Google Tasks review: Still more to do

Google is taking another stab at putting together a coherent to-do list app by breaking off Tasks into a full, standalone service, complete with its own mobile apps and deep integration into the new Gmail redesign.

The new app is like a fresh coat of paint for the long-neglected Tasks built-in to Gmail, with a crisp, cleaner UI and the aspirations (at least on paper) to serve as a central hub for all your to-do items. Unfortunately, while Google may have made Tasks look better than ever, underneath the new facade is the same patchwork mess of missing features and competing services that it’s always been.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Let’s start with the good first, though. Along with the new look — which feels like an updated take on Google’s Material Design formula, with more sliding menus and use of the Google Pixel’s Product Sans font throughout the apps — the biggest thing Tasks has going for it is the impressive Gmail integration. The updated web version of Gmail now includes Tasks as a sidebar that’s available at any time, and you can drag and drop emails on them to turn them into to-do list items. Given that I’m the kind of person who already uses my inbox as a secondary, ad-hoc to-do list, being able to better organize and track that process straight from the site is useful.

Google also has most of the basic features of a to-do list app down with Tasks. You can create multiple lists, assign dates to items (which is also the only option for sorting, aside from manually dragging things around), add additional notes to a task, and add multiple subtasks below a parent task. And the app itself is lightning fast, both at navigating between menus or account and syncing up from the desktop site to the mobile apps.

Unfortunately, those basic features are all that Tasks can do. There’s a huge amount of things that you’d expect from a half-decent to-do list app that isn’t in Tasks. You can’t set specific times for tasks to remind you, which seems like a huge oversight. There’s no option to rank items with different priority levels, no ability to search lists for a specific task, no recurring tasks, and no categories or tag system to filter items with.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

There are some sort of notifications on the mobile app, but since Tasks won’t let you assign times or due dates, there’s no real way to control when they pop up (I’m honestly still not entirely sure what I did to have the one that managed to show up appear in the first place).

Also, rather bafflingly, Google Reminders (part of Google Calendar and Google Keep) still exists! And with features that Tasks doesn’t have, like scheduling specific times and recurring tasks. But you can’t even use that to fill in the gaps that Tasks leaves, because Google won’t let you use both at the same time, either — you have to manually toggle between Tasks and Reminders, which feels like a baffling step backwards.

You can use Tasks, or Reminders — but not both

Tasks feels a lot like the quintessential Google product from the last decade — instead of fixing the app or service they’ve shipped, Google just makes a new one that improves on some of the features and hopes everything sorts itself eventually. It’s the sort of thing we’ve seen time and again with things like messaging (see: Talk, Hangouts, Voice, Messenger, Allo, and now Chat) or the fact that say, Google Earth and Google Maps are still separate apps.

There’s the bones of a good to-do list app in Google Tasks, but without some key additions, it probably won’t be replacing more full-featured services like Todoist or Things. And if it’s ever going to get there, Google’s going to have to take a good hard look at some of its redundant services and start trimming things down, instead of just adding more half-baked alternatives on top.

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