A Clear Review

Some people thrive on lists. They have lists for errands, groceries, chores, ideas, dog names, and so on. I am one such fellow. I keep lists to help me remember things, but also to help clear my mind. The moment when the need to make a list hits could be at any time.

For me, a good list app needs to be both fast and available. Clear is both of those while also managing to be unique and quite unconventional.

As any reader of this website knows, I am an avid user of OmniFocus. Any list I may jot down will eventually work its way into OmniFocus. But the biggest caveat with OmniFocus is its speed. It takes more than a few seconds to launch the iPhone app and enter something in. New OmniFocus items beg to be given contexts, projects, start dates, and due dates. While this is OmniFocus’s greatest strength, there are times when this is also OmniFocus’s greatest weakness.

And so there are two things I like about Clear:

  • As a list app it is fast to use and to navigate. It launches up very quickly, you can enter in a slew of items in no time, and you can get to a particular list very quickly as well.

  • As a man who simply has an affinity for fine software, Clear stands apart as a very unique and clever app. I dive into this a bit more in my review below, but even if you are not in the market for a new list app, Clear is worth checking out if only to experience its unique design and user interface.

Clear

Clear is a list app for the iPhone like no other. When you’re in the app you only see your color-based lists. Clear is an app without chrome or buttons or menu bars or metadata. Each item holds just 30 characters of text, and there are no due dates or notes or projects.

It has the underlying simplicity and ease of use that an app with just a white background and an unordered list of items would have. And yet, through the use of color and actions and gestures, clear has a surprising amount of life to it.

Clear is literally just pixels and gestures. But combined in just the right way to make an app that is a unique and clever blend of simplicity and spunk.

Action-Centric

Clear relies heavily on the use of color and gestures to navigate. It is very action-centric. Nearly all the gestures that you normally do on the iPhone — swiping up and down, left and right, pinching open and closed — are the ways that you navigate the app. The way Clear works is quite unconventional compared to other list apps, and yet all the actions feel natural because they are common gestures for anyone that’s used an iPhone for longer than their lunch break.

When you’re in a list, you pull the whole list down to create a new item at the top of the list. Or, if you want the new item inserted somewhere other than at the top you can pinch open the list and insert a new item anywhere you like.

Swiping left-to-right completes a task, swiping the opposite deletes it. Swiping left-to-right again on that task un-completes it. Pulling up on your list clears out all the crossed off items, and pinching the list closed takes you up a level to see the menu of all your currently active lists.

In addition to pulling down or pinching open, you can also add a new item to the list by tapping in the blank space underneath your list. A new list item “drops down” and you can then fill in its contents. If you want to quickly add a series of new items, then pull down from within the item creation pane. This is actually an extremely quick way to add new items to your list as fast as your thumbs can tap them out.

Even though Clear relies heavily on the iOS pinching gestures to navigate within lists and for adding new items, the app was still designed so that it can be used one-handed. For example, when pulling a list to add a new item, if you continue to pull down you will get an option to switch lists:

Pull down further to go to a different level in Clear

You can navigate through the whole app this way.

Despite its extreme reliance on gestures and actions, I found Clear to be surprisingly discoverable. And if that’s not enough, a brief pre-launch tutorial guides you through the first time you launch the app, and you’re even presented with a list of pre-populated to-do items which inform you how to use the app.

Colorful

Like I said, Clear is just pixels and gestures. The lists are color-based with the darker colors at the top to signify greater importance.

You can re-order items by tapping and holding to move them. And as you navigate through the different hierarchies of the app the colors change as well. The default color scheme has “red hot items” as the individual list pane, cool blue items as the pane showing all your lists, and then a cooler slate grey for the menu.

You can change your color scheme in the menu. There are red, green, pink, grey, and black themes. Also there may or may not be some easter eggs to be found in the app related to themes. But that’s all they’ll let me say.

Hierarchy

One of the things that instantly struck me was the spatial stacking that Clear uses to convey hierarchy.

Clear's Hierarchy

A typical iOS app has a hierarchy that goes left to right. Meaning, the left-most pane is the highest level and the right-most pane is the furthest drilled down into the app. For example, in Mail if you hit the back button enough times your left-most pane will be the list of your mailboxes; as you move deeper into Mail it takes you to the panes that exist on the right until you get all the way into an individual message.

For Clear, the hierarchy goes top to bottom as you can see in the image above. Also worth noting is that Clear’s bottom-most pane is an individual list — you can not drill down to an individual item. Further emphasizing the forced simplicity of Clear.

This spatial stacking is different than the way most apps work, but because of Clear’s gesture-based navigation it really works well. When you are pulling down to add a new item, the bar for that item “folds up” as if coming from underneath. Likewise, when you pinch open for a new item in a list, the item folds open. The animations are quite clever and fit in well with the unique hierarchy structure of the app.

Clearclusion

For the connoisseurs of fine iOS app or list apps alike, Clear is definitely worth checking out. And it’s just a buck in the iTunes App Store.

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