Billing by the hour for services rendered is fast becoming the norm. It’s just not freelancers who use time trackers to bill their client on an hourly basis. After the financial downturn, companies large and small are forced by clients to opt for hourly billing instead of monthly retainers or a lump sum project fee.
When businesses start using a certain type of app, a handful of features and a gorgeous user interface won’t just cut it. Advanced functionalities, integration with third party apps and a sensible workflow to get things done quickly become the norm. When I came across Time Panel, I noticed that it doesn’t have as eye-catching an interface as its competitors.
So, let’s see if Time Panel scores in the other key areas to make up for it.
The app looks so plain to the extent of terming it bland and boring. It needs a fresh coat of paint to catch up with the rest. On the brighter side of things, there is a full blown demo mode available for you to take the app for a spin. No need to create a trial account or anything, just click on the demo button and start playing around.
A demo mode is such a practical idea that benefits both developers and potential customers. User don’t have to sign up, create an account and then decide if they like the app or not. And, developers don’t have to worry about all the zombie accounts created just to see if the app is a right fit or not. Sure, there is a probability that trial accounts can be converted with targeted marketing campaigns overtime, but the chances of that happening are slim.
The Getting Started screen is a weird combo of a initial settings page and a help wizard. The devs need to make up their mind and either have to spin out a less verbose help wizard or axe it altogether.
Clients, Projects and Tasks
After doing some groundwork, you’ll find that Time Panel is extremely nimble and productive. The concept is nothing groundbreaking. Track time on tasks associated to projects and bill the appropriate client. The client side of things is pretty standard and has all the necessary features.
Creating projects is quick and additionally, they can be grouped together into their respective categories as well. Makes sense when you have many different projects to juggle. However, given the layout of the project management section, any sort of organization is just useless.
Shared tasks is a functionality that’s worth a lot of praise. You can save a lot of time by reusing or sharing tasks that have been created for other projects. In fact, there is an option to auto share tasks when new projects are created. This feature takes redundancy out of the equation and also ensures that important tasks don’t slip through the cracks.
Tracking Time and Invoicing
For once, I was happy that Time Panel didn’t have a fancy UI! That’s because, time tracking apps tend to go nuts with their timers in the name of creativity. For instance, Freckle opens up the timer in a separate pop up window. Can you imagine how annoying to have a pop up window that goes out of view when you click on something else?
Time Panel has a no nonsense timer that just ticks away. You can create multiple tasks and timers and keep them all running simultaneously. Another nifty little addition is the option to edit time logs. Often, time tracking apps won’t let you manually update time logged using a timer. If you forget stopping a timer, you’ll feel the pain of not having an option to edit it later.
The daily and weekly time logs on the calendar view is a nice to have feature. It’s only half useful, thanks again to the UI.
It was a great relief to see that the invoices generated were looking professional and they are way better than the web UI. Taxes, multiple currencies, hourly rates – they are there. Unfortunately there isn’t way to add a discount to the invoice.
Time Panel looks like a minimum viable product rather than a production ready solution. If you look at some of the competitors like Freckle and Harvest, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. Time tracking is a niche business where “plain looking” could disrupt the prospects of the app in the market.
Another major letdown is the lack of companion apps for smartphones. Again, many competing apps have native smartphones to facilitate professionals who frequently travel. To balance for all these downsides, Time Panel team has done a sensible thing. They have a moderately priced subscription tier that surprisingly has price points I haven’t seen so far in web apps. The basic plan starts at $6.99!
So, we now know where Time Panel stands. I would recommend Time Panel to those who don’t want to splurge a lot of money for a time tracking app or don’t care about tracking time when you are out and about.