Cluster – Visual Planner (for iPhone) review

The $1.99 iPhone app Cluster – Visual Planner attempts to deliver more information about your tasks and to-do list by adding visual cues, like color to show impending deadlines and size to show importance. The idea is right, but the execution falls massively short.
Photo of Cluster – Visual Planner (for iPhone)

I’m not one for gimmicky apps, but there’s something to be said for a task-management program that delivers information through not just text, but also other visual cues, like shape, size, and color. The $1.99 iOS-only app Cluster – Visual Planner attempts to deliver a new to-do experience, and, while the idea works, it’s not executed well enough for me to recommend it.

The app puts your tasks into bubbles on your iPhone that float and bounce around the screen. You can play with them, drag them around and flick them about (they never pop). But more important is how they look: Each task bubble has a color, a few words about the task it represents, and a variable size. Tasks grow bigger as their deadline approaches. The colors are self-selected and relate to categories or tags that you create. And the words in the center are a shortened version of whatever task details you write.

My problem with the app starts with the fact that I can’t see, in the bubble, the full name of the task. I also can’t see from the primary screen any of the due dates, just the general “larger means closer to due,” although you can toggle over to a list view of your tasks and see them as line items with the due date on the far right.

I also found the gestures for marking tasks completed in Cluster to be super confusing. Seeing as the tasks take the shape of bubbles, I thought maybe I could double-tap them or flick them to pop them and be done, but no. You have to select a bubble, see its details that pop down from the top of the screen, and then slide that mini screen from left to right until a green box with a check mark appears. Oh, and if you drag that screen from right to left instead, you see a red box with an ‘X,’ which means delete but could also mean “completed.”

At any rate, we’re not done yet because after you swipe left-to-right, you still have to select an answer to this question, “Finish Task?” with your options being X or checkmark. That language and those options aren’t exactly crystal clear. So that’s three motions, including a questionnaire, just to mark a task as done. I’d rather have the task marked as completed through some simpler method, like double-tapping a bubble, or flicking it hard to one side, or dragging it onto a “complete” indicator of some kind. The possibilities for something better are endless.

If you like to-do apps that entice you to use them through gimmicks, I would suggest Clear iPhone app (also $1.99). It’s not my cup of tea, personally, but it’s better designed than Cluster. There’s also the Carrot iPhone app ($1.99), which tries to bully you into completing your to-dos on time, although I can point to several flaws in that app, too (click through to the full review to read about those flaws).

If you seriously want to create better to-do lists,  let me recommend Awesome Note ($3.99), an Editors’ Choice for its excellent design, ability to integrate with other services, and visual appeal. I also highly recommend the Any.do app (free), a four-star app in the free task-management category. If you collaborate on many of your tasks and projects, then go for the Asana mobile app (free; premium subscriptions available), which includes support for up to 30 users at no charge. 


Verdict
The $1.99 iPhone app Cluster – Visual Planner attempts to deliver more information about your tasks and to-do list by adding visual cues, like color to show impending deadlines and size to show importance. The idea is right, but the execution falls massively short.
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