Quicken Essentials is Essentially Minimalist

| In-Depth Review

Quicken Essentials is Intuit’s ground-up rewrite of Quicken for the Mac in Cocoa. It’s a good looking, basic application that has plenty of room for growth. Regrettably, it is still somewhat unrefined and has some serious limitations.

First, here are the notable features of Quicken Essentials (QE):

  • Connects to over 12,000 financial institutions
  • Uses SSL 128-bit encryption
  • Uses a secure file format for use data on disk
  • New interface allows one to see all accounts in one place
  • Learns user habits for data entry over time
  • Overview mode provides snapshot of all money coming in and going out
  • Categorizes transactions to highlight where money is going
  • A single app that’s simply copied to /Applications. A single user data file.
  • Special “picker” boxes make data entry easier - just click instead of typing
  • You can import data from the previous Quicken for Mac, Quicken for Windows or Microsoft Money - with some limitation.

There are some things that version 1.3x of QE cannot do:

  • It cannot print checks
  • It cannot export to TurboTax
  • There is no buy/sell detail for investments
  • There is no direct BillPay from within QE
  • Quicken Essentials does not include many of the advanced features in other versions of Quicken, including Business features, Rental Property, lifetime planner, cash flow forecast, spending plan, debt reduction plan, emergency tax records, tax planner, and home inventory manager.

 

QE Account Data

Quicken Account Data

Out of the Box Experience

I reviewed Quicken Essentials version 1.3f4519 — which was an Internet update subsequent to the original version (1.1f4360) supplied by Intuit’s product manager, Eddy Wu. The download, curiously, is a .iso file instead of a .dmg file, but it really makes no difference. There is a 35 page Getting Started PDF file, a directory with instructions for converting old data and a conversion tool, and, of course, the QE app. The app is simply dragged to /Applications.

The application is simple enough that a 35 page Getting Started guide is sufficient to get one started with this app. Intuit’s support page for Mac is well laid out and has good information for the new user.

My first experience with QE on launch was a dialog that suggested there may be a problem with my Internet connection. It walked me though a diagnostic that resulted in nothing wrong at all. That has happened several times.

QE Internet

Internet Connection Diagnostic - snafu

Because I didn’t want to download real data from my own checking account, I created a dummy checking account instead. It is here where you’ll have to be careful if you don’t find your bank in the list and set up your own named checking account. What appears to be merely a footnote below the list is what you must click on. Clicking continue, which seems like a natural bypass, will take you to a place you probably don’t want to go at that point.

QE Create Account

Add Checking Account

For testing, I started entering some dummy data, checks written to payees. Then, I was notified of the automatic update available, so I downloaded it. Afterwards, several things happened:

  1. My picker windows disappeared
  2. The check number column disappeared
  3. The running balance disappeared

A phone conversation with Mr. Wu revealed that items #1 and #2 were bugs, a result of the update process. As for #3, that was the result of inadvertently clicking on a column other than the date. After all, if the data isn’t viewed in time order, then a running balance makes no sense and is, therefore, suppressed. Mr. Wu admitted that perhaps some kind of warning in the balance column would allay the fears of those who don’t notice which column is the sort column.

Observations

There is no doubt that QE presents your financial data in a beautiful way. The subdued pastels and blue sky backgrounds make for a pleasing app to use. I got the feeling, however, over time, that the app really is a minimalist endeavor. A look at the preferences supports that feeling. It’s just one small window with only a few options. It’s almost as if the design philosophy were, like Apple, start simple and grow the app, taking the customers along for the learning curve.

QE Prefs

Preferences

The problem with that philosophy is that this app deals with people’s money, and those users expect a lot of predictability and dependability. They become irritated with little things go wrong, or something doesn’t seem to work right because it’s their money being dealt with. As a result, the simplicity of the app seems out of sync with its robustness.

What I liked

Despite the observations above, there is a lot to like about this program. The clarity of the UI leaves no doubt about the next steps. The summary pages provide great pie charts to help you track expenditures. The three-panel layout, like iTunes and other Apple software, creates a great comfort level with the app.

For example, just was you would create a new playlist in iTunes, you click the “+” symbol at the bottom left to create a new account. This mimicking of, for example, iTunes goes a long way towards learning to use the program quickly.

QE Acct Types

Account Types

One feature I particularly liked was the picker. As you define each payee and category, a popup window appears below each field in the account register. Just click on one of the items in the picker’s window, and it’s selected for that field. If you don’t like a payee, category or tag, just click the edit field in the picker window to fix it. Click outside the picker window to make it go away. The picker is a great way to handle data entry in a fast, pleasing way. It may be the best feature of QE.

QE Picker

Picker in Action

There are several pre-defined reports. For example, one shows all activity for the current month. I tried printing a checkbook register and a report, and they came out perfectly formatted and with the right colors.

QE Reports

Reports

An overview option shows a pie chart of where all your money goes each month. These charts and reports are very nicely laid out and pleasing to look at. It’s what Mac users expect.

QE Overview

Overview

Another feature I liked was the attention to security. Users get paranoid about downloading their checkbook data over the Internet from their bank, and want to know that it’s safe to do so. I spent a lot of time quizzing Aaron Patzer about that when he briefed me in an interactive session, and I’m satisfied. For example, if your bank has additional challenge questions, over and above username and password, to authenticate you, QE is prepared to interface to those challenge questions.

Finally, if you’re stumped on something, a “Community” button at the bottom right takes right to the community forum where users can post questions.

What I Didn’t Like

When creating, say, a money market account, cash or an asset account, the default data fields are pretty much like they were in the checkbook. For example, there is a payee field, which doesn’t make sense to me. Worse, the picker, so convenient in the checkbook, has the same entries for payee and category, but they don’t make sense for, say, tracking an asset or cash. This is simplicity carried to silly extremes.

One can change the columns for each kind of account with View -> Columns, but I think the default should reflect the sensible columns for each new account by default.

Another thing I didn’t like is a minor inconsistency. There is an account type called savings. But if you create a money market account, the “overview” shows a savings category. One must click the disclosure triangle to see that the savings category isn’t an account, but rather a container for the money market account. The dual use of the term “savings” is confusing.

Other things that I didn’t like were noted in other places in this review.

The Bottom Line

Quicken Essentials is not a mighty financial app. I used Quicken for Mac in the 1990s for years, and while QE is more Mac-like, it somehow feels too simplistic even compared to that previous, somewhat ugly but capable incarnation. As listed above, lots of features that users will likely feel are essential are missing in this version 1.x, especially the export to TurboTax. That will be a deal breaker for many experienced users.

Also, little bugs, like the update bug mentioned above are admissible in a beta, but not for version 1.3. The program seems rushed and incomplete.

I applaud Intuit for the initial effort in Cocoa, but my recommendation is to wait for the program to develop further and reach maturity and feature parity with its brethren. And if all you want is a simple checkbook program, there are plenty of shareware checkbook programs, some with 4+ stars, to be found at MacUpdate and Version Tracker.

Quicken Essentials requires Mac OS X 10.5.8 or later (Leopard), 10.6.2 or later (Snow Leopard) and an Intel-based Mac.

Product: Quicken Essentials

Company: Intuit

List Price: US$69.99

Pros:

Simple to learn, good user interface design, handy data picker, attention to security.

Cons:

Buggy, cannot export to TurboTax, cannot print checks, Bill Pay is missing, data fields in picker not tied to account type.

Sign Up for the Newsletter

Join the TMO Express Daily Newsletter to get the latest Mac headlines in your e-mail every weekday.

9 Comments Leave Your Own

ctopher

Can’t export to Turbo Tax? How are they going to take advantage of the Turbo Tax halo effect?

I’m not being facetious, I used to use Andrew Tobias’ Managing Your Money and I was addicted to the data. Quicken was poorly supported and I fell out of the habit. I use Turbo Tax every year and I would love it if they had a good money application that would allow me to import into Turbo Tax.

John

The reviewer missed other important features that are MIA,

* No password protection for data files - MISSING
* No automatic backup with MobileMe/.Mac or Disk - MISSING
* No online transfer within your bank accounts - MISSING

Quicken (Bare) Essentials for Mac is pathetic compared to what they previously offered in Quicken Deluxe 2007.  I know it all looks like eye candy, but we’re not playing a video game.  We need to take our numbers and crunch them so we can evaluate and make great financial decisions.

Intuit is in big trouble with the Mac market.  They still have the worse customer service, and it all starts from the top down.  I’m just so glad that there’s now other options available for personal finance software for the Mac.

Quicken for Mac - RIP

Bill

Having looked at the Quicken Essentials product page, I have to agree with the previous commenter.  Why would I go to the effort of entering and balancing accounts only to have to duplicate it for using TurboTax.

geoduck

We waited for QE to be released. When it came out we read all we could find, looked at the features and price and made our decision. We are now using MoneyDance.

mjkphoto

Quicken Essentials was a long time coming and this is all we get? Don’t hold your breath waiting for the application to mature and find feature parity with its brethren. When has a Mac version of Quicken ever had feature parity with Windows versions? For those of us who used Quicken Home and Business, there’s little hope of seeing a comparable Mac version.

I’ve long abandoned Intuit for my financial software on the Mac.

John Martellaro

geoduck: Did you investigate iBank?  If so, how did it compare to MoneyDance?

azxplorer

Intuit has treated all of it’s Mac customers as bastard step-children for way too long. The only way I will ever give money to Intuit for a ‘Quicken’ product is when it has complete parity with the windows version.

Even then they should publicly apologize for even trying to pass this ‘Quicken” as covering ‘essentials.’ What a joke.

geoduck

geoduck: Did you investigate iBank?? If so, how did it compare to MoneyDance?

Sorry, I really am not sure how iBank would compare. When QE was first released there was a discussion, a couple actually about alternatives. Several people suggested MoneyDance and after some investigation that’s the route we ended up going.

Joe

is “minimalist” the new PC term for ‘worthless piece of junk’? After all, that’s what it is.

They’ve removed a ton of important features from the previous version (making it even farther from the Windows version). They’ve added nothing at all that I can see. So who in their right mind would pay money for an ‘upgrade’ that merely removes features?

Do any of the other options import from the Quicken data file directly? I have almost 20 years of data I don’t want to lose.

Thanksl.

Log-in to comment