A couple of months ago, I put the top four note-taking apps on Android to test in an attempt to figure out what each one was good at. If there’s one other thing I use my phone most for – barring the usual calling & texting, of course – it is to manage my todo lists. So this time around, I take the top task management apps on Android and put them through the paces to try and identify a winner.
Now I’m not new to this game, really. For years, I’ve pounced upon every app that had anything to do with task management, GTD and the likes. Having gone from using Remember The milk to Astrid to Wunderlist, back to Remember the Milk & Todoist, I keep going through the phases every time the landscape seems to change a bit. Consider this that phase, and join me as I go through each app and review it on three parameters – core features, user interface and other bells and whistles.
There are at least a few hundred todo list apps on Android at the moment, each with its own strengths & weaknesses. For me, the top contenders – based on feature set, install base and general awareness among users – are Any.do, Wunderlist, Remember The Milk & Todoist. This list would have included Astrid a few months ago, but since their acquisition by Yahoo! and subsequent shutdown, this has come down to just a four horse race.
One of my primary criteria for selecting the apps in this showdown was that they should be universal apps, not restricted to one device. I should be able to access & manage my todo list from anywhere, using a phone (Android or otherwise), tablet, desktop or the browser. I also ignored apps that are primarily note-taking apps with some list features built in, like Google Keep and Evernote. The focus is on hardcore task list management with at least a few bells & whistles thrown in.
I also decided not to focus on collaboration features for the sake of brevity. Some of these apps provide different levels of collaboration features, but I really don’t have the context to test those in real life as of now.
To start with, let’s look at the core features any todo list needs to provide – creating and managing tasks, assigning due dates and priorities, categorizing them and of course, striking things off as you get them done. Needless to say, all four apps do this, albeit with varying levels of ease & flexibility.
Where all apps let you type in your tasks, Any.do goes a step further and lets you dictate them using the device’s microphone. It also keeps things the simplest, making it a snap to add tasks one after the other with pretty much no other distractions. Wunderlist does that too, although I’m not a big fan of that simplicity.
When I add a task, I want to be able to quickly categorize it, assign a due date and set a priority, something Remember The Milk (RTM) & Todoist do best. With Any.do & Wunderlist, I need to go back to each task and assign metadata one by one. A huge omission in Any.do is the lack of repeating tasks. You can set recurring reminders for a task – something of an exclusive feature in the Android client – but the task itself cannot be set to re-appear at specific intervals.
Another key differentiator – especially for power users, I reckon – is that RTM & Todoist give you four priority levels whereas in the other two it is just a toggle, important or not important. If you are a heavy user, this ability to mark different tasks as more or less important can be the deciding factor.
I also like the ability to assign sub-tasks – breaking things into smaller chunks so it is easier to track progress. Except RTM, all other apps let you do that, although Any.do inexplicably hides the function under “Notes” for a task. I don’t get it! With RTM & Wunderlist you can add actual notes to each task, while with Todoist you need a premium subscription to do so.
As far as categorization goes, they all have lists, although Any.do calls them folders and Todoist projects. Todoist even lets you create sub-projects which can make organizing monstrous lists – yeah, they’re a thing, trust me – very easy. You also get an additional level of categorization in the way of labels with Todoist and RTM. If you are a fan of the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology, these labels can serve as ways to set context for tasks.
Some more core functions would be widgets (free in all apps except RTM, where you need a premium subscription), push notifications (Free in Any.do & Wunderlist, but a premium feature in RTM & Todoist) & Sync (Free in Any.do & Wunderlist, manual only in Todoist free version & once every 24 hours in RTM free version). The last one there is an absolute deal-breaker for me.
As far as first impressions go, you have to hand it to Wunderlist, and to some extent Any.do. Wunderlist is by far the prettiest app of the lot, although the eye candy comes at a price. I consistently found the app sluggish on my Galaxy Nexus. Any.do has been a pioneer as far as flat design goes – reportedly even inspiring Apple for the iOS redesign – and has some sleek animations to boot. The RTM interface on the other hand, feels a little dated and tedious. For me, the recently redesigned Todoist strikes the best balance between simplicity, speed and features.
Going beyond first impressions though, the user interfaces start to reflect each app’s approach to task management. The default view in RTM is “This Week”, giving you an at-a-glance overview of what you have on your plate for the next few days. Todoist is more in the present with the default set to “Today”. Any.do also straightaway shows you tasks for today, tomorrow and later in a single list, but that’s more because further categorization is hidden from plain sight. Every task you add automatically gets tagged for ‘today’ and goes in the first list. Wunderlist on the other hand, defaults to the ‘Inbox’ folder – the one where I have no tasks ever because I want everything neatly filed.
For the tasks themselves, Any.do sticks with two lists – by date & by list. That’s it. No sub-pages, no more categorization, not even a hint of what list a task belongs to in the timeline view (or what the due date is in the list view)! Tap on a task and you can set it to be important, change the folder, set a date – where I need to manually disable the alarm every single time – add notes or share the task with someone. Frankly, I find it to be the most limiting and over-simplified experience from this lot.
Wunderlist & RTM assign an entire page for each task, dedicated to all the details about the task, with the former doing a stellar job of utilizing the space to show the due date, reminder status, sub-tasks, notes, attachments & comments. In the list views also, both apps do a good job of showing when a task is due, the project it belongs to and whether it is a repeating one or not.
In my opinion though, Todoist does the absolute best job of cramming all that information nicely in the list view itself. Sub-tasks are actually first-class citizens, with the only difference being that they are at a different level of hierarchy. You can select one of more tasks and either mark them done, postpone or edit them. The hamburger menu that slides from the left is also top-notch, letting you easily navigate between lists, and manage projects and lists.
Bells & Whistles
If you haven’t been able to make a decision on which of the apps suit your requirements yet, I guess things boil down to what additional features they each carry.
If you are a productivity geek like me, you will certainly appreciate how RTM & Todoist let you add all sorts of metadata to your tasks right when adding the task itself. You don’t need to, but all the options are there. The fact that Wunderlist & Any.do make you go back to a task for this bugs the hell out of me.
A couple of very interesting additions to the RTM feature list are the ability to set time estimates for tasks and save searches as smart-lists. Along with Todoist, it is also very good at figuring out natural language inputs. They recognize sat (for Saturday), mar (for March), next tuesday, 4 days, every weekday and much more just fine. Wunderlist & Any.do on the other hand stick to visual controls for everything.
Todoist, like I mentioned before, lets you create sub-projects and sub-tasks, all of which behave just like normal projects and tasks, just in a hiearchical structure. You can even set list items that are not tasks that need to be checked off. I use these as separators in cases where a list is getting too long. Todoist also boasts of a progress tracking system called Karma, which assigns a score to everything you do within the app – positive for things like completing tasks before due dates, and negative for overdue tasks, etc. Unfortunately, you can’t see your karma score in the Android version yet, although they say it is coming soon.
Any.do, for all its simplicity and minimalism, also has some interesting tricks up its sleeve. Missed call notifications let you do something about missed calls from a beautiful notification panel at the bottom of the screen. Too many completed tasks cluttering a list, simply shake your phone to get rid of them. There’s also a feature called any.do moment that gives you a nice overview of tasks for the day every morning or evening.
It is also important to note that all apps except Any.do have very capable pure web-based clients. Any.do makes up for the lack of it with a Chrome desktop app, while Wunderlist & Todoist have native apps for Mac & Windows. RTM is the only one without a native desktop app that works offline.
In the end – as with most other battles – what app you choose will depend entirely on your requirements. If all you are looking for is a simple, minimalistic todo list, Any.do should suit just fine. If eye-candy is as important as a basic set of features, you can go the Wunderlist way. RTM & Todoist should work well for the pro crowd – those like me who want complete task list management solutions with a high level of control over your todos and a rock solid feature-set.
Personally, I’ve settled on Todoist with a premium subscription. It does everything I need, strikes a good balance between simplicity and powerful features, and is blazing fast. I absolutely don’t mind paying that $29 a year to get access to unlimited sync, push notifications & better label management.