Sometimes it feels like a day doesn’t go by without the release of another app in the over-saturated to-do list category. I’ve used Things to organize my life since it was first introduced, and I’ve stuck with it through the years, even despite the developers’ embarrassingly long delay for proper cloud syncing. My loyalty to Things has always been shaky, which has kept me experimenting with it’s many competitors.
I recently tried out Cheddar to see if it could replace Things as my go-to organization tool on my Mac. Here’s how that worked out.
Unlike its powerhouse competitors like OmniFocus and Things, Cheddar was born as a web and iPhone app, and has since rolled out a Mac client. Consequently, Cheddar requires that you create an account to use it.
Fortunately, you won’t have to enter any information beyond your account name, an email address, and a password. Once you have your account set up, it will automatically sync all of your activity across the web-version, your Mac, and your iDevice (should you decide to go that route).
Rather than have any complex tutorial slides, you’ll be presented with a few pointers about how to use Cheddar in the form of individual to-dos. They are easy to understand, but are inherently less-effective than a tutorial that allows you to view again.
The window is a minimalism-enthusiast’s dream: A side column that shows your lists and the main column shows tasks. That’s it. To get started, you’ll want to create a new list. There is a lot of room for you to decide how you want to use Cheddar, and lists are a fundamental part of that decision. As it doesn’t give you pre-defined groupings like “Today” or “Next” or “Scheduled” or even a pre-sorting inbox, Cheddar starts to resemble the built-in Mountain Lion Reminders app.
It didn’t take long to run into a roadblock as I tested Cheddar, as I couldn’t actually find anywhere in the window that would allow me to create a list. This “problem” actually just reveals how the interface has been designed to heavily depend on shortcuts. While this is undoubtedly a selling point for power-users, it will result in some head-scratching for beginners. Shortcuts are nice but it still would have been better to have an icon that would allow the creation of a list.
Across the top of the main window is a text-entry bar that asks “What do you have to do?” Type in your to-do and it hit the enter key. I discovered that if you don’t have any lists created, nothing happens when you create an item. It seems like an odd oversight to not at least have a prompt alert you to that fact, or allow you to create one on the fly.
Once you have completed an item, checking its box will gray it out. If you want to completely clear your checked items, you have the option to “archive” them. I put “archive” in quotes because the developers seem to have some completely different definition of that word than the rest of us. I assumed it meant that those checked off items went into some sort of folder of completed tasks. When I couldn’t find where they went, I consulted the website, where the developers explain that “currently, you can’t see the stuff you’ve archived.” So, their version of an archive is actually a landfill full of irretrievable stuff.
Cheddar allows you to use it in fullscreen if you want, but that immediately negates the benefits of having such a pared-down design.
Cheddar makes use of tags to help you organize tasks. These tags work much like they do on Twitter; just throw a hashtag in front a word and it becomes a clickable link. I liked the idea of using tags on an app like this, but was disappointed at the implementation.
When you click on a tag that you’ve created, the results are limited to the list that you are working with. So if you tagged #broccoli in your grocery list and in your list of foods you want to eat today for your diet, clicking that tag will only show broccoli-tagged items from the list you’re currently looking at. Furthermore, you can’t search for tags, so you’ll have to find an item that actually has the tag you need. Tags are yet another instance where not having access to your archived items negatively affects usability.
You have a few formatting options when it comes to your text via simple markdown language. For instance, if you want to make some text italicized, you just enclose it in asterisks. There is also full support for emoji, if that’s your thing. Cheddar for Mac syncs with the web app, which you will automatically have access to using the same login information you provided to use the app. In my experience, syncing was lightning fast, and changes were pushed very quickly to both the web and my iPhone.
You can download Cheddar for free from the Mac App Store, but the free edition limits the number of lists you can create to two. If you are just planning on using this as a simple reminder app, two lists is probably one more than you need. But if you want more flexibility in organizing your items, you may want to upgrade to the pro version. You can either pay $2 monthly or $20 for yearly access. Comparing that pricing structure to other to-do apps is challenging, as most competitors are one-time purchases rather subscription services. Obviously, having the option to try out Cheddar for free can help you decide if having multiple lists is worth the decidedly modest fee of $20 a year.
At this point, it’s rare that a new productivity app introduces a feature that’s completely groundbreaking. Now, all that’s left for developers seems to be improving the user-experience by finding the right mix of features to appeal to specific types of people. Cheddar doesn’t do anything I hadn’t seen before I tried it, and I honestly am not sure what sort of user it is marketing itself for. On the one hand, it is very dependent on your use of shortcuts, as the main window has no controls outside of the checkboxes and the ability to drag items up or down in a list or to another list entirely. This makes it speedy, but many users looking for a simple to-do organizer won’t bother to learn shortcuts. It has a clean interface, but the lack of even the most basic features like recurring tasks and due dates makes it perhaps too simple.
It wouldn’t be fair to compare this to apps like Things or OmniFocus, as their lists of features blow Cheddar away. I think a more direct comparison would be either to Clear for Mac or OS X’s Reminders app. Cheddar does offer tags and markdown, which those two don’t, but that is the extent of it’s advantages. Clear has great gesture-support, and Reminders is free if you own Mountain Lion. Both Clear and Reminders also sync with the cloud, with Reminders even offering web access via iCloud.com. At $7, Clear costs as much as a few months of Cheddar, and I think that makes it a far superior choice.