Two of the biggest names in operating systems and software have both released their take on the ideal to-do list app. While Google opted for a barebone, laser-focused application aimed at giving individual users maximum control, Microsoft tried to take the genre further and add some collaboration to the mix.
The execution of these parallel goals diverges quickly in the actual use of the app from both companies, with different priorities, apparent target demographics, and levels of cohesive design.
We’ve already looked at both Google Tasks and Microsoft To Do, highlighting the pros and cons of each application. If you’d like to dive deeper into the details of each, check out our linked coverage below.
Of course, it’s unlikely that a single implementation of a to-do list manager will be perfect for everyone. So, with that in mind, let’s decide whether Microsoft To Do or Google Tasks is the best option for most users by pitting them against each other in a direct comparison of availability, cost, third-party service integrations, widgets, functionality, and ease of use.
Platform Availability and Cost
Both apps are free to download: from Google Play for Android and from the Apple App Store for iOS. Each version also includes a web-based variant that ties into the company’s primary email service: Gmail for Google Tasks and Outlook for Microsoft To Do. Unlike many competing solutions, there is no enhanced tier of either app available through monthly or annual subscription fees.
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It’s also worth noting that while both apps support smartwatch notifications, neither is available through an official app for the Apple Watch series or Google’s Wear OS-based devices.
Which app wins this category of the competition largely depends on whether your daily life relies more on the Google or Microsoft ecosystem. Heavy Gmail users may want to opt for Google Tasks just for its ability to instantly create tasks from within Gmail, while Outlook aficionados might want to use To Do for the same reason. However, I wouldn’t call the relatively minimal email functionality provided by these apps (discussed in more detail below) essential enough to be the sole deciding factor in which one you end up choosing.
External platform integration
As mentioned, Google chose to integrate its Gmail service into Google Tasks, while Microsoft integrated its Outlook email solution. This is the only direct external interactivity of Tasks that is really worth mentioning. However, Microsoft’s To Do is again trying to go a little further by introducing the company’s Planner solution to introduce collaboration tools.
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As I mentioned in my review, any usefulness Planner added to To Do for me was limited by the fact that I couldn’t find a single soul I knew with Planner. This is a perfect example of how Microsoft is going a bit too far for a basic To-Do app, and not far enough to turn To Do into something like a version of Microsoft Teams for your personal life.
As for the competing email functionality of each app, they are basically identical. Both apps include a one-click method to turn an email into a task from their respective email client interfaces. This means that Gmail will get an “Add to tasks” button, while Outlook will get “Create a task” as a new option in the “…” menu. Both will create a new task with the title set to the subject line of the original email.
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Neither is a life-changing feature. The web-based Gmail interface that allows you to immediately fill in additional fields like due dates and notes gives it an edge for me. All variants of To Do require you to create the task from an email and edit it later if you want to add the aforementioned details to it. This again brings an extra, unnecessary step to what should be a simple process.
Winner: Google tasks
Both apps support a selection of widgets that are largely identical in their Android and iOS implementations.
Google has two variants: a small 2×2 version that gives a truncated view of your most important tasks, with one-tap access to open the app; and a larger 4×2 list that provides quick access to individual tasks, as well as an included button for adding new tasks.
Microsoft, meanwhile, has four widgets: a 2×2 version that lists tasks from the “My Day” screen; a 2×2 version similar to Google’s smaller offerings, but with support for one-tap access to creating new tasks; a 4×2 version that allows you to see longer titles, mark individual tasks as completed, and add new tasks; and a full-screen version that does essentially the same things as the previous widget, but takes up a lot more screen space.
Both companies’ widgets include options that let you choose which of your to-do lists displays a widget, meaning you can have multiple widgets for multiple lists. Microsoft’s slightly wider variety of widget size options and the fact that you can add a new task from each of them regardless of their size gives it an edge here.
Winner: Microsoft To Do
As I mentioned in the intro, Google Tasks and Microsoft To Do take very different approaches to introducing their functionality to new users. Microsoft chose to immediately present new users with a long series of automatically compiled lists, while Google Tasks greets newcomers with an almost completely clean slate.
This first comparison provides information about every aspect of the user experience for both apps. At every turn, Google Tasks provides a minimalist framework to give users just enough functionality to manage their tasks. Meanwhile, Microsoft is trying to go beyond what the average user needs. While Google’s lack of complexity may mean that options fall short for some advanced users, Microsoft’s attempt to exceed expectations fails as often as not.
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While testing both apps, I constantly felt that Tasks gave me the freedom to create a surprisingly comprehensive set of reminders and lists for my personal and work calendars. Although Microsoft To Do provided the same functionality for me, I was constantly running into features I didn’t feel like and working through interface elements that only slowed me down.
Winner: Google tasks
Easy to use
I’ve nibbled on the edges of this category above. But it deserves its own section because of the basic purpose of to-do list apps. We look for organization to make our lives easier, reduce the amount of time it takes to do unpleasant tasks and errands, and increase the amount of free time we have by improving our day-to-day efficiency.
That is why it is of utmost importance that the app we choose to organize our busy schedules is not in itself a waste of time.
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I won’t be hyperbolic here and pretend that Microsoft To Do has a huge learning curve, nor will I argue that most of the actions in it take more than a few extra seconds compared to the same action in Google To Do. But those few extra seconds add up, especially if you’re doing multiple tasks in a day. Setting up a new task should be as simple as possible. This ensures that we, as very human and often very lazy individuals, actually continue to use these apps at a frequency that will have a real, beneficial impact on our daily lives.
If adding a task is always a breeze, we do it when there’s a chance it will be useful. Conversely, if it’s a hassle that takes more than 10 seconds to complete, we’re much more likely to just let it go and just try to remember it. I think we all know how dangerous that can be.
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Google Tasks does just enough to make it a quick, easy, and flexible solution to keep track of what you need to do on any given day. While Microsoft To Do can accomplish almost all of the same goals, it takes just enough longer to make me want to use it less.
Winner: Google tasks
Since both applications are free, I still recommend that you give both a shot to see which one works best for you. That said, I would definitely start with Google Tasks. It’s the solution I’d choose and the one I’ll keep using as I write this equation. Its simple design, never overwhelming interface, and simple yet useful Gmail integration make it ideal for me. I think many readers will find it fulfills all their needs without ever getting in the way of letting you scroll through options you’ll never use or wrangling through pre-made lists you didn’t ask for. .
Of course, preferences differ. That’s why it’s great that there is no downside to giving Microsoft To Do a shot as well. If you feel like you are running into limitations in To Do, To Do may be the solution for you. Or, if you’re part of a family or business that actively uses Planner, its collaboration features may work for you.
Neither offering is going to be perfect for everyone, but Google Tasks is the more likely of the two to satisfy the largest group of potential users in the largest number of usage scenarios. For this reason, I’d recommend it as the best starting point, even if you feel like you’ve outgrown it later.
Winner: Google tasks