Alto: Beautiful Invoices in the Cloud

In another life, I worked for a software company. Of all the things that made me want to gnaw off my own arm (and believe me, there were plenty), the one that truly broke me was the weekly time-keeping. Essentially, all employees had to recount the number of hours they spent working on projects for clients, and these hours were scrutinized like you wouldn’t believe, so you couldn’t just wing it. All I wanted was a simple utility that let me log these hours in the friendliest way possible. Alto is an app and service that offers that, and so much more.

In its essence, Alto is a freelancer’s dream. It’s a service that allows you to quickly create invoices for the work you did for clients, and also allows you to log your time via the companion Timer app. The two apps work seamlessly via the company’s syncing service. Clients created in the main app show up in the Timer app, and times logged in the Timer show up in the main app. It’s an incredibly quick and seamless link.

When you fire Alto up for the first time, the app asks you to set up an account, followed by your company’s and your personal profiles. You can then fill out your client(s)’ details. Once this is done, you’re all set to create your invoices and start billing your clients. When you want to start billing, head over to the Timers app, pick your client, and tap the large ‘Play’ button. Once you’re done logging, tap the ‘Pause’ button and the tick. This will send your logged time to Alto’s server, and it will show up in the main app. Creating invoices is a cinch, too, and the app guides you very effectively through the process of creating it, and sending it off to your client. The five inbuilt themes look very nice and professional. The service also supports payments through Stripe and PayPal and storing your receipts and code checkins through Dropbox and GitHub. To actually use the service in earnest, you’ll have to fork up $19.99/year, which is really very reasonable for the quality of the service.

Alto and the Timer are great apps, but I noticed that both use a lot of battery. It is possible that this is merely happening on my phone, but it was significant enough to be noticeable. The app itself is supremely well designed, and my only niggle came while adding a client – I tried to import a contact as a member of an organizational client I had set up. To do this, the app gives you an ‘Add Person’ button. I expected that the app would automatically populate the first Person field using the information from my Contacts, but instead, it created a new person, and asked me to fill out the initial Person section as well before proceeding. It might just be a bug, but it seemed to be quite a glaring one to me. Its iOS-only nature may also be a turnoff for some. Also, if you’re working solo, you might find the Timer app to be redundant. In a team, however, the administrator or team leader could control the main app, and each individual could simply log their time using the Timer app only. This set up make a lot of sense, but I do wish they could’ve added the timer feature in the main app as well.

Alto has limited free use. For unlimited invoicing, you need to subscribe for $29.99 a year.

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