Brandon's Notepad

May 20, 2013

Android Applications: Shopping Lists

Home > My Lists > Android Applications > Shopping Lists

I do a lot of the household’s grocery shopping and I’m always running little errands to the grocery, hardware, and big-box department stores. My lists are manifest on paper, in e-mail, and (all too often) in my head. Sometimes I have to consult two or three different lists during a single visit. I needed to find a way to maintain a single, consolidated shopping list, and the tablet seemed like an excellent platform for the job.

[Content last updated on 5/20/2013]

Evaluation Criteria

The basic requirement is that the app reliably maintains a clean list of items that can be crossed off (or at least removed) as necessary. This is simple functionality and there are many Android apps out there that will do the job sufficiently. However, I really didn’t want to retype items that I buy on a regular basis, and it would be great to have a master list that I could use to take inventory around the house before a big shopping trip in the hope of cutting down the number of small errands in the week that follows. Identifying the store for each item is also important.

Here’s a few other considerations:

  • The ability to record an item’s price is of limited value to me for several reasons. First, prices change all the time (even if only by a few cents) and even if I know that one store has the lowest price, I’m not going to make a special trip if it’s the only item I need to buy there. Gas it too expensive these days to care much about a difference of a few cents on a can of green beans. Also, I’m not going to maintain price data for everything I buy across three or four grocery stores. It is nice to know approximately how much something costs and it is helpful to know the sale prices for the current week.
  • Many apps include barcode-scanning functionality, usually for easy lookup of items against a product database. It may be a neat feature, but I’m not going to make it a requirement. In part, I often prefer to be generic. For example, the line item “Shampoo for him” leaves room for choice based on price, availability, and the plain freedom to choose something different once in a while. [Based on my experience after the evaluation was over, this feature worked best with name-brand items and not so well with store-brand items — which happens to include a lot of what we buy!]

Selected App Reviews

OI Shopping List. [v1.6] This app is very simple at first blush but several advanced features make it scale nicely. Multiple shopping lists can be stored. Adding items to a list involves typing the name of the item into a text box at the bottom of the screen and clicking the ‘Add’ button. To check an item off of the list (or cross it off, depending on the theme) just tap it. The app can be configured to hide checked items automatically. The “Clean Up List” function appears to wipe all checked items from the list, but it really only hides them. The “Pick Item” function then lets you add items back to the list as needed. By default, this occurs in a dialogue box; however, there is a setting that allows for the picking of items inline on the list. A “Mark All Items” function allows for quick cleanup so that items can be picked or added anew. Wait, there’s more! Various attributes can be (optionally) set for each item, such as quantity, units, price, tags, priority (numeric), and even notes (requires OI Notepad). If any of the items on the list have a price, then the total is tallied at the bottom. Quantity and unit values precede the name of the item on the list view if they contain values. There are no categories (e.g. Frozen Foods), but tags work well in this capacity (caveat: without autocomplete, the tags would have to be retyped every time). Prices can also the tracked by store. (BUG ALERT! In version 1.6, no matter which item you choose, the Stores dialog box gets stuck on the first item on the list if it is accessed through the Edit Item dialogue box. Long-tapping on the item and choosing “Stores…” works fine.) Here’s the best part! The list can be filtered by store and/or tag! This works even when picking items to add to the list, which means you can set the tag filter while taking inventory around the house and then set the store filter when shopping at a particular store. When the store filter is on, the price for that store is shown! (Unfiltered, it shows the lowest price.) How powerful is that! There is also a barcode scanning function (which requires the Barcode OI Plugin), but I have not tried it.

This app is clearly my favorite because it met my evaluation criteria. It lets me work the way I want to work. I can turn on the inline pick function and go from room to room determining what needs to be purchased (a binary decision). The store filter turns my master list into a store-specific list, and the tag filter limits my choices when taking inventory and allows me to focus aisle by aisle at the store.

Out of Milk. [v3.1.4] This app has one of the best user interfaces in my opinion. Version 1.6 has three functions available: Shopping List, Pantry List, and To-Do List (not reviewed). The Shopping and Pantry lists look very much the same, and multiple lists of each kind can be created; however, these lists are integrated only loosely. In a Shopping List, a line item can include values for quantity, unit, unit price, and category, as well as check boxes for “Tax-Free” and “Coupon”, and a long text field for notes. The list is grouped by category and footed by two price tallies: “Total” and “Remaining Total” (i.e. price total of unchecked items). Setting the tax rate will automatically add tax for all items not marked as “Tax-Free” and prices are adjusted for coupons, either in amount or percentage. (BUG ALERT! I entered an item with quantity of “2” and unit price of $10. On the list it stated in small print, “2 @ $20.00”. This is misleading. “2 @ $10.00 = $20.00 Total” or “Qty: 2 Total: $20.00” would be far less ambiguous.) In a Pantry List, an item still has a unit price, category (with the same values as on the Shopping List), and notes. The quantity and unit values are still available, but not by default. In their stead, a slider control labeled “Amount” ranges continuously from “None” to “Half” to “Full”. The values on the line item are then qualified in small print as “None left”, “Almost empty”, “About half left”, etc. The quantity and unit values take the place of the slider if the “Enter Number Instead” checkbox is checked. The other two checkboxes don’t exist in the Pantry List. Both include a price history (stack array) that is automatically updated when a price is changed. So, it is obvious that the Shopping List function is meant to be used to plan a very specific shopping trip (with the possible side benefit of making you think twice about impulse purchases lest they mess up your perfectly-planned list) and the second function lends itself to keeping a household inventory, either periodic or perpetual (with the downside being that you have to review your entire list as you march through every store and reset the quantities either when items go into the basket or after the purchase is complete). These functions are not mutually exclusive. Use the Pantry List to track items typically kept on hand (like paper towels, soap, etc.) and add non-staple items to the Shopping List (such as steak because it is on sale this week or a bottle of wine for Friday night). This app also has a built-in barcode scanner that found every item I scanned, including desk supplies.

I really like the split Shopping List and Pantry List concept; however, unlike OI, I have to remember what is on each. For example, are bananas on the Pantry List or the Shopping List? Probably the former. Ground beef? Probably the latter.

Grocery IQ. [v2.5.2] This app has a very nice interface and it was going to be my app of choice when I started, but it quickly fell out of favor. For starters, and this was probably a fluke, but the first time I tried to use the app at the grocery store, my list was gone! It reappeared the next day. The barcode scanner would not return any store brand products. In fact, only brand name products could be found in the database. Also, this app is for use with electronic coupons, and I don’t use a lot of coupons anymore, so I moved on to other apps.

To be fair, I just fired up the app before writing this, and was able to find Kroger brand goods. I may revisit it someday, perhaps just for getting the coupons during shopping trips.

Our Groceries. [v2.2.0] This app is very basic. It does support multiple shopping lists and has a large number of generic products in its database (e.g. “eggs” and “milk”).

ZipList. [v2.3] This is a sufficient app that allows multiple lists, and common item attributes, such as quantity, units, size, price, etc. The database includes both generic and name brand items, but I did not try out the barcode scanner. ZipList does have a helpful store feature that lets you search for and maintain a list of favorite stores and customize the aisle order for each. Items can then be categorized by aisle (most have logical defaults) and assigned to particular stores in the list. This automatically sorts store lists to streamline shopping trips and prevent needless walks back and forth across the store.

The weekly ZipList e-mail newsletter includes links to a lot of tasty recipes.

Retail Store Apps

The retail grocers are definitely competing in the mobile arena. I have loaded a few apps, including Kroger, Albertsons, Tom Thumb, Target, and Walmart. They all offer a competitive list of features, including weekly ads, shopping lists, online coupons, store locators, prescriptions, shopper’s club rewards, gift card services, and gift registries.

Again, these apps may be useful for taking advantage of deals and coupon in-store (i.e. pick up an item and scan the barcode to see if there is a coupon), but I’d rather not have to access a half-dozen apps to plan the week’s shopping. Moreover, these apps are going to change more frequently than the generic apps to stay competitive, so I don’t see much value in reviewing them in detail.


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