BudgetBook for iPad is sexy but a little too simple

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BudgetBook for iPad is sexy but a little too simple

I've never been fond of managing my finances manually. It seems like most of the solutions are either too complex and time consuming or too simplistic and unhelpful. I'm a fan of Mint because it takes care of almost all of the work for me, but when it stopped syncing with my bank I started looking for a replacement.

MoneyBook from noidentity has been a permanent resident in a folder on my iPhone where I store great apps for inspiration, but without an iPad app, I've never considered it an ideal solution for my needs. When I saw that noidentity had released BudgetBook, an iPad app for tracking finances, I was immediately excited to give it a try.

BudgetBook is a brand new app; it's not a big brother to MoneyBook, though it's every bit as gorgeous. Unfortunately, it lacks a couple of the features that make MoneyBook so compelling, and it could use some design refinements.

BudgetBook focuses on day-to-day spending and budgeting. It's fast, fluid and has practically no learning curve. BudgetBook is best suited to tracking the accounts you use frequently, like savings, checking, cash and credit. It is possible to track longer-term accounts, but it doesn't have any advanced features such as interest tracking or detailed information tracking, which you might find in a finance app with a broader scope.

Setting up accounts is one of the areas of BudgetBook where I'd like to see more complexity. Hit new, give it a name and you're done. No defining what kind of account it is, no adding an initial balance, no settings. While it's fast and painless, there are two downsides as a result of this. The first is that everything is sorted by name; if you add a car loan, it might exist between two savings accounts, which can be frustrating if you have more than a couple of accounts and you're as obsessive about organization as I am. Oddly, accounts are also sorted in a reverse alphabetical order.

The second problem is that the initial balance must be entered as a transaction, which basically throws off your entire budget and statistics for the first month. If you add an $8,000 car loan and a $2,000 savings account, BudgetBook will treat that as if you spent $8,000 and received $2,000 in income this month.

On the other hand, the simplicity in entering transactions, setting up budgets and staying on top of them is blissfully quick and painless. Set an amount, assign a category, a note and the account. While the process isn't revolutionary, the execution is perfect.

Recurring transactions are available, but the implementation is frustrating. When a recurring transaction (or any future transaction) is scheduled, BudgetBook counts it toward your current balance, and you have to do a bit of math to figure out what is actually available in your account right now. It's nice to know what your totals for the month look like, but if you aren't on a fixed income, it would be nice if there was a way to filter out future transactions.

Custom categories are easy to create, and preset categories can be deleted. BudgetBook comes with a fairly large number of icons to pair with categories. Thankfully, categories can be sorted manually so that the ones you use regularly will be right where you want them.

Budgets are obviously central to BudgetBook, but there isn't much to say about them other than they work exactly as I expected them to, and the execution is again flawless. New budgets are assigned to a category, and transactions in the category are totaled against the maximum amount you set. I really like that there is flexibility to set up each individual budget to be monthly, bi-weekly and weekly.

Statistics provide just enough information to give you an overview of your finances rather than overwhelm you with data. Income and expenses are charted by month to give a long-term view of your financial health and indicate if you're moving in the right direction. BudgetBook will also break down income and expenses by category to make it clear where all your money is going. Statistics are available globally, or they can be accessed in individual accounts.

I'm personally not super concerned with privacy or security, but one thing that could be a deal breaker for some is that there isn't a passcode to protect your information in case other people get ahold of your iPad. If you're worried about keeping sensitive financial information private, you will need to set a device passcode or choose another app.

For me, the largest missing component with BudgetBook is the lack of cloud syncing. One of the things I really like about MoneyBook is that it syncs with MyMoneyBook, noidentity's cloud service. I wish BudgetBook had been built to sync with MyMoneyBook so I could use MoneyBook on the occasions when I'm shopping without my iPad and need to enter a transaction or check my balance.

I do like BudgetBook. Every pixel feels lovingly crafted, the app is generally well designed, and it's priced fairly at US$2.99. It does make managing finances painless, but it also falls a little too far on the side of simplicity for me. I'll be watching the updates very closely to see if some of the things I feel are lacking get improved, particularly if it starts syncing with MyMoneyBook. It's a good app, and it's certainly one of the top choices if you're looking for a simple finances app on the iPad. With a few refinements, I have no doubt it will become one of the best on the App Store.

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