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Trello Review 2017, fancy a bit of Kanban?

If you want to a more visual way of managing tasks, you may like the cut of Trello’s jib. This Kanban style task manager is like a big sticky board for all your task cards (and other stuff). In this Trello review I will cover both the Web and iOS versions.

Trello
8.7 Reviewer
Pros
• Unlimited cards & Boards
for free version
• Excellent Integration
• Visual interface
Cons
• No Native PC/Mac Apps
• No image sync for mobile Apps
Bottom Line
If you prefer a visual Kanban style of managing tasks, then Trello is an excellent option. The greatest strength of Trello is the diverse and deep integration with other Web tools that can really impact one's workflow. Unlimited boards and cards for the free version is also great value!

Before I get started into this Trello review I have a confession to make. This is my second time writing this Trello review. Originally this Trello review was intended solely for the iOS version and I had made reasonable progress writing that review. Then, things change..…I tried the Web version. The differences were so profound that I was forced to tear up my former Trello review and start again. This time, I needed to cover both the Web and iOS versions and this dear friend, is what you are going to read today. With a long intake of breath and a crunch of the knuckles, let’s now get stuck into Trello Review 2.0.

A wall of text can be enough to make even the staunchest productivity fan quiver

To do lists are not everyone’s cup of tea. A wall of text can be enough to make even the staunchest productivity fan quiver. But, it need not be that way for there are a myriad of visually oriented, even fun ways to manage your stuff. Trello is one such offering. Its Kanban style task management allows you to organize your tasks in vertical columns. Traditionally these columns had been titled, Pending, In Progress and Done or something of that ilk. So, one would work on the tasks in the “In Progress”, column and when complete they would be moved across to the Complete column. Then another task would be moved from the Pending column to become the new “In Progress”, task. It was a simple but effective way of not only having visibility on the current tasks but also limiting the tasks for any given stage. Normally the approach would have been implemented on a physical notice board such as the one shown below.

Old school Kanban

However,

this Kanban technique translates very well to the electronic domain


this Kanban technique translates very well to the electronic domain. Hosting it on the Web enables synchronization across all your devices – computer, phone, tablet and so on. It also facilitates task lists to be shared across multiple users so that people can collaborate really effectively.

So, on the surface, Kanban implemented as a distributed software system seems brilliant. And, Trello, the subject of today’s review, is one of the foremost vendors in this field. In this Trello review, let’s see if Trello lives up to the potential! Let’s kick off this Trello review with the Trello user interface.

Trello user interface

Your experience of the Trello user interface will likely be shaped by what features have been enabled. On the iOS version, those features are rather limited and so most likely you will be working with the simple board, list and card view which is the common denominator between the iOS and web versions. Let me show you first what to expect from the mobile version of Trello.

Trello iOS user interface

Some task management software can have extensive learning curves to learn all the nitty gritty features that are available. But with Trello on iOS, mmm, nope. All that learning stuff can be skipped. The task board interface is very simple and you will get to grips with it within minutes. There are two main screens to be aware of,

  • Boards overview screen. This is an overview of all of the task lists you have.
  • Individual board screen. This is where you keep all of your tasks (called cards in Trello), which are organized by columns.

An example of a “board”, is shown below. In this case I have created some lists titled “Pending, “In Progress”, and “Completed”, but you can title them however you wish. Cards/new tasks are entered using the “Add card”, at the bottom of each list.

Trello Review 2017 - ios user interface

Trello iOS interface

Tasks can be easily manipulated by dragging them between lists or up and down within the same list. All in all very simple to use and get to grips with. Enough said.

Trello Web user interface

The web version of Trello is a lot more configurable than the mobile version


The web version of Trello is a lot more configurable than the mobile version and there is certainly a lot more subtle additions that need to be discovered when using it. That is more suited to an article on advanced Trello or Trello hints n’ tips than this Trello review so maybe I will save that for another time. Visually, the basic board views is similar to the iOS version. On the right of the board you will find the formatting, filtering, power up, sticker and activity options.

Trello user interface, Web platform

As in the mobile version, new cards/tasks can be added using the “Add a card, button at the bottom of each list. After clicking the “Add a card’, button you will be confronted with the new task dialog window where you can enter new task details such as,

  • Due dates
  • Attachments
  • Labels
  • Comments

You can also copy and paste images directly into the description window which can then be used as a cover image for the task. This addition of images, particularly if they are useful for the task, really sets this kind of visual task management aside from purely text based to-do list systems.

Trello Review 2017 - Trello Task dialog window

Trello task dialog window

Use of the Web version is supported by a good selection of keyboard shortcuts. You can get the full list of Trello keyboard shortcuts at the link provided.

Trello Features and functions

First up in this Trello review, some quick features common to both the iOS and Web version of Trello.

  • Subscribing to boards. This means you will get notifications if any change are made to those boards or cards that you have subscribed to. This only is needed if you are using Trello in a team environment.
  • Filtering. When the number of cards on your board becomes too many to simply glance across you will have to resort to some form of filtering. This is pretty simple and effective in Trello but not as advanced as other task managers such as Todoist with their natural language filters. In Trello, you filter by simply typing the text in the top search field for card keywords, labels, responsibilities and dates. The filter will remain in place until you cancel it. It is simple but satisfactory for many users I would say.
  • Labelling. This is tagging the cards so you can quickly filter for the labels to help you find what you are looking for.
  • Notifications. Informs you of due tasks and any changes to tasks or boards that you have subscribed to.
  • Calendar feed. Task cards with due dates can be reflected in third party calendar applications by subscribing to the Trello iCalendar feed.

Trello integration and power ups

Trello’s deep integration with other online tools are what really sets it apart from many other task managers. It is profound. Yes, profound, in its breadth, depth and its ability to completely transform the user experience with Trello. If there was a single reason that one would contemplate Trello over any other task manager, it would be this integration. No ifs, no buts, it’s the integration. For many task management apps, integration usually means the transfer of information between the apps. So you can send a task from one app to another or you can sync them in some way. That has been the way of it and people have become accustom to this standard.

profound, in its breadth, depth and its ability to completely transform the user experience

Trello integration, on the other hand, not only exchanges data but actually modifies the user interface depending on which app you choose to integrate with. This integration with other apps is handles using so called “power ups”. These power ups have a very simple one touch switch to activate them – see the screen shot below. Simply enable them and they will then connect with Trello and offer additional functionality. This can radically alter ones workflow. So Trello integration is not only about data exchange but also adding diverse additional features and changing your actual working style. That is profound.

Trello power up selection

The range and features of the power ups are radically different between the mobile and Web apps. The power ups for the iOS version is limited to only two, Calendar and user voting. This means all of that stuff I mentioned earlier in this Trello review, including the extensive use of “profound”, is limited to the web version.

The screenshot below shows the integration of the Trello Kanban boards with the Planyway calendar looks like. So you can drag your tasks between the boards and calendar to schedule your tasks. This integration between calendar and task lists is great for people who like to block off time for their tasks.

Trello Review 2017 - Trello Calendar Integration

Integration between Trello and Planyway

There is a huge list of power ups available. But, sorry folks I am not going to be covering all of them in this Trello review. For that I would have to write a book! But I will give you a taster of some of the big dogs.

Cloud storage. Both Dropbox and Google drive are available as power ups which enable you to attach files and folders to your task cards. In the case of Dropbox. You will also be able to see a preview of the file on the task card.

Evernote. With the Evernote Power-Up you can attach notes right to your Trello cards.

Zapier. Connecting Zapier to Trello enables integration with a whopping 750 web tools including google docs, Gmail, Evernote and so on.

On this topic, I would suggest to sign up for a free Trello account and try the power ups for yourself to see what really works well for you. Important point to mention. You can only enable one power up per board on the free version of Trello, to enable more you will need to splash out on the Business version. The pricing for that is shown below in the pricing section.

Trello Collaboration features

As with many online task management solutions, collaboration features come baked in and not as an afterthought. You can choose to keep your boards private, share them with some individuals or even the whole world. In the case of the latter, this is how the Trello development team keeps everyone up to date on their development status.

I will highlight a few of the collaboration features.

Notifications. When you subscribe to a task or board, any changes made to it by other team members will be added to your notifications.

Activity list. A complete list of all the changes to a board by any team members is recorded as a running list along the side of the screen, see the screenshot below.

Activity list

Task comments. If you open the task window you will see that comments can be entered for the task by any team member. This means in practice that all task related communication can be held with the task as opposed to being lodged somewhere in your email system.

Team members can add task comments

Trello Online / Offline working

The iOS version of Trello partially supports offline working in that you can make changes to any of your boards and they will then be synced when an internet connection becomes available. However, what bothered me was that attached files were not accessible offline on the iOS version. They are not stored locally. For me this was a problem when I wanted to access a photo I has associated with the task. No internet connection , then cannot view the photo. For a “visually”, oriented task manager this was a bit of a nuisance as frequently people could have image files linked with the tasks. Personally, I had in mind to use Trello for family stuff which required associated photos so not having the image files synced is a deal breaker for me.

Trello task Import and export

If you migrating from another task management app then of course you will want to avail yourself of the Trello task import features. You can copy and paste in new tasks from the windows clipboard and have them show up as multiple cards. The video below shows how this works in practice. It is about 5 minutes into the video clip.

If, one the other hand you want to back up your Trello tasks or migrate out of Trello then this is also possible. You can navigate to Board Menu > More > Print and Export to export as JSON format. If you are wondering what JSON format is then you are in the same boat as me. I needed to Google that one to find out and to avoid you having to take the same step, here is a quick summary courtesy of my second best mate after Google, Wikipedia,

“JSON is an open-standard file format that uses human-readable text to transmit data objects consisting of attribute–value pairs and array data types (or any other serializable value). It is a very common data format used for asynchronous browser/server communication, including as a replacement for XML in some AJAX-style systems”.

If that does not sound so appealing, then csv export is also possible but it seems only with the Business version of Trello. Why do that Trello? Normal folk also appreciate the csv format in all of it’s glory.

Trello price

The good news is that there is a free version for common punters like ourselves. Not only that, it offers significant functionality that will likely fulfill the needs of the many, not the few. Clearly I have been watching too much political coverage lately.

This free version will net you unlimited boards, lists, cards, members, checklists, and attachments which seems pretty reasonable to me. Note only one power up per board is possible though with the free version.

However if your money is really burning a hole in your pocket and you feel like splurging on the Business version you will be treated to a few extras. Foremost of those is the ability to add multiple power ups and more advanced administrative features. The Business version is available for $9.99 per user per month. You can pick up the Trello iOS app from the iTunes Appstore and upgrade your Trello at the Trello pricing page.

Trello review summary

On the surface, Trello functionality is much like any other online task manager. It offers a multi- platform repository for tasks that can be shared among teams. It has task filtering, task comments, calendar views, file attachments and integration with other web tools. Indeed, many task management apps sport such functionality.

What sets Trello apart is three things


What sets Trello apart is three things. First, the Kanban style interface where tasks are dragged between columns. Second, the affinity for images to be linked with those tasks and to be displayed front and centre on the task cards. Finally, and probably the biggest differentiating factor, is the deep integration with other web tools in the case of the web version. So should you, after reading this near three thousand word article, use Trello? Well, to get the most from Trello you would likely have to tick some of the following boxes,

  • You prefer a visual style of task management, leaning towards Kanban boards
  • Your tasks tend to come in readily digestible chunks, as Trello does not really offer nested lists ( I know tasks can be linked and checklists within the task cards are available but this is not really the same as a nested list)
  • Might be in a distributed team who share a common task list
  • Don’t need more complicated project management or reporting functionality
  • You will primarily be using the web interface

 

If that sounds like you then Trello is worth a look. And, given there is a free version, there is little downside to giving it a go. Here is the direct link to get Trello Free on the iTunes store. For me, I quite liked the web version and the flexibility offered by the power ups. I would still prefer a native Windows app with the same functionality though.

The iOS version on the other hand, is a much simpler affair with only the very fundamental elements of Trello. So, thumbs up for the Web Trello. For the iOS version, not bad but certainly does not reach the levels set by the Web version. I would also say it is a less accomplished mobile task manager than the likes of Todoist that offers a more refined mobile experience.

Brendan Toner

Let me welcome you to this alcove of the internet. In this little productivity blog, I detail the trials and tribulations of trying to use my time more effectively utilising the latest productivity tools and techniques. I hope you enjoy the articles, cheers!
Brendan Toner, author of Done Before Brekky

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