The concept behind Dollarbird ($1.99), Transylvania-based Halcyon Mobile’s first mobile app, is simple. Dollarbird was designed to help you track income and expenses—past, present and future—so you can easily see the state of your cash flow up to five years in the future. At that, it succeeds. But the Dollarbird iPhone app flounders in actual execution in terms of the user interface design. There’s no central, standard navigational system, so it’s a little confusing until you realize that there’s only a handful of screens.
There’s value in being able to view all of your incoming and outgoing cash on the day that it’s due and see whether you’ll be in the black over the coming month and years based on that. But how does Dollarbird work in tandem with your existing account-tracking and bill-paying systems? There’ll be duplicate data entry involved if you’re doing any other kind of personal financial management.
If you’re squeamish about downloading bank and credit card information and you’re willing to enter absolutely every income and expense transaction, Dollarbird—funky navigation aside — may serve you well. But there are better, faster, more comprehensive apps for managing your money, like Mint.com (free).
Most of the personal finance apps I look at have two levels of user-initiated security. You set a user name and password to log in, and you often have a 4-digit PIN that lets you in if you haven’t logged out.
Dollarbird is an open system. You can set up a four-digit passcode, but this is optional. This lack of security makes sense when you realize that you won’t be downloading live transactions from financial institutions like other apps allow. You don’t even tell Dollarbird your name. The only text you’ll ever enter gets attached to expenses, to identify the expenditure.
Still, you don’t want your data to be hacked, and you wouldn’t want someone to pick up your phone and see personal details about your salary and other income, and how you spend your money. That’s the reason for the optional passcode and the standard system security built in.
If there’s anything in Dollarbird that could be considered a home page or dashboard, it’s the graphical calendar that the app opens first. Once you start entering income and expenses, they’ll populate the targeted days (though you’ll have to squint to see the numbers on the calendar, especially if you have multiple entries on the same day).
Click on a day, though, and your transactions appear below the calendar. To delete one, you swipe right. To edit, click on the entry and the original data entry page appears.
To enter income and expense items, you put your finger about three-quarters of the way down the screen and swipe downward. A plus sign appears momentarily, and then the display changes to a split screen, with pre-defined categories on top and a numeric keypad below. The categories that show are for expenses. If you didn’t know that Dollarbird also tracked income, you wouldn’t necessarily think to swipe down to see more.
There’s just a handful of built-in categories, but you can easily add more. You select one by tapping on it, like “Clothing.” Use the keypad to enter the amount and click the checkmark in the lower right of the screen if that’s all you want to do. You can, though, click on a button to enter a note. And you can tap a circular arrow symbol to make the transaction a recurring one. When you do so, the bottom of the screen goes black, with small buttons marked “Cancel,” “Repeat Every” and “Save.”
Tap on “Repeat Every,” and all you see is “1 Months” against the black background, Unless you’ve read the FAQs or blog, you wouldn’t know that you can swipe the “1″ to display a different number (up to 50) and the “Weeks” to change it to “Months” (no Daily, Annually, Quarterly, etc., like apps of this ilk generally offer). When you’ve specified your interval, you click “Save,” and the icon lights up. Click the bell symbol, and you’ll get a pop-up reminder on the day of the transaction or one to four days prior. Here, too, the design doesn’t work toward easy understanding and intuitive navigation.
Once you click “Save,” you’ll be returned to the calendar.
Getting to the Bottom Line
But where do you go from there? The only visible navigational tool is an ellipsis at the bottom of the screen. How do you get to the mini-reports and cash flow projections?
When you tap on the ellipsis, a new screen opens, displaying your settings (time of day for reminders, PIN code protection, etc.). There are two other navigational text buttons at the top of the screen. Tap “Expenses,” and you’ll see a list of categories with your expenditure totals in each for the current month to date. Swipe to the left, and the next month opens, displaying your recurring future expenses. You can keep swiping to see up to five years’ worth of months.
Click on “Balance,” and you’ll see a line graph displaying your monthly cash flow. You can change its scope from the default by tapping tiny arrows next to the beginning and end dates and changing them to see a different period. If you’re very conscientious about entering all of your income and expenses, you’ll be able to see the trends moving forward.
You can’t tap a spot on the graph to drill down on a month and see the underlying data. But a two-column table below it shows you how each month compares to the month before, displaying both your balance and the difference (with up and down arrows) from the month before.
To get back to the calendar, you can swipe down or tap the ellipse at the top of the screen.
A Simple Mission
Here’s another unusual attribute: Dollarbird does not function in any one currency. The numbers you enter can represent dollars or euros or whatever you want, which I can only see being a problem if you’re traveling abroad. You won’t be able to switch currencies, so your expense-tracking will only be accurate if you convert the money you spent into your home currency before entering it.
Dollarbird does what it says it does, albeit by using some unusual conventions. If you’re still writing checks for all of your bills and you’re not using any other personal finance applications, it may be a good cash flow-tracking solution for you. But if you want to avoid all that data entry and learn a lot more about your money, go to Mint.com.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc