There is no shortage of to-do apps in the App Store. There are apps that will sync across platforms, apps that only reside on your phone and apps that live primarily on the web. I would say that behind games and camera applications, to-do apps are the most popular in the store.
They all offer different features, and have their own strengths and weaknesses. Today we’re going to take a look at Orchestra, the app that aims to be home for your own personal to-do list and the tasks that need to get done by, or are assigned by, the other people that you work with. It also has a companion app which we reviewed on our sister site, Web.AppStorm as well.
The tagline for Orchestra is “everyone plays a part.” It’s clear that this application isn’t just about getting your personal stuff done (though it’s certainly not ruled out) but also about making it easy to share your tasks with anyone that you may like to work with.
Orchestra also aims to be easy to use and to fit into your workflow. Indeed, many of the decisions made by the app are made to help you get things done as quickly as possible.
Orchestra’s interface is both refreshing and kind of frustrating. While there are certain elements that make sense, including the size of the New Task button, but besides that there are some weird choices.
It’s possible to customize the look slightly with different backgrounds (similar to another free competitor, Wunderlist) but in my experience these themes aren’t any better than the default. If you want to change the background of your to-do list app more than you’d like to get something done, the option’s there.
I wish that the area to view your tasks were larger, as tasks are fairly big and take up too much space. For someone like myself who passes a lot of information into to-do apps, Orchestra didn’t scale as well as I would have liked it to.
I don’t mean to sound too critical; the app does look good, and it could certainly be worse. I just feel that in an application where you’re going to be looking at something most of the time, the interface is important.
Where Orchestra really shines is with single-task-management. It’s incredibly easy to get your tasks into the app, with a big button at the bottom just begging to be tapped. This is where Orchestra’s strength lies, as that button is the single most important thing that makes me want to use the app.
Holding the button allows you to input your task using your voice, and in my experience the app was very good at understanding what I was saying. That in itself is a feat, as voice-recognition apps tend to drop a lot of what I’m saying between my upstate-New York accent and tendency to speak quickly.
Tasks can be placed into lists, and marked as due either “today,” “soon” or “someday.” I would prefer more control with this, but I believe that Orchestra is meant to be the to-do app for teams that don’t quite understand to-do apps.
Working with Others: Assigning and Sharing Tasks
In order to make sure everyone plays their part, Orchestra makes it incredibly easy to share your tasks with others. People are managed as contacts, and you can find them by email address and telephone number. This is useful for those times that you have one or the other, but not both.
While adding contacts was seamless most of the time, I did experience a crash at one point. Given the rarity I’m assuming that it’s not a large sticking point, but your mileage may vary.
Perhaps the most interesting thing is not assigning your tasks, but rather sharing your tasks. There’s a dedicated button for sharing in the app, allowing you to make a task open to your social networks. I tested this with Twitter, and while this is a sort of odd form of sharing, it definitely adds another level of functionality while also making sure others hear about the app and service.
Interacting Through the App
Beyond simply assigning or sharing tasks, Orchestra can act as a central hub for communicating with your team. Not only are there little notifications when someone accepts a task that you assign to them, but there’s also a neat feature called “nudging” where you give a not-so-subtle but really playful nudge with a specific task. Now when John isn’t getting that spreadsheet in on time, you can just nudge him instead of screaming into your phone (which is always a plus).
There’s also a central chat feature, with instant messaging baked right in to each task. This makes it incredibly easy to make sure everyone’s on the same page with a certain task, and also gives you yet another option for communicating to John just how angry you are that he can’t get his job done. Or, rather, how happy it made you that he finished those cells in Excel; Orchestra lets you do both.
Is it The Best App for My Team?
We already know that Orchestra is entering into a crowded market. It seems like every other review over here is of a new to-do app, and for good reason; not only are they important to the App Store as a whole, but there’s also a lot of options out there that can get costly to download and test.
So far as working with a team goes, Orchestra’s largest competitor is Flow from Metalab. I’ve used Flow before (and, in fact, am still testing the app) and I found it to be a really excellent tool for getting things done. To me, the main barrier of entry with Flow is price: it costs $10 a month, per person, with discounts available for larger teams.
While Orchestra doesn’t have all of the flexibility of Flow, it does have the bonus of its fantastic price: free. If you rely on a tool to get things done but don’t have the cash on hand to get Flow (or are infatuated with the voice-input) Orchestra is an easy alternative.
What About for my Personal Tasks?
It’s hard to recommend Orchestra to someone who only needs to manage their own tasks. While I enjoy the app’s voice recognition, I’ve found that I need a different tool than is available with Orchestra.
In the free market there’s the ever-popular Wunderlist, which has native apps for just about every platform and a web app under its belt. Wunderlist handles your tasks in a similar way to Orchestra, but I found that there was more granular control with Wunderlist than with Orchestra.
The paid market isn’t any better for Orchestra. My favorite to-do apps, OmniFocus and Things, are much more powerful. OmniFocus and Things allow you to assign tags (or contexts) to items, play with different due dates, and offer more control than Orchestra.
While the last few sections may have been a bit of a downer for Orchestra, I believe that there’s a definite niche for this app. If you’re working with a team and can’t afford a more powerful solution, Orchestra has some great tools in place that make working with others a breeze.
For everyone else, though, I think that there are other applications that can perform similar functions to Orchestra, but with more power and higher control. If you aren’t interested in those things Orchestra will serve you well, and the ability to add tasks using your voice will be a definite plus. If anything, I hope that the other task managers learn something from Orchestra.
While it may not be perfect, Orchestra is a solid app that ensures that you’ll never miss a deadline and can help you play your part to the fullest.