Review: Better Christmas List


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Jul 5, 2008
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Sorry for the delay folks. I have been busy attending a conference and grading finals.

Given the Holiday time, I was going to review a bunch of Christmas themed apps. However, I haven't gotten around to looking at them all, so I wanted to focus on the one I think might be of most benefit to people - Better Christmas List.

Better Christmas List (or BCL in future reference) is a program designed to track your Christmas gift purchases for...well...everyone you need to buy a Christmas gift for. From your office secret Santa, to your kids, to your grandmother - if you need to buy a gift, this program can be of use!

The program starts off with a summary screen. On this screen you can access an overall details page (how many gifts purchased, wrapped, and sent), as well as a breakdown on gifts for different groups (friends, family, office, etc). Each group can be defined with their own budget, and within each group you can add people. For each person, you can add one (or more, if you are a generous type) gift. With each gift, you can add the price, and then classify it as purchased, wrapped, or shipped (or nothing if you still have to purchase it).

Within each category of person, you can specify a budget that you want to spend. As you add gifts for each person, it will tally up the total spent. BCL will automatically keep track of the amount of money, and if the money is in green then you are within budget, if it is red you are over budget. There are some issues I have with the budget, but I will get to those later. One nice thing about the budget tracking is that you can track an overall budget as well as within each category. So if you are over budget in family, but under budget in friends, you may still be within your budget overall.

The details page is nice, because it tells you what you still need to buy, what you need to wrap or send, and what presents are complete. This is a quick way to look over what you still need to do. It is easy to forget someone in this hectic time of year, and this program tries to make sure that won't happen.

There is no option to have a particular budget for each person within a category. It would be nice if this were available, so that you could decide (for example) to spend $50 on your sister, and $100 on your wife. Instead, there is an overall budget for the category (family) and you decide how to spend it.

My issue with the budget category is that it doesn't warn you when you are entering a dollar amount that puts you over budget. You can plan to buy something, and enter an anticipated dollar amount, but you have to go back to the main screen to see how that affects you overall budget. It would be nice to have a popup warning if your anticipated prices are going to result in being over budget.

Also, when you enter an anticipated price, the program doesn't ask how much the item really cost when you indicate that you purchased the item. I could anticipate a toy will cost $15, but it might actually cost $20. The only way to change it is to go back and edit the original price. Not a huge problem, but certainly not time saving.

One last thing about the budget information. The program doesn't differentiate at all between items that are purchased, or need to be purchased. Well, let me clarify. It does tell you how many items you still need to buy. But for the purposes of a budget, it doesn't differentiate between a purchased item or one you still need to buy. As such, once you enter an item, it is considered purchased, and if you are over budget (even if you haven't spent the money) it tells you that you have spent more than your budget.

One nice feature is that you can add notes to each person, so you can jot down gift ideas before you choose how much to buy. Likewise, you can add notes for each gif you buy, adding details or information as needed.

Pros: Nice way to classify purchases, tries to track budget

Cons: budget tracking is limited, no way to really plan for purchases

All in all, this is a useful program, but it has some problems. The budget tracking is limited, and while it can provide some overall details, it isn't useful enough to be considered a plus for the program. The methods of classifying purchases (for family, friends, office, etc) is nice, as is the ability to identify if an item has to be purchased, wrapped, and/or sent. However, the limitation in the budget aspect rellay detract from the ability to act as an overall gift list organizer. For $2.99, I would hope for more. Two and a half out of five stars (almost 3 stars, but not quite).

* = No redeeming qualities or features, probably not worth it even if it is free
** = Few redeeming qualities, or is simply isn't worth the price
*** = Some good features but also some clear flaws.
**** = A solid app, worth the money if interested, a few flaws or problems or slightly overpriced
***** = Top of the line app, no problems or drawbacks.

Price is factored into the ratings. Ratings are lowered if I feel the price of the app outweighs the benefits/enjoyment/features it provides. Likewise, an app that is a good value for the money will have a higher rating.

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