If you’re looking for a project management suite in the cloud, you’ll be spoilt for choice. There are plenty of platforms available, each with their own strengths. Most users will need to try a few different packages before they settle on something that feels right.
Toolea is designed to make project management simpler, using cloud technology to promote collaboration and team working. The application’s functions cover broadly the same ground as other project management products we’ve covered. It can be used to make a company intranet, work on projects in teams, store and share files, set up tasks, diarise events and so on.
However, this is a tool with its own quirks – and not just in terms of its interface (although that is pretty unique too). Toolea tries to marry social networking and collaboration in a way I’ve not seen before. This is a bit of a risky strategy – after all, collaboration is based on a closed, invite-only system, and social tools are generally public. Toolea has some interesting features to get around this.
Toolea is free and, according to its home page, offers users unlimited file storage. When I started using the application, I found that the storage I received was limited to 1 GB, and I could earn extra storage by inviting new users. So in theory you could ‘earn’ unlimited storage, but it’s not really unlimited by default.
There is a prominent link to a Plans and Pricing page, but this is currently missing.
Once logged in, I’m presented with a really attractive dashboard screen. Toolea looks really fresh, and, like Basecamp, its user interface is pretty unique, so it does take some getting used to.
As you move around the application, you’ll notice that tutorial pop-ups appear, but they then disappear very quickly. It can be quite difficult to use them as a guide, and a tutorial would be more useful.
At the top of the screen, there are two semi-circles containing icons. The easiest way to understand its features is to follow the icons one by one to see how the application fits together.
First, we’ll start with the Toolea menu on the left.
The First Steps icon is intended to take a new user through the application in a logical order. Sadly it isn’t a tutorial as such; as previously mentioned, it would be good to see something like a video in its place.
The Calendar is essentially a clone of an Outlook calendar; this can be synchronised with a Google calendar. It’s a shame this part of Toolea looks so much like a Microsoft product really.
Profile is a simple profile page, and Contacts is an address book that can pull in LinkedIn and Facebook data. If you want to add a contact manually, you’ll have to invite them – you get extra storage space for doing so.
Under Experts, you can make contact with other Toolea users in different industries. This is an interesting idea – it’s a take on Quora and LinkedIn, and it’s something I’ve not seen in a cloud project management tool before. This is where the public and private areas of Toolea collide.
However, I don’t think it’s really clear enough that you’re being added to this network when you sign up. Also, if you invite others to join Toolea, you could also be signing them up to this network without them realising. In a way, this is a really big strength of Toolea but I think users need to be more informed about it (and be given the chance to opt out).
On the right, the Private Cloud menu holds most of the options you’d expect to see in a project management application.
My Job is a dashboard page that shows each user’s Files, Projects, Tasks and individual options. Workgroups are essentially teams that can collaborate on project, and workgroups can include both employees and third parties.
Within Tasks, you can see all items assigned to your job or your workgroup.
In the Files section you can upload files to share with a Job or Workgroup, or upload to your private file storage area. I tried both, but I didn’t find this feature particularly intuitive; you can see from the screenshot that only one of my two files is visible, and not in the centre of the screen – the area you’d expect to find it.
Overall, I love the way Toolea is genuinely trying something different. It looks fantastic, and its developers are clearly extremely creative and capable of giving cloud project management a new look and feel. There are some risks being taken with this SaaS, and that’s pretty brave. Most project management tools don’t stray very far from a template.
A couple of things did concern me. Firstly, the Quora-like element is great, but I’m not sure that it’s for everyone – some businesses may feel that employees could become distracted by yet another social network bombarding them with alerts. I’d also have preferred it if I could have opted in to this network, rather than just bring given a profile by default when I signed up.
Secondly, the unconventional user interface presents something of a learning curve, and I think Toolea needs more user testing to make it friendlier. For example, the ‘X’ close icons are at the bottom of pop-up windows. It’s not a big deal, really, but it’s something most designers wouldn’t do because people just aren’t expecting it. When I reset my password, I was rather alarmed to receive an enormous 40-character string as a replacement. Again, not the end of the world, but a bit odd.
Perhaps the biggest clue to a lack of testing is the constant presence of Google Chrome’s Spanish-to-English translation bar on every single page – this is distracting and irritating. Toolea is still a worthwhile application, but it needs more work before it’s really ready to compete with the big names in this crowded sector.
Category: Initial Reviews
About the AuthorClaire Broadley is a technical author and SEO copywriter. She reviews cloud applications and SaaS products for Rated Cloud.
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