Clear Books Review Part 1 – Usability

Like all the online accounting packages we cover on this site, Clear Books is very easy to use and apart from some navigation issues we don't think anyone will have any problems.

The Dashboard

The Clear Books dashboard is highly customisable, they put a lot on there as standard which can make it a bit cluttered but if you keep it to the core sections you will see something like the screenshot below.

If you also add in VAT, this shows you everything you need from a dashboard. A summary of money owed, money due, the last few months profit and bank balances. All are very clear.

You can see the extra options available in the tickboxes at the bottom. Clear Books also tend to sneak in a few promotional messages of their own such as this one below, which could annoy a few people:

The petrol prices option is a weird one. It links up to www.petrolprices.com to show you your local petrol prices and where to find the cheapest petrol locally. We're not sure if we should applaud the creative thinking or get frustrated about them not spending time on more important features but it's certainly different.

Bank Import

When working with bank transactions you have two choices. Either you can import a statement manually or use Yodlee (extra cost of £5 per month) to get an automated bank feed straight into your account. Once you've done that you get a screen that looks like this:

This is a neat system and works well. Like Xero it can use a rules based approach. In the above example a previously set up 'Advertising' rule was trained to know that a transaction description with Advertising in the title should be treated in a certain way. All being well it now knows exactly where to put this bank receipt and you just need to click Add Transaction and can move on to the next one.

We rate accounting software that has a good system for dealing with bank statements highly because it can significantly reduce the amount of time users spend doing their accounts. This is definitely a good system.

Accounting Jargon

There is no accounting language in Clear Books likely to confuse a user. A sale is a sale and a purchase is a purchase. Another big plus for Clear Books.

Navigation

Where Clear Books starts to falter is when you try and quickly navigate around the screens. Have a look at this screen for unpaid invoices:

In a screen showing a breakdown of unpaid invoices it should be really easy to drill down into a particular invice. We tend to automatically click on the biggest link. In this case that's the name of the customer. Doing so will take us to loads of information about that customer but tell us little about this particular invoice. Instead we should have clicked on the unsightly invoice number.

The 'late' column is a bit of a mystery. Who can guess what will happen when you click on a the number 313 (and why 313?!). Well it changes to say 'PAID pending'. Huh?

Then we have all the icons on the right. There are a lot of them! All are fairly useful but most users will find they have to hover their mouse over each item before they are sure they are clicking on the one they want.

I expect none of these are problems for long term Clear Books users but you don't encounter similar confusion in Xero or KashFlow and anyway people use similar excuses to justify baffling Sage and QuickBooks menus. It's the future now everything should be intuitive!

Reliability

It's hard to know where to fit this issue into the review. It's not one that we felt a need to flag in any other reviews but usability won because all to often we can't use Clear Books.

During 2011 there were numerous systems outages, most notably an entire weekend in October. There was little in the way of status updates so users didn't know what was going on. During a previous outage it was reported that there was some client data loss, which is totally 100% unacceptable.

We aren't aware of any problems more recently and hope it remains this way. Clear Books lack goodwill in the online accounting industry and they face an up hill battle to fix that.

We're also aware of one user having to contact the support team every month because the system decides there free trial has ended and invite them to subscribe despite them having been a paying customer for a long time. This might be an isolated case but how many isolated cases are there out there?

Usability Verdict

We think Clear Books is a really easy to use package and has a very nice interface for bank transactions. We do though have serious concerns over their reliability in the past. No major outages in 2012 would relieve our worries, let's hope they achieve it. For now it's just 3 stars.

 

>> Clear Books Review Part 2 : Features

 

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