Friday, September 21, 2012

GoTasks to-do list app

11/4/12: Added a number of updates. Holding back from updating the app to a newer version until at least after I finish a particular project for which I am using a dedicated GoTasks list, not wishing to introduce any additional software variables until that project is completed.
2/2/13: I eventually upgraded from 1.7.2 directly to 1.7.4. My impression is that 1.7.2's mildly buggy cursor positioning for new items (described below) seems to have been fixed. On the downside, crashes became more frequent, requiring a total quit of the application (forcing it out of the active apps) and restarting it. I have long experienced similar behavior from my usage of the iOS (default) Calendar app, which I also sync with Google, so, while inconvenient, it is not a big deal to me.
3/30/13: The crashes seem to have been largely (entirely?) eliminated with 1.7.5.
11/8/13: Added updates (and a solution) related to significantly worsening performance issues over time using 1.7.5 under iOS 5.1.1.

I used the Errands To-Do List app (my earlier review) for my to-do list for almost 3 months, but was unhappy with the frequent, surprisingly slow startup. I finally looked around a bit more, and found this review of 3 to-do list apps. That led me to this other review of the Zero app, where a comment from "Samlindahl" mentioned GoTasks, which I investigated.

To-do list apps are plentiful in the Apple App Store, and no one wants to try every single one of them in an attempt to find the one that best suits their needs. I am grateful to the other bloggers for providing signposts for such a quest. Although GoTasks was not reviewed by either blog entry, the bloggers provided the ecosystem that spawned the comment that ultimately led me to the (free) GoTasks (version 1.7.2) app.

My to-do list needs are relatively basic. I don't need due dates or reminders for items, I just need a big "bin" into which I can put them, sort (and re-sort) them as I desire, check them off, and delete them. GoTasks meets all my essential requirements and includes several nice additional features.

GoTasks (its website, which has some informative links) can be used with Google Tasks, a Google service of which I had been previously unaware. I'm glad to say Google Tasks has quite a decent web interface at https://mail.google.com/tasks/canvas (as of 9/21/12 3/21/14, there is no logout button on the page, so you can and should use https://mail.google.com/tasks/logout to do so, as mentioned on https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups=#!topic/gmail-labs-help-tasks/G1UvgMc_nYU go to https://www.google.com to do so). I used copy-and-paste with it to transfer all my Errands To-Do List items (which I had e-mailed to myself) using that web interface, and plan to eventually do the same thing to transfer other tasks which I currently initially stored rather artificially in the (no-longer-available) Notespark app, and subsequently migrated to the Simplenote app. It's of course much easier to do a lot of copy-and-paste operations on a PC than on an iPod.

For GoTasks, I use a Google account which I had already largely dedicated to managing my contacts and calendar, and now my to-do list as well. I do not use this Google account for much e-mail, so may have avoided some issues (based on a comment from Alex of the above-mentioned http://blog.chillantro.com/appsperience). I had no unread messages in the account's Inbox when I connected to it with GoTasks. I also might have avoided some issues by using only the "Local Account" in my initial testing, and only later connecting my Google account. The Apple App Store has many positive and potentially useful review comments, and I thought I had seen a comment which advised against starting the app right up immediately with a Google account.

It isn't required that one use a Google account, but I like (11/8/13: AND STRONGLY RECOMMEND) the syncing to Google's servers because:
  • I can additionally backup (outside of other iPod backups) my to-do list over WiFi to Google's servers at whatever frequency I like.
  • I can use a web interface to access/update the Google server's last record of my to-do list, which is convenient at times. Syncing between Google's servers and my iPod (and/or other iOS device) can be done later.
  • If you need to reinstall the app (which may be the only way to alleviate performance issues -- see CONS, below), being able to sync data back from Google's servers to your device will likely simplify your task.
If you only use the "Local Account" option (in which the app also stores its Features and Help lists), your data is presumably stored in whatever backups you make of your iPod, probably in iCloud or pc (small p and c, meaning PC or Mac) iTunes.


PROS:
  • Allows manual sorting of items, the most useful sorting for me.
  • (Only when using manual sorting) Allows indenting of items to group "child" items under a "parent" item. Re-ordering by dragging a parent item moves its children as well. Three (or more, probably) indenting levels are possible, but so far I've never used more than three. There's only so much width to an iPod screen; if you indented too often you'd have little room for the text of an item (and landscape orientation usage is not an option).
  • Via Share, can e-mail a single item or a parent+children group of items.
  • Uses up to 2 lines for the main text "Name" of an item (unless you turn off the Truncate Name setting, in which case more than 2 lines of "Name" text can be shown), and up to 1 line for "Notes". Does not reserve empty screen space for an item's "Notes" if there are none. (This is more effective use of the screen space than in Errands To-Do List, where 1 line is always used for each of its equivalent fields of "Name" and "Notes", regardless of whether there is any "Notes" text.)
  • Drag the + button to the area after any existing item currently visible on the screen (you cannot drag to any position above the top or below the bottom of the screen) to create a new item, or use the "spread" gesture (more correct than "pinch", I feel, although the app's Features say "Pinch to insert new task") between existing items. (If you just tap the + button, a new item will be created at the top of the list.)
  • Long-press ("Long Tap") on an item to select from options including "View Details" (e.g., the above-mentioned "Notes") or Delete > Delete Task.
  • Long-press ("Long Tap") on a parent item additionally allows you to "View Branch", to see the child items only.
  • Has a slider to set Font Size. I used the smallest size, and can fit about 9 items on the screen (One more than I could fit in Errands To-Do List).
  • Has Search capability. Handy for those of us with seemingly infinitely long lists of things we may never get around to....
  • Manual Sync (instead of automatic sync) to Google is an option, and my preference. I sync when I have WiFi and know I've made enough changes to merit a sync. It would, however, be nice if GoTasks showed a list's last sync date with Google, or even an indicator showing whether or not local changes have been saved on the iPod since the last Google sync operation for a list.
  • Multiple lists can be made under a single Google account, which is of some benefit to me.
  • Customizable behavior for tap actions (defaults are in parentheses):
    • Single Tap (View task)
    • Double Tap (Edit task; enables immediate editing of "Name", not of "Notes")
    • Long Tap (Tasks menu)
    Additional options are Mark As Completed and View Branch, but so far the defaults seem the most useful and natural.
  • Multiple Settings options. I changed Ask before deleting to off because you already need a Long-Press plus a tap on Delete, which I consider enough of a confirmation. I also turned off Truncate Name in order to show all of the "Name" text, instead of truncating at 2 lines and showing "..." to indicate that more exists.


    Some other settings, including some not shown above, are irrelevant to my use, and I do not discuss them here.

CONS:
  • No "Focus" as in Errands To-Do List, to mark items as deserving a different type of attention than other tasks (However, I eventually concluded that Errands To-Do List's badge showing the count of "Focus" items was not of use to me.).
  • When doing multiple operations while in Airplane Mode, the end result after subsequent syncing to Google's servers may not be exactly what you expect. When I used both Clear Completed and Empty List to totally delete items while in Airplane Mode, only the first operation was subsequently synced to Google (so to resolve that, I just used Empty List again).
  • I ran into two non-critical (GoTasks continued to function) errors to date, though I don't remember what I was doing at the time: "(null)" action failed with message "0 ". That error is mentioned on the support page.
  • GoTasks crashed on me 4 times through 10/9/12, likely enough because I was running low on available RAM on my 4th generation iPod Touch running iOS 5.1.1.
  • Apparent bug: In early October 2012, after adding about half a dozen items, then manually syncing, GoTasks deleted an older, lower item (which I subsequently found in the Deleted folder, an item which I knew I hadn't yet gotten around to doing) and had oddly moved another (an item I knew I had JUST put closer to the top). I was cued into these changes by seeing a change in the display caused by slight line positioning changes at the time of syncing (because different items had different numbers of visible lines, so the inter-item line positioning changed). I searched the Trash and found a dupe of my not-yet-done item there. Of course, other apps that sync with Google Tasks might have made the same strange errors.
  • After some period of usage with 1.7.2-1.7.5 under iOS 5.1.1, which for me was approximately 9 months, the app may begin suffering from extensive delays for operations that were previously close to instantaneous. In 10/2013, the developer confirmed that he was aware of this issue, and had tried to address it in later versions, but they are only available for iOS 6/7. I am sticking with iOS 5 as long as possible (see here for why), but in 11/2013 I have an acceptable solution in deleting the app from my iPod, then reinstalling it from PC iTunes (In 2/2014, I was also able to get 1.7.5 directly from the App Store back onto my iPod running iOS 5.1.1) and adjusting configuration settings. Since I sync to Google Tasks, I can reload my data from Google, then manually reorder my lists as desired (the previous order is not preserved). The developer pointed out that you can backup tasks prior to deleting the app by using Long-press (tap-hold) on a list (or "All Lists") and choosing "Email". Time will tell how often I will need to reinstall to fix performance delays, but once in 9 months is not a big deal to me. (12/3/13: However, twice in 10 months is a negative trend that bears watching.)
  • If you have more than a screen's worth of lists, and you want to reorder one, you cannot move it beyond the current screen's lists (there is no automatic scrolling beyond that point). You would have to first move it to the lowest position possible, then manually scroll the screen so that list is at the top, then repeat that procedure as often as needed until you are able to place it where you want it within your lists.
  • On 3/3/14, I was walking through areas with intermittent wifi connectivity and made the mistake of making some changes and, more critically, making multiple attempts to sync (avoid doing this!). The GoTasks data on my iPod got so out of sync with the Google server data that GoTasks could not be used. I'm writing this up rather after-the-fact, but I believe it displayed some information about the insurmountable sync problem, then crashed when I tried to use it regardless of that problem. I deleted the app, reinstalled it from the App Store, synced my data from Google's servers, and reordered lists as desired, a process with which I was already familiar, from seeking performance improvement in 11/2013, as noted above.

OTHER COMMENTS:
  • When you create a new item, or move an existing item elsewhere, it inherits the indentation level of the item directly above it.
  • To cancel blank (e.g., unintentional) new, never-saved item creation, tap Done button (not particularly intuitive, but it does the trick).
  • (Only when using manual sorting)
    • Marking the only child item of a parent item as complete will also mark the parent item as complete.
    • If you delete the only child of a parent (at least with Ask before deleting turned off in settings), the parent does not automatically change from a downward pointing triangle to a checkbox, although it will update upon assorted other actions (e.g., tap the triangle, refresh the list, edit that item, switch to another app and back to GoTasks).
  • I keep a lengthy list of items, so use the following workaround:
    If I locate an item using Search and want to move it to the top of the list, I move it temporarily to a normally empty "Move-to-top placeholder" list, then move it back to its original list, which puts it in the topmost position.
  • The Clear button at the top used to delete text in a "Name" or "Notes" text box is perhaps efficient, since it does the same function for either text box while taking up only one space on screen. However, it takes some mild getting used to, vs the typical Select All and delete, or perhaps X button to delete, methods I've used more often.
  • Marking an item as complete doesn't move it out of its list (unlike in Errands To-Do List). One potential benefit of this could be for a group of items, where you don't want to lose sight of the completed items while others remain unfinished.
  • Occasionally when starting or switching to the app, creation of a new item starts with the text input position (cursor) higher on the line than it should be. That doesn't interfere with functionality, and the alignment is corrected when your text extends to the second line or when you tap Done. (2/2/13: Seemingly fixed in 1.7.4.)
  • If using automatic sync (which I tried briefly), after creating a new empty item, wait for the Google "throbber" to finish rotating before using Clear Completed or performing other actions, or you might experience odd behavior.
  • As someone who does only manual syncing, I don't recommend delaying too long between syncs. Many accumulated changes would seem to run a higher risk of confusing Google's servers.
  • Because I use manual syncing, making "more complex" (e.g., involving re-ordering and grouping) changes from two or more devices can invite trouble. If using manual syncing, you may wish to stick to using GoTasks on a single device, or, always sync such that the local and remote states will match prior to any session during which you change any to-do list items. Supplemental use of the Google Tasks canvas web interface described above must be done similarly carefully (only after a GoTasks sync, and, as already noted, a GoTasks sync must again be done after any canvas changes). GoTasks syncing is apparently based on "new" transactions recorded in the GoTasks app data, not on the total state of to-do list item data on both client and server. That differs from the syncing of an app like Notespark (which I first blogged about here), which provides you a chance to reconcile discrepancies found.
  • Within the Google app, Apps > Tasks can also be used to access Google Tasks items, but GoTasks is more streamlined for pure to-do list management, and performs more smoothly as well.
  • In-app purchases are simply varying-level appreciations of the developer's product, and are under Settings > Donate. The frequency of each is visible in the App Store. It was well worth $4.99 to me. In two (total) very reasonable and reasonably spaced out (timewise) pop-ups, the app asks you about making a donation. Those pop-ups apparently come up whether or not you made a donation (the second prompt came up some time after I had made my donation).
  • I would also like a Truncate Notes option so that just like for "Name", I could always show the entirety of "Notes" text. The developer replied that he may consider adding that.
  • As usual on this blog, my comments refer to usage on the iPod. I have observed that some of the functionality differs on the iPad.

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