Clear review: bright, bold task list manager for iPhone

"Clear is a task list app for those who don't like task list apps -- a new, gesture-based approach that's manages to be simple without being simplistic."

Clear seeks to apply new sensibilities to one of the oldest stalwarts of personal information management, the to do app. Clear does so by eschewing the user interface "chrome" of a typical iPhone app -- lots of buttons and columns, and endless amounts of tiny text to tap through -- for large lists that you swipe and push around. It also sheds a lot of features found in more expensive, more complicated "getting things done" apps, and instead focuses just on creating and managing lists. No more, no less.

It took Apple 5 generations of iOS to introduce their own, built-in task-management app, Reminders, which means the App Store has been trying to fill that particular void for years. In typical Apple fashion, Reminders offers only basic functionality compared to the full blown "getting things done" apps on the market, but it also manages to be remarkably cumbersome to actually use as an app. (Siri's voice controls rescue it for simple tasks.)

That leaves a gap below the high-end, feature filled task managers, for something elegant and easy to use, and it's one Clear seems intent on filling.

The key to Clear's approach is a big, bold design centered around a completely gesture-based interface.The challenge with any gesture-based interfaces like Clear's is one of discoverability. Humans are good at "see button, read label, tap button" but not so good at "see nothing, poke around, figure out a pinch collapses the lists". The first is almost instant, and the mental overhead all but unnoticeable anymore. The second is hit and miss, and can be frustrating or fruitless.

Like many modern video games, Clear deliberately walks you through the controls when you launch it for the first time

Clear mitigates a lot of the problems with gesture discovery by walking the user through them right when the app launches for the first time. It's an admission, much like a modern touch-controlled video game, that therein lies complexity, but it's also hopeful that once the first few moments of awkwardness pass, instinct takes over.

That it will quickly become like finger painting with productivity.

There are three layered views in Clear: Items at the bottom, lists in the middle, and the menu on top. You start at the bottom, in items. By default they're heat mapped with red at the top -- defcon 1 -- fading through orange and yellow towards the bottom. (If that scheme is too hot for you, you can change the theme in settings.)

Items, lists (of items), and the menu are the three simple layers that comprise clear

Screenshots alone won't properly convey gestures, so if you haven't already, watch the video above before continuing on. Done? Okay. To move up to lists, you can either touch the screen and pull down -- past item creation, we'll come back to that in a moment -- until the items fall off the bottom of the screen and the lists take center stage. To move to the menu, you can do the same.

Another, funner way to do it is to touch two fingers to the screen and pinch them together vertically, like you're trying to fold the items together. Items fold into lists, lists fold into the menu.

To go back to a previous, lower layer, like to go from the menu back to the lists, just touch the screen and push up. Sadly, you can't pinch your way back out (that creates new items or new lists, between the others, or does nothing in the menu.)

To create a new item or list below the others, just tap the screen below the items or list. To create a new item or list above the others, just touch and pull down, though not too far or you'll switch to lists or the menu, as described above.

Once a new item or list is created, you get to label it, but the label can only take up that one, single, large-type line. I like that. It forces you to be concise and disciplined in your thinking.

To move an item or list, tap and hold it, and slide it to its new location. To mark an item as completed, swipe right. It'll turn gray and drop to the bottom. Swipe right on it again to un-mark it as complete (you'll have to manually move it back to its former position).

To delete an item or list, swipe left. It'll vanish. I haven't found a way to undelete them yet, so be careful.

There are many more quick, gesture based controls. The menu has a whole section on them, including ways to rapidly create many new items in a row. Which is interesting. There are levels of usability that appear. But there are also levels of complexity and collision. For example, in iOS 5 Notification Center is activated by swiping downward from the top of the screen. If you're not careful in Clear, you can partially activate it -- make the little gripper handle appear - quite frequently. (Having just the gripper handle appear is smart, however, it prevents Notification Center from being triggered by a single, perhaps unintentional downward swipe, requiring a more precise, purposeful grab and pull to reveal it.)

Clear offers tips on how to use more advanced gestures, and options to toggle alerts

Once you learn to pull down lower to avoid Notification Center and create a new top-level item, you still have to be somewhat exacting. Pull too much and you switch to list view (or if you're in list view, to the menu view). Likewise if you're trying to switch to list view, pull too little and you've created a new item and have to cancel out and start over.

Since you can also get to lists by pinching vertically (or to the menu if you're already in lists), it can be a safer navigation choice to rely on. Likewise, being able to swipe through the layers in both directions, but being able to pinch through them in only one direction takes a little getting used to.

There's both a price to be paid and compromises to be made for gesture-based user interfaces. Clear balances both well and tops it off with several, delightful touches.

Empty lists are ghosted with famous quotes from the likes of Bruce Lee, William Shakespeare, Buddha, and others. Themes let you change color schemes from the default, aggressive red to more soothing green or unobtrusive gray, and if you have other apps installed, Clear will detect it and "reward" you with bonus themes (no stitched-leather popup for Find my Friends, though, I'm happy to report). There are also very distinctive sounds that accompany a lot of the actions. They're amusing at first, but you can easily silence them in settings if their charm or utility fades for you over time. (Likewise vibration.)

Thoughtful touches abound in Clear, including quotes to fill empty spaces, and bonus themes triggered by other apps

Once mastered -- and it doesn't take exceptionally long -- you can move very quickly through Clear. It doesn't have the power (or price tag) of something like OmniFocus or the features of Appigo Todo or the ability to quickly add tasks via Siri like the built-in iOS 5 Reminders app.

There are no dates or alarms, no location alerts or calendar integration, and no push notifications (though you can have Clear badge the app icon.)

There's also no iPad or Mac or Windows version, and no way to sync between devices, services, or platforms, which may be a deal-breaker for those who already have systems in place.

But then Clear doesn't seem intended for power users anyway. It's intended for everyone else; those for whom existing apps are far too much or far too difficult.

With Clear, once you get into the flow, you can fly through simple to dos, and triage your tasks, like nobody's business.

And hey, if you're joining us for fitness month, Clear is the perfect way to quickly, cleanly enter and check off your daily fitness goals. Whether it's going for those weekly walks or runs, or keeping that healthy shopping list handy, Clear can make sure you always know what's next.

The good

  • Simple, highly focused design
  • Well thought out gesture-based interface
  • Fast, fun controls

The bad

  • Not as feature-rich as typical GTD-style task apps
  • Gestures take longer to discover and can collide at times
  • No iPad or PC versions, no way to sync cross-device/platform

The bottom line

Clear is a task list app for those who don't like task list apps -- a new, gesture-based approach that's manages to be simple without being simplistic. It takes an almost Windows Phone Metro-style approach. It's not a task app for those who want power features or a more traditional interface. But for anyone new to to dos, who wants something fresh and fun, who just has a few lists of a few items and finds Reminders far too much of a chore, Clear might be the perfect place to start.

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Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Rene Ritchie wrote, "[The built in Reminders app] manages to be remarkably cumbersome to actually use as an app."
    Remarkably combersome? Really? How so? That's a strong statement to make without further backing it up with examples. From my end, it reads like ignorant typing.
    Personally, I find the built in Reminders app remarkably simple, powerful, and easy to use. It's the first Reminders app that I've tried and stuck with -- and at this point I couldn't do without. Siri makes it even better, but it would be just as useful without it which it is on my iPhone 3GS, 4 and iPad 2 in addition to my iPhone 4s.
    Love how Reminders utilizes Push to sync with my Hotmail To-Do Lists. In fact, for important items -- I can edit the task in Hotmail to include things like SMS or email reminders in addition to standard notification banners.
    Once can only conclude that the author of this review hasn't spent much time at all with the standard iOS Reminders app, even though he makes strong statements about it early on in his review -- speaks to credibility :-(
  • Reminders is a dream if you're using Siri. Just talk and voila, your Reminder is ready. If you try to use it as a regular app, however, it takes far too many taps to accomplish what should take relatively few. If you go back to the "zen of Palm" days, they counted every click/tap and tried to reduce them as much as possible.
    Reminders looks good, but it's not built efficiently; and I've used it quite a bit. You can tap a line to add a Reminder, but can't keep tapping to add multiples unless you hit Done each time first. You have to hit Done, then go back in to add times or locations, or switch lists.
    I'm happy you like it, but absent Siri it's just not fast enough for me. Everyone has different needs and tastes.
  • Rene - I am amazed that you guys continue to do Videos at 480p (I am guessing you folks use your iPhone 4?).
    It is high time that you guys did some good Videos at 720p. I don't need to tell you how popular iMore is and I hope you get my point.
    Even Ally uses the same 480p which at times is blurry.
  • Most of our videos are 720p now, not sure if you need to see the skin cells on my fingers, but 90% of the time they're there if and when you do :p
  • Appreciate your sarcasm. I would be more interested in the products you are reviewing instead of your finger cells.
    There is a reason why reviewers use 720p across all major blogs or may be they just want to show their finger cells ;)
  • iPhone 4 video is 720p.
  • I wholehearted agree with Rene's assessment of the Reminders app. It is incredibly inefficient in terms of new task entry. You have to enter a reminder then click again to actually enter the details of the reminder (reminder date, etc). The integration with SIRI is a great feature but the manual process can definately be approved.
    As for Clear, I feel at this point of time, the app is extremely overrated. Sure, the UX is nice and different for this genre but the fact that it is just a list with no integration with iOS reminders and subsequently no iCloud sync, as well as no due dates and such, make this a very limited app (as mentioned in the review).
  • Agreed. 100%
  • And how do we go about getting it? I'm not seeing it in the app store...
  • Nevermind, you edited...
  • So far I have the tweetbot theme. Looking for a rainbow theme - please list any themes you've unlocked. I'm actually surprised I don't have more since I own several TapTapTap apps and they seem to be connected to this RealMac app.
  • Follow UseClear from the app and you get one more theme ;)
  • It looks nice, I'll give you that, but it looks a bit too simple for a to-do app...which is not necessarily a bad thing, some people prefer a simple minimalist design.
  • Attractive interface, lovely to use even only after a few minutes
    Seems an odd to chose to swipe to the left to delete, as this is the opposite direction to the iOS shortcut to delete.
    Lack of iCloud is disappointing as I use any one of four devices all day. that would rule it out as useful to me (I'll stick with Geetasks, which syncs to Google between devices)
  • Good review, unfortunately I only made it half way through because I have to GTD. That swipe to left to delete could be a deal breaker, just to easy to make a mistake.
    Some of these GTD apps take so long to learn and have many features, but do no provide good use cases, so you know how to use the power.
  • This app is a huge bittersweet feeling for me. While the use of gestures and the design paradigm shift decision in it's essence are great, the way how it's presented esthetically doesn't seem as good (at least to me). I think this is an interesting subject for Iterate, by the way. It's and interesting case were you have a disparity of quality in therms of form and function (once again, at least in my personal opinion). While the function is great and worth a lot of respect, the form can't quite match it, and that may bring a few problems of even ruin the entire user experience.
  • Nice to see webOS-like gestures making it into some apps, but lack of iCloud & iCal integration (like I have with 2Do) and the fact that you used the word "funner" in the review make it a deal breaker for me. ;-)
  • One more level down would be nice, Enable a better description seeing as the length of the item has been restricted.
  • Wow, the marketing team for this app must be working overtime - every tech site I follow in my reader has posted a review of it today! It's a simple list app that looks okay and involves lots of cool swiping motions. It's not free (and the current price is an introductory sale? ouch). It's not a universal app (which is fine, I suppose, since it doesn't sync with anything). There are so many simple apps for free that let you make lists and still remain simple to use and look decent - just not sure why this particular one has been so over-hyped.
  • TBH I still haven't seen any better to do list app than 2do...
  • I like the UI, but it needs to sync via the cloud to an installation on another device or sync to Exchange as does the Reminders app to gain a foothold in the business world.
  • Rene, first this is an excellent write up. Very well done. However, am I the only one who thinks this app is completely worthless? This app has less functionality than Google Tasks, which is fairly hard to accomplish.
  • Actually i like this app for iphone. But it seems to be rather simple or not universal to run specific projects and tasks. Anyway, those who prefer simplicity and clear interface this app will be suitable. As for me in my projects we use comindware task management, but its version for mobile platforms is to come and all iphone amateurs will also like it, I suppose.
  • Wow thanks so much for this post. I had been pulling my hair out trying to figure out how to get to the icloud setting, in settings. After watching the video it was simple. Thank you, Rick
  • Hey  another task management app you can try out is Brightpod ( ) ,  an app specifically for marketing teams. Includes readymade workflows & a whole bunch of collaboration features.