on time attributes instead of location. The app also features badge support (badges are little numerical notifications which appear with the app's home screen icon), text and audio alerts, and GPS accuracy range selection (listed as Best or Normal -- Normal is the default and doesn't use as much battery power).

I have to say: I've become a big fan of this app. It's simple, clever and concise, wrapped in a elegant interface. I'll be using this app long after this review is concluded.

Bottom line

Checkmark does not include a native iPad app, or many of the advanced features you may find on the other apps, but if you're looking for an intuitive, good-looking task manager with an emphasis on location-specific tasks, try it out.

-- Michael deAgonia

GTasks

Free; Premium version ($4.99) removes ads, offers background sync and other features OS reviewed: Android Other OSes: None

GTasks is actually an unofficial front-end for Google Tasks made by a third party. Its developer, Dato, sells a license key for $4.99 that will remove the sponsors' ads in this app and let you fine-tune the schedule that it keeps in sync with Google Tasks.

GTasksClick to view larger image.

GTasks offers yet another blue-and-white design -- this appears to be a popular default color scheme for this app category, but in GTasks you cannot change it.

Instead of creating a task by typing text into an entry box, you tap a "+" button, which leads you to a virtual notecard that you can fill with text. Then you pick a day on a calendar to be the task's deadline; you can also set an alert to sound on a certain date and time. Since there's not an emphasis on composing tasks as snappy headline-style sentences, GTasks lacks an "add notes" function -- you simply enter more text to the task's notecard screen if you want to provide more detail.

As with Google Tasks, you can work with different task lists. You can also add several tasks at a time, but if you want to add more than three, you must buy the premium version.

Pressing and holding on a task will summon double-arrow icons (pointing up and down) that appear to the left of all tasks on the task list. Pressing and holding on one of these icons allows you to drag-and-drop the task into another spot on the list. This isn't as intuitive to use as Any.DO's or Astrid's methods, but at least GTasks has a means to directly reorder your tasks.

Bottom line

GTasks is probably best for those who already use Google Tasks rather than users who are looking for a new task management app. To me, it feels more like a notecard app that is organized under a task-list structure than a full-featured application.

-- Howard Wen

Remember the Milk

Free; Pro version ($24.99/year) includes syncing and other features OS reviewed: iOS Other OSes: Android, BlackBerry

Remember the Milk (RTM) is a popular task manager. Available as a free download from the App Store, RTM features a fairly straightforward design that can be figured out easily just by poking and swiping about.

Remember the MilkClick to view larger image.

RTM includes the ability to set due dates, prioritize, sort by customizable lists and add reoccurring events. The app also lets you set time estimates, and add location and notes. Tasks can be tagged with customizable keywords and organized manually in ordinary lists or "Smart Lists" (which automatically update based on set criteria, such as due dates or tags).

The app takes advantage of many features on Apple devices, including Retina display support on the iPad, Safari/Mail/phone integration, multitasking support (which allows actions like sync to continue even when the app is exited) and VoiceOver support (for users who need assistance). It is available in 20 different languages and integrates with Dashboard in Leopard and Notification Center in Mountain Lion. There is also a Dashboard widget for Lion and Mountain Lion called Milk the Cow.

RTM has a workaround to add Siri integration, but it's not as comprehensive as the integration built into the Reminders app.

I tried RTM on both an iPad and an iPhone, and I felt that the interface worked better on the former. On the iPhone, the home screen felt cluttered; landscape mode was a bit better than the portrait view. On the iPad, the app used the larger display to show much more information to greater effect.

In my testing, the app worked as advertised, and performance was very good. However, there are a few drawbacks. The website offers more features than the mobile apps, but the biggest standout is that you can only sync your data once per day without the Pro account.

The Pro upgrade, which costs $24.99 annually, adds a variety of features, including unlimited daily auto syncing, the ability to sync across devices, push notifications, and badges.

Bottom line

Remember the Milk is a popular, capable program with a ton of support from third parties, as well as comprehensive multiplatform support. There are many more options available on the website compared to the mobile apps, and the service features many ways to integrate into your digital lifestyle. While the basic functions are given away, the Pro upgrade offers many missing mobile features, though the $24.99 a year cost may seem a bit steep for most casual task management users.

-- Michael deAgonia

Reminders

Free OS reviewed: iOS Other OSes: None

Introduced in iOS 5, Apple's Reminders is the built-in task manager for iPhones, iPads and the iPod Touch. Reminders features a clutter-free and intuitive interface, iCloud integration for syncing across every iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad or Mac that you own, badge and push notification support, Retina display support, location-based reminders, Siri integration and its own Mac app.

RemindersClick to view larger image.

Reminders is simple to navigate and figure out. Like other apps, Reminders supports the creation of multiple lists -- such as Stuff to Buy, Stuff to Do and Stuff to Fix -- and the separate lists can be flipped through by swiping their titles. Tasks are organized in a list underneath the title, with a checkbox to the left of each entry. Tapping an entry brings up more details, including the ability to add alarms based on time or day, as well as setting up repeating alarms.

The app also supports location-based alarms, which will notify you of to-do items when you arrive or depart a particular place. Location-based reminders can be entered manually, or chosen from your Contacts. Priority and notes can be added to each entry, as well.

Tasks are automatically synced across your Apple devices using iCloud services when changes are made, which helps keep your data up-to-date no matter which device you use.

However, Reminders stands out from the other task managers in its integration with Siri on the iPhone 4S. Say something as simple as, "Add toothpaste to my Stuff to Buy list" or "Remind me to take out the trash every Thursday morning at 7:07," and Siri will add those tasks into Reminders.

In addition, if you have places you visit in your Contacts, Siri can use them for your reminders. For instance, if you say, "Siri, remind me to email my editor about the article tomorrow morning when I get to work," Siri will respond, "Here's your Reminder for tomorrow. I'll remind you when you get there, or by 7 a.m. Shall I create it?"

Bottom line

Reminders has a home-court advantage compared to the other apps in this list because it ships with every iPhone and iPad, but that doesn't mean Reminders' streamlined (read: basic) feature set makes it the best program for all users. It is, however, fully integrated with Apple technologies -- so if all you need is a basic task manager, Reminders is a great tool that's already on your device.

-- Michael deAgonia

Schedule Planner Pro

$5.99 OS reviewed: iOS Other OSes: None

Schedule Planner Pro is an ambitious task manager, aimed at those who like their time tracking data color-coded and charted out.

Schedule Planner ProClick to view larger image.

The app interface is easy enough to figure out and navigate, featuring five buttons located at the bottom of the screen labeled: Tasks, Charts, Calendar, Statistics and Settings. The main areas of interaction are all modeled after a paper-based ledger/calendar, and tappable areas are clearly defined.

Creating tasks and tracking them via the app's built-in calendar is as simple as tapping the Add button in the home screen. You can then plug in values such as category, title, from and to time estimates, repeat information and miscellaneous notes. Once the task is completely filled in, pressing the Add in the upper right adds your task to the main list, and sorts the task within other categories.

Schedule Planner Pro syncs with Google Calendar, as well as Apple's built-in Calendar; there's also Dropbox support for database backups. You can export statistics as a CSV or plain text file via Mail or Dropbox.

I found using the app to be straightforward and the design pleasant enough. But entering tasks, while simple, could be tedious. There are no shortcuts, no location support for tasks, and no Siri or iCloud integration.

Bottom line

There is a free, lite version of the software that lacks cut/copy/paste, alerts and notifications, and iOS and Google Calendar support among other things, but gives you a feel for what to expect from the full version. The full version for the iPhone costs $5.99 at the App Store (there is also an HD version for the iPad that costs $9.99). However, considering the functionality/cost ratio, I couldn't really recommend this app above the others listed unless you're a hardcore stats fiend and love to see time spent on tasks charted out in front of you.

-- Michael deAgonia

Smart Time

$9.99 OS reviewed: iOS Other OSes: None

Smart Time takes a different approach to task management. It attempts to arrange tasks around your appointments by using time estimates, schedules imported from calendars already on your iPhone, and some manual adjustments of your working hours -- all accomplished by turning on iPhone's Calendar synchronization and configuring work/home schedules under the app settings.

Smart TimeClick to view larger image.

Visually speaking, this application is pretty ugly; the layout is fine and fairly straightforward, but the colors and themes feel more DOS than iPhone. There are three main views - which can be toggled using buttons on the bottom of the main screen -- labeled Smart View, Calendar and Focus. Focus displays only items due that day and Calendar displays a more traditional daily view; but it's clear that the makers of this product think you'll be spending most of your time in Smart View.

Smart View categorizes tasks (to-dos) and events (appointments) into two differently sized bars: Events are displayed as long bars while tasks are half the size. The bars are contained between two lines representing a single day. Each bar includes some info: title, start and end times, lines representing the length of the task, and whether the task has an alarm associated. It resembles nothing so much as a project manager.

Smart View automatically organizes your to-dos around scheduled events according to what can be reasonably accomplished within that day. Tasks can also be dragged around in the Smart View via drag and drop, in case manual adjustments are in order.

There's also a weekly calendar view that can be triggered by turning the phone to landscape. Within landscape mode, this view can be toggled from a weekly view to a monthly view by tapping the month title in weekly view, and back again by tapping the week title in month view.

Smart Time also gives you the option to add directly to the iPhone's Calendar. It doesn't just sync events with and to-dos to the Calendar, but also grabs information from the Calendar and places it within the app, consolidating your appointments but still keeping the standard Calendar in the loop, in case you use that more often.

There are also some clever shortcuts, such as the use of buttons to create actions. For example, you can create a task with a location to go to, or a task to call or write a contact, without having actually typed anything.

Bottom line

What Smart Time lacks in aesthetics, it makes up for in options and power. Note: It is only designed to work natively on the iPhone (though it will work on the iPad as a scaled iPhone app).

-- Michael deAgonia

Taskos

Free OS reviewed: Android Other OSes: None

At first glance, Taskos' interface shares some similarities with Any.DO. For one, tapping on a task summons a toolbar below that you use to set the task's priority (choosing from three color-coded levels), the category you want to put it under (Home, Work, etc.), its deadline and a sound alert. Through this toolbar, you can also add notes to the task and forward it to a contact. And like Any.DO, Taskos has a "shake to clear finished tasks" function. You can also sync your task lists created on Taskos with Google Tasks.

TaskosClick to view larger image.

However, there isn't a way to move an individual task to another spot on the list. All you can do is remove it by pressing and holding it, then selecting Delete from the pop-up menu.

Taskos' interface could use some work. Frankly, I thought this app looked unattractive; its white-text-against-black design might be hard on the eyes for many users. This isn't helped by the size of text; on my smartphone (a Motorola Triumph with a 4.1-in. display), it was noticeably smaller compared to the text displayed in Any.DO, Astrid and GTasks. There isn't a setting to resize the text.

Bottom line

Taskos is visually unappealing; its theme and default text size may be difficult to read, which has the psychological effect of turning your task list into something you don't want to check.

-- Howard Wen

Wunderlist

Free OS reviewed: Android Other OSes: iOS

Wunderlist goes for a slightly different approach to task lists. Most of these apps are designed to allow you to create individual tasks; if you want, you can then group them under a category. Wunderlist directs you to first create a new list category title. Then you tap the list's title to be taken to another screen where you can add tasks to it by inputting text into an entry box. (Or, you can add tasks to one of three generic list categories that already come with the app, which are listed on the toolbar along the bottom: Today, Tomorrow, or "No due date.")

WunderlistClick to view larger image.

Tap on a task, and you're taken to another screen where you can add notes, and set a deadline and reminder notification for it. You can also move the task to another list.

As with Taskos, you can't reorder the sequence of tasks on a list. Pressing and holding on a task only gives you the ability to delete it through a pop-up menu.

Wunderlist lets you sync your lists with other devices that also have the app installed, after you sign up for a free user account on wunderlist.com, but there's no syncing capability with Google Tasks.

One interesting feature is that you can add tasks by email: The subject line of your email becomes the title for a new Wunderlist task list, and each line of text in the body -- separated by line breaks -- becomes a task. After the new list and its tasks appear in your Wunderlist app, you can then edit it (e.g., adding alerts, deadlines, notifications, etc.). This is a nice option to have, and in fact I found using this method to create a task list easier and faster than using the app itself.

Like Taskos, Wunderlist displays text in a small size that might be difficult to read on certain phone displays. You can't change the text size, but you can change the background to one of 12 attractive color combinations and scenes.

Bottom line

Though it's not inconvenient, task building requires an extra step in Wunderlist: its emphasis on a category-first approach might slow you down if you prefer entering tasks first.

-- Howard Wen

Conclusions: Android users

Personally, I like task managers that let you reorder task sequences. With this ability, you can feel freer to quickly enter tasks when inspiration hits without having to think about their final order. That being said, what's more important is the ability to add tasks easily and quickly, to add alerts or to sync with your other devices.

Most of the apps in this roundup are pretty basic and will work to let you keep your day in order. But of the five free Android apps I tested, Any.DO and Astrid stood out. Both allow you to sync your lists with other devices on which you have the app installed, and can also sync with Google Tasks.

More specifically, Any.DO does the job of tracking your tasks in a simple manner with an attractive, easy-to-read look. It's best for managing solo chores, if you don't need to collaborate with others.

Astrid is a more sophisticated app that has additional features suited for managing tasks for groups of people. Its sharing and timer tools, including its nifty stopwatch, will help you keep track (and ideally motivate) one another to meet your shared deadlines.

-- Howard Wen

Conclusions: iOS users

If you require a basic task manager, there's good reason to stick with Reminders: This program has the best feature-to-cost ratio because it's already built into your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Macs running Mountain Lion, and its integration with Apple technologies means it is flexible enough to handle most needs.

But don't let that stop you from exploring third-party apps. Each app has a different approach to managing tasks that separates it from the competition. The plethora of options, price points and features means that one size does not have to fit everyone.

-- Michael deAgonia

Michael deAgonia, a frequent contributor to Computerworld, is a writer, computer consultant and technology geek who has been working on computers since 1993. You can find him on Twitter ( @mdeagonia).

Howard Wen is a freelance writer. He can be reached at howardwen@gmail.com.

Read more about mobile apps in Computerworld's Mobile Apps Topic Center.


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