Review: Begin6th Jan, 2014
The focused to-do app with a pretty steep learning curve.
To-do lists absolutely flood the App Store. Yet every once in a while, someone else comes along thinking, "I can do better". It happened when Clear first hit the market and Begin feels like an attempt to make a "better", ultra-simple to-do list.
Following in Clear's footsteps, as many apps have, the interface is extremely gesture heavy. In fact, you can't use it any other way. Virtually every interaction possible with the app is a swipe of some sort. Pull down to add a new task, swipe left to move the task to tomorrow, swipe right to check it off. Easy, right? Well, if a task is checked, swipe left to delete it, swipe right to uncheck it. If a task is for tomorrow, swiping left moves it back to today. Pulling down will always let you make a new task, and pulling up will show you your uncompleted tasks. Uncompleted tasks are interesting in Begin. They are tasks that you did not take action on today. Uncompleted is more like "overdue" if you think about a task you have for today as having a deadline of today.
The app is very simple, from a UI perspective, but keeping all the swiping gestures straight has a bit of a learning curve to it. If you're unfamiliar with gesture-based interfaces, you will have a pretty rough time keeping all of these straight, particularly since they depend on the context. If you are familiar with them, you'll have an easier time of it, but it'll still take some time. This complexity is augmented by a set of tasks the first time you use it which aim to teach you how to use the app. Think of it as a self-guided tour with a bunch of signs telling you what to do. It does help, but someone who's never used a gesture-heavy interface would definitely benefit from something more interactively guided.
Begin is free, but a $0.99 in-app purchase to extend it offers a few benefits. You get 6 additional themes for the UI, plus 5 additional typefaces to pick from. You'll get to put the number of tasks you have in a badge if that's your style, you can add a second reminder time to your tasks and toggle reminders on weekends. And lastly, you get access to "fullscreen mode" which eliminates the top navigation bar giving you enough extra room to see one, maybe two tasks. Since the UI is gesture based losing the top bar only means you'll lose the settings button and the share button. At least, I assume you will lose them. I haven't paid the $0.99 for the extended version so I can't say how you would toggle the fullscreen option once it's enabled. It's likely the settings are accessed with a certain gesture or the button is simply moved to another spot on the screen.
All things considered, Begin isn't a bad choice for a to-do list app, particularly if you only ever make to-do lists for a day or two at a time. As a student, though, or anyone who routinely has tasks that take more than a couple days to complete, this type of app is simply not that useful. Begin certainly fills a niche, just like 2Days, and it's more attractive than the latter. Still, it has a pretty heavy learning curve and that can make for a seriously rough time getting someone to use Begin more than once. First-use experience is absolutely critical, particularly with a context-dependent, gesture-based UI.
Begin: 2/5 piles of poo.