QuickBooks Online Plus review

QuickBooks Online Plus with Payroll is simply the best website available for online accounting. It's the most comprehensive in terms of features and tools and its interface, navigation, and online cues can best support small businesses with little or no accounting knowledge.
Photo of QuickBooks Online Plus

The last time I reviewed QuickBooks Online Plus, I gave it three and a half stars and no Editors’ Choice award. Intuit has done a lot of work on the Web-based solution since then. It has a revamped interface, for one thing, making it look lighter and fresher and more state-of-the-art. There are more add-ons in the App Center and additional time-saving tools, like batch processes and the innovative Income List.

But it still has three notable deficits. First, price. If you use the top-of-the-line app, Online Plus with Payroll, you’ll pay $63.16 a month for five users—more, of course, for more team members. Second, it still does not support multiple currencies. Finally, QuickBooks Online’s lack of a robust tablet app is troubling. QuickBooks Mobile, which runs on the iPhone, Android, and Blackberry smartphones, offers a very limited set of tools. And, while you can access QuickBooks Online from within a tablet’s browser or a remote-access solution like LogMeIn or through a third-party application called QBooks (which actually synchronizes with QuickBooks desktop data), Intuit has yet to produce a tablet-optimized version of QuickBooks Online. Competitor Kashoo launched a tablet-based app a year and a half ago.

Still the Best
In every other area, however, QuickBooks Online excels, though each of the competing accounting sites I’ve reviewed in conjuction with this review has unique strengths. However, many small businesses simply don’t need all of that functionality, and for them, its competitors may actually be better choices, unless rapid expansion is imminent.

We reviewed Online Plus with Payroll, which is the top-of-the-line solution, but there’s a whole family of QuickBooks Online applications that you can subscribe to for as little as $12.95 per month (Online Simple Start, which primarily supports sales functions).

Online Essentials ($26.95 per month) brings in multi-user, more reports, sales tax, billing, and QuickBooks desktop import. Online Plus ($39.95 per month) adds more reports and features like purchase orders, item- and time-tracking, and multiple location support. Even without payroll, this is a higher subscription price than competitors charge, though none of them offers all of QuickBooks Online’s extras.

Masterful Navigation and Accessibility
QuickBooks Online scored higher than its competitors because of how it works as much as what it does. Its home page—its dashboard—is more comprehensive than what’s offered by the other sites reviewed here. And it, like every other content-centric section of the site (Company, Customers, Banking, etc.), not only presents what’s expected there, but it also anticipates other related activities that users may want to pursue at that moment. It doesn’t screech to a halt when the current task is completed.

The core elements of the dashboard include abbreviated versions of a to-do list; a graphical snapshot of income and expenses; recent messages from team members; and activity of any kind from other users (transactions entered, deposits made, sign-ins and sign-outs, editing of records, etc.). You can link from any of these to see them in their entirety.

The dashboard also displays context-sensitive help and transaction links. And by clicking on sub-tabs there, you’ll find tools and content that might be of interest to someone just starting out, like tutorials (since this is the home page). This tab/subtab navigational theme is carried throughout the site: You click on the Customers tab, for example, to get to your list of products and services, estimates and invoices, customer records, etc. All of the sites reviewed here have excellent user interfaces and navigational schemes. QuickBooks Online, however, has more features and therefore a tougher job to do, interface-wise, yet it still beats the competition.

An Innovative New Tool, and Data Records
One of these subtabs opens the Income List, which is a fairly recent addition to QuickBooks Online. It’s a comprehensive list of income-related transactions that can be searched by filters like Type and Payment Status. This is also where you complete batch actions: printing and sending transactions, and printing packing slips. The “Money Bar” across the top gives you instant access to groups of unbilled estimates and time/costs, and unpaid and paid invoices. It’s the best one-screen access to sales transaction data that I’ve ever seen.

One of the things that can make a thorough setup so arduous is the creation of records for customers, vendors and items (and in the version we reviewed, employees). You can import existing lists from QuickBooks desktop, as well as CSV and Excel files (competitors have comparable options as well as their own unique data sources, like Less Accounting’s connection to gMail), but if you’re starting from scratch or from a paper list, it’s a major chore. Kashoo is the closest competitor in terms of the comprehensiveness of customer, vendor and item records. None of the sites offers sophisticated inventory management, just simple descriptions, prices, and corresponding accounts. You can, however, track the number of product units available in QuickBooks Online.

Small businesses that frequent online accounting sites tend to be more likely to use online banking tools. So all of the sites competing sites I’ve reviewed let users download transactions from thousands of financial institutions and categorize them for use in activities like running reports and paying taxes. All support sales tax. But QuickBooks Online is the only site I’ve reviewed whose parent company supports merchant accounts, so businesses can accept credit cards and e-checks. Everyone but Less Accounting can be integrated with FreshBooks, though, and they all work with PayPal, so you could take a roundabout way to accept electronic payments.

A Pack of Unique Choices
Each of the sites I reviewed in this group excels at something. Less Accounting and Kashoo support multiple currencies, which Outright and QuickBooks Online do not. Kashoo is the only competitor here to have an iPad-optimized version, though all have some kind of smartphone access. Kashoo and QuickBooks Online both have activity logs that track everything that anyone does on the site—which is absolutely essential for a multi-user accounting application.

Outright is the most focused of the bunch; it concentrates its efforts on helping sole proprietors and very small businesses estimate their quarterly taxes and collect enough financial information to create a Schedule C worksheet. Less Accounting has a sense of humor.

And everyone has developed relationships with partner sites that import related data and extend the usefulness of their own tools. This, the brightest accounting technologists tell us, is how we’ll all be tracking our business finances in the future: by choosing best-of-breed solutions that work together. But QuickBooks Online has an edge here: 45 apps currently support it, far more than any competitor.

In addition to that extensibility, QuickBooks Online is the only site I’ve reviewed that links to a U.S. online payroll system (Kashoo has a Canadian option). It tracks time and expenses. It can create and print 1099 and 1096 forms at tax time. While each of these solutions tracks expenses, QuickBooks Online has an entire vendor-management function, including the ability to create purchase orders. It includes templates for more—and more customizable—reports. Its transaction forms (invoices, estimates, etc.) are more flexible and comprehensive than its competitors’.

The Most Comprehensive – At Least on the Desktop
If it did not do everything it does as well as it does, QuickBooks Online would have more of a fight on its hands here. Its competition is formidable, all backed by very smart people who apparently listen to their customers. But it wins on both form and substance. It’s also the only solution that has multiple application levels at gradually escalating prices.

I would have thought that Intuit—whose TurboTax was available in a native iPad application a year ago—would have a tablet-optimized version by now. While businesspeople can still carry a notebook computer around and run QuickBooks Online remotely, this is a serious deficit that lost them a half point.

QuickBooks Online wins our Editor’s Choice for online accounting sites, thanks to its extensibility, usability, flexibility, and ability to serve the most generous variety of small businesses.

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Specifications
OS Compatibility Windows Vista, Windows XP, Linux, Mac OS, Windows 7, Windows 8
Type Personal

Verdict
QuickBooks Online Plus with Payroll is simply the best website available for online accounting. It's the most comprehensive in terms of features and tools and its interface, navigation, and online cues can best support small businesses with little or no accounting knowledge.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc