Going out to eat with your friends can be a lot of fun — until the bill comes. Sitting around while everyone at the table does confusing math in their head about how much money they need to put down quickly becomes frustrating scene.
A new app named Billr aims to relieve some of the stress that comes from splitting a bill. You enter some information from the bill, and the app walks you through the necessary steps of dividing the costs in the most fair manner possible. Sounds great, right? Let’s find out.
The inputs that Billr asks you for are pretty simple. You tell it how many people ate something, what percentage you want to tip and what the sales tax rate is. Then each person enters the costs of the food they ate and Billr spits out a straightforward answer for how much each person should put down.
Let’s Get Splitting
For this review, I tried Billr out after a meal I had with a few of my friends. I waited to use Billr until the end of a meal with a relatively complicated bill. In this case, there were five people, everyone had a cocktail and main course, and we shared a few appetizers and desserts.
To begin, you enter the number of people at the table using a simple up and down arrow input. The maximum number of diners that Billr supports is 16, and each person you add shows up as another avatar on your screen.
From here, Billr takes you to the item entry screen. Each person at the table gets a separate column where the price of each item they ordered (or shared) is entered. It is important here to enter only the items that each person ate or drank by themselves. You enter shared items in the following step.
I found that it was easiest to pass the phone around the table and have each person take the responsibility for their own items. It may sound like a time-consuming extra step, but as long as everyone in your party is even vaguely familiar with a touchscreen phone, the entry process is intuitive enough that you won’t really need to explain to each person how to use Billr.
Once the phone makes it back to you, it’s a good idea to do enter the shared items by yourself. A separate column appears where you put the prices of anything that more than one person consumed, which for use was a couple appetizers and a dessert. Next, you work your way across the columns for each person and put a check for each shared item which they ate or drank.
The final step involves setting the tax and tip. As you change the tax and tip (which move in increments of 0.25% and 1.0%, respectively), the totals at the top of your screen update. Here you’ll see the subtotal, tax, tip and the total with and without the tip. From there, you’re ready to go. Each diner has a customized check that gives the cost of their food, what they owe for tax, for tip and in total.
If someone wants a record of how the bill got divided, you can share the results either by text or email, which simply means sending a picture of the final screen.
Design and Performance
Billr never froze up on me, and from a performance standpoint, it’s very fast. However, the nature of the input method makes for a tedious experience. The app uses the built-in iOS number pad, which means you will feel comfortable doing your typing, but passing the phone around and having people scan around on the receipt to find their item is far from speedy.
While the data entry side of the app feels inefficient, the design is very appealing. Billr is laid out in a linear way, which makes things very simple. It is clear that a lot of attention has been paid to every pixel of the layout. The colors scheme is visually attractive, though the numbers you enter into your bill are on the small side and there isn’t any option to make them bigger. This might be an important factor if you tend to dine with an older crowd.
The biggest problem that I ran into in using Billr was making corrections. The people I was with each took responsibility to enter their own entrées and drinks, but when the phone came back to me and I’d finished entering the appetizers, our total didn’t match the receipt (before tax). The app doesn’t label each entry, and understandably so; it would be prohibitively slow. But this also means that when you need to double check things to see what was missed, there is no easy way to find the mistake.
While it was nice to be able to share the results via email or text, there is no option to save anything within the app. This means that if you hit clear and then find that there is some discrepancy at the table, you can’t easily go back to make some quick changes. Being the careless person that I am, this would be an important feature for me.
This is a case of an app that performs beautifully, and whose problems are generally not the fault of the developers. Short of some magical app that would snap a photo of the bill and spit it back properly divided, any app that aims to solve this problem will likely require at least the same amount of legwork on your end as Billr.
In the end, I appreciated having exact amounts that each of my friends owed, but we all agreed that we’d prefer to just ballpark our costs in the future. The time it took to enter all the necessary information wasn’t really that long, but it was still long enough to make it feel like a chore. I don’t hesitate in saying that this is a good app that does what it advertises, and if you too often quibble with your friends about accounting for every last penny of a bill, then I can safely recommend Billr. On the other hand, if you are comfortable just tossing in a few more bucks down whenever the money on the table doesn’t match the bill, then Billr will seem like an irksome extra step at the end of your meal.