App Review: Outline Tracker (Task Management) 8
Here at PreCentral, there are two things that we enjoy doing; giving you the full rundown on all things webOS, and keep track of our tasks to get work done. By reviewing this next app, Outline Tracker by Hominid Software, we are able to get the full joy out of both of those activities. You've gotten a look at other webOS productivity apps from us in the past, and now we get to give you a look at one that's been in the catalog for quite a long time.
Outline Tracker is a task management, Basecamp-syncing, outlining app that comes in two versions; free and paid (for which we got a promo code from the developer). Both of them come with some pretty nice task tracking features that are essential to good project management. In fact, Outline Tracker Free has all of the same features as the paid version, you'll just be limited to 50 items, either tasks or notes, at a time before you need to pay the price for an upgrade.
That price, while a bit much compared to other apps at $19.75, may be worth it once you see the impact it has on your (and your team's) productivity. If you find yourself in need of a simple task manager without all of the features of Outline Tracker, there are some great alternatives (which are a bit cheaper) that we've reviewed before, but Outline Tracker definitely stays at the top as one of the greats for both individuals and groups (especially when you start syncing your Basecamp accounts).
There's still a lot more to go through, so click through the break to read the rest of our review of Outline Tracker by Hominid Software.
Before we limit Outline Tracker to being used as a simple task management app, let's clarfiy something. There are so many features built into the app, and it's laid out in such a flexible way, that you could use the app for any number of different activities. When first downloading the app, there was a curiosity as to why the app was called "Outline Tracker" and not actually mention task management directly in the title. But it makes sense now; while it is true that the app is built to make managing your tasks easy on your webOS device (and is even optimized for David Allen's Getting Things Done method that we've looked at before), it can be used for essays or presentation outlines, instructions, pros/cons lists, sermon notes and more. In our time with the app, we found it to be very functional in many ways (we also found that it fixed many of the problems prevalent in other task-apps).
The beauty of Outline Tracker comes in two parts: First, layers are extremely important when breaking down larger activities into smaller tasks. Outline Tracker allows any number of sub-tasks to continually be added as new layers below each previous task that you create. You could, therefore, have a parent item as the title of your thesis paper, and five layers later be breaking down a section of that paper into smaller ideas that might form your sentences.
Second, you can add a nice amount of detail to each item as needed, and then edit them easily later on so that you aren't forgetting any of the important bits of projects you might be working on. The various views of Outline Tracker, which you can navigate using the app menu buttons at the bottom of the device screen, will also allow you to sort and browse through those tasks based on the different data that you put in. Get a look at the tasks that you have available to work on right now, the ones with due-dates coming up, which contacts are connected to specific tasks, which tasks are the most pressing to be completed first, and quite a bit more. Once you combine the many different views, the unlimited number of layers and the amount of detail that you can put into each item, you will end up with a very complex app that can both help, or even hinder, your daily duties at work, home and play.
When it comes down to it, perhaps the most valuable feature that comes with Outline Tracker is the ability to either import an OPML or XOXO file from another outline management software, or to sync with your 37Signals Basecamp account. So you can be working on your projects at the office computer and then import the outline file to the app using the importer (which automatically adds in new fieleds/places as needed) and then when you get home have it sync with your team's Basecamp account over the air so that everyone can get the updates. The app will also allow you to work offline, only syncing the changes with Basecamp's database after you reconnect to wifi or your carrier's data service. You can even backup a project's outline to your email and either save it for reading through later, send it to other interested parties, or even print it off if you want to hold a physical list in your hand (something you can't do in other task apps).
Of course, there are some pretty big features that work with other parts of webOS as well. Just Type will allow you to add new items quickly to a project on webOS 2.0 devices, and the webOS Calendar will display tasks with due dates and some of the attached details. You can set reminders for tasks that are coming up, you can move tasks to specific "places" (Do you need to do that at Home? At Work? At your Mom's?). And you can't forget to read the help section of the app, which will teach you about a lot of the features that may not be readily apparent when you first start using the app.
Where Outline Tracker was sometimes difficult for us to use was when it came down to the complexity of the design and the amount of detail that could go into any items that we added to projects. While there are certainly a number of improvements that have been made to make using the app pretty easy to use, we're pretty big fans of minimalist and simple apps that get out of the way of the work we need to do. Outline Tracker sometimes stands right in the way as we navigate through different views, and forces us to spend a lot of time on task-management rather than on task-completion.
With so much else already begging for our attention, we'd love to see the UI cleaned up a bit to be less of a distraction. You may find yourself often staring at the screen (especially as you're first getting into the app) and wondering what you're looking at for a few seconds before you finally remember what you were doing. We know it's difficult to always translate actions onto the small screens of smartphones, but we're pretty sure some small changes would do wonders for those using the app. Don't get it wrong, the app does look pretty nice, but it could be a bit simpler.
That said, the various views in the app are extremely handy. It's nice to be working on the details of a specific note that is several layers deep, and then being able to swipe over to another card that shows the entire project (with all tasks, sub-tasks and notes) in one view.
For twenty dollars, we think the app may be just a little bit pricey for your average app-consumer (can't forget about that free version, though!). Especially with some great competition regularly making improvements and increasing those purchase numbers while keeping the price low. Still, Outline Tracker is a very good app that allows you to do so much more than just manage tasks and organize outlines. The app was a Hot Apps winner last year, and the free version has certainly brought some users in to purchase the paid app later on. So there is a number of people who find the higher price well worth it. If you are using Basecamp for your work (like we do), then this app is absolutely a must-have. For the rest of you out there that just want a task-app to help get you through the day, try out the free version to see if it's right for you before dropping the $19.75.
Perhaps we'll see some changes come to the app to improve the user-interface a bit more over time, but until then we'll keep using the app and getting better at managing our time wisely each and every day. Grab Outline Tracker in the HP webOS App Catalog now for Free or for $19.75, and commit yourself to a life-changing style of task-listing and outlining that will change your efficiency forever (OK, maybe it's not that dramatic, but the app is still pretty darn good). Then leave your comments below with what you think about the app (after reviewing it in the catalog, of course), and tell us how you're using it differently or what changes you'd like to see made in the future. The developer is definitely around and listening to make his users happy.