Must Have Apps of 2017

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With the release of iOS 11, the iPhone and iPad have become more powerful than ever. Apps have begone to take advantage of the more powerful OS and devices, and we’ve seen some desktop class apps and games appear on the App Store this year.

I’ve been using my iPad Air 2 for the past few years as my primary device. My programming, writing, work and even some gaming is done on it1. Below are the apps that I’ve used the most throughout the year, every day, and the hardware I’ve been using daily.

Want to find more information on many of the apps I’ve mentioned? Simply, search the name and you’ll most likely find a more in-depth review.

Productivity

Ulysses. I started using Ulysses around a year ago, and it’s amazing. I love markdown, and Ulysses has a distraction free interface that lets me get on with my work. After trying many other apps such as 1Writer, I always came back to Ulysses. The flawless and easy publishing to my WordPress site meant that it was a breeze to post, but the feature that kept me with Ulysses was that I could embed in-line images right into my documents. No other text editor did this right – but Ulysses did.

Drafts. I’ve been using Drafts for years now, and it’s great. If I need to get something down, and can simply open Drafts and write it down, and then move it to Evernote, Ulysses, Twitter or whatever app it need to go it. I even use an advanced workflow to automatically sort and tag my Evernote notes depending on which lesson I’m in, so the app is super powerful. I really love Drafts – it’s my one-stop shop for any text I need to get down and move later.

Evernote. I store all my notes in Evernote, including school notes, blog notes, reference and everything I may need to access later. The powerful search always comes in handy when I need to find something, and I love that Evernote can recognise and search handwritten documents as well as PowerPoint and Word documents that you have attached to notes. Whilst I mostly write notes that end up in Evernote in Drafts2, the new note interface on Evernote for iOS is great, with preset header sizes and font colours. I do find that the app is still a little buggy and slow, however it is improving in speed every update.

Another reason I use Evernote is the great web client, which means that I can use Evernote wherever I am, on any computer that has a browser.

Todoist. I’ve settled on Todoist as my task manager, and it works well. I like that I can filter tasks using filters, and labels add an extra scope of depth to the task manager. I also like karma, as I love stats, and I can easily see how I am doing with all my tasks. I wouldn’t say that I love Todoist – I really wish it has the scheduling feature that Things 3 has3, however I can’t use Things 3 as it doesn’t have a web client. Todoist does, and it works brilliantly, as does the iOS app. It’s great to see that the team behind Todoist actively update it to support all the latest iOS additions, such as taking advantage of Siri, drag and drop and any new additions that come into iOS.

Spark. Spark just works. It doesn’t have any particularly advanced features such as read notifications, but I’ve found that it just works with my Gmail and Outlook emails without any hassle. I’ve tried other apps, but they would suck up my battery and notifications would come 10 minutes after I received the actual email. With Spark, everything just works. I also really like that I can set up shortcuts to specific folders in my email in the sidebar in Spark, and access them quickly.

Workflow. Workflow allows me to automate nearly everything I do on my iPad and iPhone. Using visual programming, I can drag and drop actions that come together to make a workflow.

Automating school notes with Workflow
Automating school notes with Workflow

For example, in the Evernote planning note for this post I had a list of links to every app. I created a workflow that accepted URLs, added a asterisk before them, and then appended them into Evernote. This meant that I could quickly build up a list of links in a bullet pointed list, instead of having to manually copy them and tediously paste them into Evernote, saving me loads of time.

If you want to save time on iOS, and automate things that you do, I really recommend Workflow. Best of all, it’s free!

Duet Display. I still use my computer occasionally, when I’m playing games, doing more advanced things on the site server, and when I want more screen estate. When I do this, I usually use Duet Display to make my iPad into a second monitor for my screen. This really increases my productivity, or if I;m playing a game, lets me put Discord on the iPad display. Duet Display is an awesome app that turns your iPad into a second monitor, and I love it.

Working Copy. I host most of my code on GitHub, and Working Copy is an awesome app that allows me to edit the code on my iPad and update it the repository. It works really well, and even allows you to resolve conflicts. You can view all the changes to a specific file, and you can also change the branch you are working on, and many more advanced features. Working Copy comes with a built in code editor, but it also has a tight integration with Textastic, which makes the two apps a dream duo.

Textastic. My code editor of choice, Textastic is tightly integrated with Working Copy. I can add a repository from Working Copy to Textastic, and when I make a change in the repo in Textastic, the change is automatically reflected in Working Copy and I can easily upload it to GitHub. You may be wondering why I do this, but I find that Textastic has a vastly superior code editor than Working Copy, with better syntax highlighting, error highlighting and auto completion. I really love using Working Copy and Textastic on my iPad, and these two apps make programming on the go possible for me.

Pythonista. A fully baked Python IDE on iOS, I can run Python scripts, and get error alerts so I know what to change. Whilst Textastic is a great code editor, it doesn’t let me run my Python scripts. Pythonista does, and it lets me see where I’ve gone wrong and what I need to change, as well as letting me test out scripts I have written.

Pythonista also allows you to add scripts that you have written to the share extension, so you can program your own share extension widgets which is awesome. It comes with built in modules that allow you to interact with the system and build your own apps, for example a clipboard manager. Not only is Pythonista great for Python development, but it’s also great for iOS automation.

Noizio. I find that sometimes music can be distracting, and when I want to concentrate, for example when writing a blog post or revising, I can’t listen to music otherwise I get too easily distracted. I use Noizio instead, and app that allows you to create your own ‘mixes’ of noises, such as the sea shore, rain, and many more. It really helps me concentrate and not get distracted, and is especially helpful if you are trying to get work done somewhere noisy.

Social

Tweetbot. This year I started using Tweetbot instead of the official Twitter app, and it’s so much better. Along with the ability to easily create conversation threads, I prefer the UI over the official app and I also love the ability to have a two pane view that allows me to keep track of my mentions and activity alongside the main Twitter feed. It also allows you to easily switch between Twitter accounts, which can come in handy.

Linky. As iOS 11 removed the Twitter share sheet, Linky is even more useful now. If I want to share a site, I can tap the share button and tap on Linky. I can easily add the title and link to the webpage, and also add a suggested image.

Note the suggested image that allows you to quickly and easily add media to a tweet.
Note the suggested image that allows you to quickly and easily add media to a tweet.

Another powerful feature of Linky is that it allows you to send text clips of text from a website, which can be really useful.

Apollo. I love Reddit, but the official app is one of the worst apps I’ve ever used. Apollo is a great third party app, which is updated frequently and has all the features of Reddit, but with a much better UI and a lot less bugs. It also allows you to change the icon of the app, and you can also use dark mode in it. I really recommend checking out Apollo if you are a Reddit user – you won’t go back.

The subreddit view. Tapping on a subreddit leads to the trending posts in it, and you can manually filter posts if you want.
The subreddit view. Tapping on a subreddit leads to the trending posts in it, and you can manually filter posts if you want.

Discord. This is a great app for using when you are playing games. It allows you to set up a free server with both voice and text chat, and then share a link to your friends so they can join. Discord has desktop apps, but if you are on the go or you are playing a mobile game it’s great that you can get it on iOS too.

Entertainment

Games

Rules of Survival. Rules of Survival is a battle royale style of game. The aim is to the the last of 120 PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds on desktop, it’s a clone of that. It’s nearly identical except the map. The game is extremely fun – you get dropped into the huge map with another 120 players armed with nothing. You have to search around to find weapons, armour, food and more, and when you kill other players, you can take their items too. Eventually, if you manage, it will just be you and one other player left.

You may think that you will never encounter a player. Often, at the start of the game, you want to make sure that you parachute somewhere that no other players are at, so you can explore the area and get weapons. The game brings players together by having a safe zone, a circle where if you are out of it, you get damaged and can die. The safe zone contracts over time, so you are forced to go inside it and the chances of meeting other players is increased. Try to jump out of the aircraft at a time that no other players are jumping out, and your chances of winning will be dramatically increased.

The game is a huge amount of fun – I’ve played a few hours of it, and I love it. It does come with a learning curve however, as the controls can be difficult to master. I recommend using a custom setup – I’ve changed the shoot buttons to be higher, so I can access them easier. Before, they were in an awkward position. If you play the game, I recommend moving them up, as it dramatically increased the amount of times I win.

I also recommend checking out the TouchArcade guide on the game – it is very in-depth and will aid in getting you wins. Note that Rules of Survival is certainly not a pick up and put down game – some matches can last up to 30 minutes.

Death Road to Canada. A perma-death game where America is full of zombies and the aim is to get to Canada, DRtC is a really fun and quirky game that can be hilarious. Built up a team of four characters, and play through the game, battling through zombie hordes to get to Canada. Make sure you keep an eye on who you invite into your party, and also try not to run out of supplies. DRtC is surprisingly deep, and it’s a must play. You can play it for a few minutes, or for a few hours without needing a break.

Fighting the final horde
Fighting the final horde

Wayward Souls. A game made by the same developer as DRtC, Wayward Souls is a dungeon based perma-death where you attempt to find out about the various characters backstories. The game is super challenging, and it’s really fun too. Like DRtC, you can easily play it in a queue, but I played it for an entire 8 hour flight without getting bored. There are a various amount of characters you can play, and as you advance through the dungeons you get to find out more about their story. However, don’t let your character die – if it does, you’ll have to do it all over again. The dungeons are randomly generated, so it’s not just doing the same old thing over and over again, which keeps you on your toes.

Playing the mage.
Playing the mage.

Motorsport Manager 2. I was a huge fan of the original game, and the sequel brought it to the next level. Manage your racing team by building parts and balancing the performance and reliability of the car, and get sponsors and attempt to get the best driver in the driver market. Then, go through qualifying and the race to try and get the top position, and advance yourself in the championship. You’ll start out in the bottom of three championships.

Playing a quick race.
Playing a quick race.

If that’s not enough, there are also three challenge modes you can play that take the game to the next level.

Baldur’s Gate II EE. I’m a massive fan of RPGs, and Baldur’s Gate II Enhanced Edition takes RPGs to the next level on iOS. The game, ported from desktop, contains storyline quests of 60 hours, and side quests that will last you up to 300 hours of gameplay. In total, thats around 360 hours of gameplay, which is stunning for an iOS game. I won’t go into the specifics of the game as it’s extremely deep, but if you want an RPG on iOS, check out Baldur’s Gate.

Don’t Starve. I originally played Don’t Starve on PC, and I was surprised when it was released on iOS. Don’t Starve is a survival game where you are on an island, and you have to survive through monster attacks at night, and where you need to manage your hunger, health and sanity. The game is quite deep, so there is a lot to discover. Make sure to check out the guides on Steam for the game, as they’ll help you advance yourself in the Pocket Edition.

Harvesting berry bushes near a pig house.
Harvesting berry bushes near a pig house.

The game also comes with the World of Giants DLC built in, which adds the factor of being wet to the game, along with many other monsters and features, such as leaving food on the ground spoils it due to the rain. It adds a whole other level to the game, and makes it even more challenging.

Video and Audio

Spotify. My favourite music streaming service, I find that the Discover Weekly playlist works perfectly, finding new music that I really love. I also like the way Spotify makes playlists that combine music in your library with new music.

Overcast. I listen to a lot of podcasts, and Overcast is the perfect player for me. I really like the way it shows what part of a podcast I’m listening too, and the smart speed feature automatically removes long pauses from a podcast, so you can get through more podcasts quicker. However, the Overcast smart speed works perfectly, and the people talking don’t sound like chipmunks. I recommend checking out Overcast, as it’s a great podcast player – and it’s free!

Note the interactive contents page, and the progress bar that shows you how far your a through a chapter.
Note the interactive contents page, and the progress bar that shows you how far your a through a chapter.

YouTube. Of course, YouTube is a great service to watch videos. I like the app – it works well, and I don’t have any complaints about it. I used to use ProTube, but that was removed from the App Store. There is loads of great content on YouTube, and a watch a lot of it every day.

News and Reading

Reeder. Reeder is a great app for RSS feeds, and it works really well with Feedly. I use Reeder as it has tons of integrations with the apps I use, so I can easily save anything from my Feedly account to Evernote, Instapaper, or any other apps I use.

Instapaper. Instapaper allows me to save articles so I can read them offline. As I’m often offline, it’s great that I can save articles so I can read them when I don’t have internet. Instapaper is my favourite app as it has a clean interface, and also gives you estimated reading times. I’ve also found that on multiple-page articles, it saves all the pages into one article, which is a lifesaver.

Apple News. I like the Apple News app, as it fits in with the iOS interface, and I can easily subscribe to channels I like. It also shows me the trending news, and important news from around the world.

The Nerdy Student is also on Apple News, so make sure that you subscribe to it.

Utilities

PCalc. An amazing app that is so much better than the default iOS calculator, PCalc allows you to customise nearly everything about the app, from the line spacing to the app icon. It also has keyboard shortcuts, as well as advanced features such as conversions, different ways of calculating, and anything you’ll even need in a calculator – even a game hidden in the about screen.

Carrot Weather. An app that always brings a smile to my face, Carrot Weather is a weather app, with a twist. The app is supposed to be an evil AI, and when you search for weather, it comments on the weather. For example, if it’s raining, it may say something about drowning. If its sunny, it may say something about sunburn. You can change the personality of the AI, from professional – where there are no snarky comments made – to overkill – where it will use profanity in it’s forecasts. In fact, you can even set the political view of the app, and sometimes it comments on current world affairs.

Personality aside, the actual purpose of the app – telling the weather – is done extremely well. You can choose what location you want, from your current location to locations you have saved. The app gives you the temperature at the top, with a few other stats. If it’s raining, it gives you a graph that shows you when it will stop raining and how heavy the rain is. Below that, a detailed forecast is shown. Tapping on any of the times brings up even more details. At the bottom of the app, you have the timeline, which shows what the weather is likely to be like in the future.

The app also offers a widget, which is done very well so you can see the weather without opening the app. It gives you the weather conditions for the day, as well as the temperature and forecast.

If you want, you can subscribe to the Premium Membership for less that £3 a year, which is a bargain. With this, you get to customise the app, changing around what is shown where, along with widget customisation. For me, the major feature is that I can change between Weather Underground and Dark Sky. Weather Underground is a lot more accurate in Europe, where I live, but Dark Sky is great else where. I really like that I can choose which weather provider I can use.

Carrot Weather is not only a very well crafted app, but it’s also very funny too. A must have.

Opener. This app allows you to open links in the app you want them to open in. For example, if you want to open a Twitter link from Safari in Tweetbot, you can hold down and tap share, and then tap Opener. The link will open in the app you want it to, not in the rubbish Twitter Mobile view. Opener is great as it allows you to open links in the apps you want to, not the apps Apple wants you to.

Blink. I use this app to make all my affiliate links to apps I write about, and it’s great. I can search for an app, and often the app comes out at the top – the search is better than the App Store search – and then I can easily get a link, or create a preformatted link. Blink saves me loads of time creating links every day.

Fantastical. My calendar app of choice, I like Fantastical as the natural language input for adding events is amazing. I can simply type an event, such as Test at 10am on Tuesday, and the app adds the event ‘Test’ at 10 AM on Tuesday. I also really like the interface. Make sure you check out my review of Fantastical here.

Copied. Copied is a clipboard manager that allows you to quickly store things on your clipboard if you need them for later. The app has an amazing widget, which is where I save most of my clipboard clippings to with a tap. If I want to get them back again, I can simply tap a button on the clipping and copy it back to my keyboard.

An example use case of Copied is that when I am writing a blog post, I find a link that I want to eventually use in it. I can easily save this link to the Copied widget, and then use the clipboard to copy and paste other things. Then, when I need the link again, I can easily copy it back to my clipboard and use it.

Be sure to check out my review on Copied here.

Yoink. Yoink is like Copied, but for drag and drop – it’s a shelf app. For this post, I dragged all my images that I was going to use into Yoink, so I can easily find them and add them to the post. Yoink comes in handy when you want to drag and drop something somewhere, however, you don’t always want to leave a finger on the screen. Yoink allows you to temporarily store that item before you move it to it’s destination.

Media for this post.
Media for this post.

Bobby. Bobby allows me to keep on top of all my subscriptions, notifying me when one is going to renew, and allowing me to see how much money is going out of my account from subscriptions. Bobby is great, as it means that I know where money is going out of my bank account, allowing me to keep on top of it even more.

Launcher. I’ve been using this app for years, and it keeps getting better. Launcher allows me to add customisable widgets to the home screen, that allow me to launch apps, workflows, start phone calls and so much more by simply tapping on it. You can also set Launcher widgets to show at certain locations and/or times of day, which is great. I have a specific Launcher widget that only appears when I am in my school area with all the stuff I need for school, and hides when I’m not at school.

Hardware

Steelseries Nimbus. The Steelseries Nimbus is a controller that works with your iPhone and iPad, allowing you to control games on your tablet and phone with a controller. It really improves the gameplay of games such as GTA, Minecraft, DRtC, Wayward Souls and more, and if you like gaming on iOS, I recommend you pick one up. It’s the best Mfi controller on the market.

Chipolo. I have eight Chipolo’s that I attach to things that I don’t want to lose, such as my stylus, earphone and headphone case. I can easily call my Chipolo’s and hear them to find my device, and if I lose something, I can see it’s last known location to go back and find it.

Roost Stand. This is a stand for laptops that raises the screen and allows you to work without hunching over you computer, which is better for your back and neck. Whilst it isn’t iOS related, I wanted to include it anyway. I found that I have no back pains, but before I did when I was hunched over my computer. If you work on a computer, you should really get one of these as it will help prevent you from getting back pain.

Mountie+. As mentioned already, I use Duet Display a lot, and the Mountie+ lets me attach my iPad to my computer. As I use a Roost Stand to raise my computer, this really helps as I don’t have to keep glancing down at my iPad. If you use Duet Display, get a Mountie.

Anker 6ft lighting cable. This is a great cable that allows me to move my iPad around when it’s charging. The original Apple cable is just not long enough, and this cable gives me freedom when I’ charging my iPad. It’s also very durable, so it won’t get damaged, and comes with two cable wraps that allow you to neatly and easily store it away.

Anker Soundbuds Slim. I never liked having a cable dangling around when I was using earbuds, so I wanted to get a set of bluetooth earbuds. Also, I needed to get them so I could charge my phone at the same times as listening to music. Looking around, everything seemed to be over £50, until I found the Anker Soundbuds Slim. For £15 (at time of writing), the earbuds came with a case, and different sizes of ear rubbers that let you get a perfect fit. It also comes with a small 3 inch cable to charge them, which is perfect for charging Android devices from a portable battery.

For £15, the Soundbuds Slim offer suprising battery life at 7 hours, and also offer water resistance as well as good music quality. If you want to find bluetooth earbuds that offer the best music quality ever, the Soundbuds Slim are not for you, but if you are on a budget, they are the perfect set of Bluetooth earbuds.

eBag Slim Professional. I’ve been using this bag for school and travel for the past few months, and the organiser on the front of the bag is great as it allows me to keep everything small that I take around nice and organised in the various compartments. The hard case at the bottom of the bag is also great for putting my plugs and controllers in, so they don’t damage my laptop and iPad when I have them in my bag. The bag is also slim, so if you travel on a busy metro is great as it doesn’t take up much space so you won’t be hitting people with your bag.

Awards

Best Feature

Overcast’s Smart Speed

By listening to the podcast, Overcast determines when there is a pause in the podcast and speeds it up, usually by around 1.2 times. What this means is that not only are spaces kept to a minimum, but you get through your podcasts quicker. If you are like me and you have a ton of podcasts, that’s important so you don’t get overwhelmed by all the podcasts waiting in your queue. And the brilliant thing is, it doesn’t sound like chipmunks talking or unnatural at all when smart speed is on.

Runner Up – Tweetbot’s Jump To The Top Status Bar

This is a small feature, but one that to me makes a huge difference. On iOS, you can double tap on the status bar to take you to the top. On Tweetbot, this is a single tap. If you accidentally tap on the bar and it brings you to the top, you can tap again to go back to where you were in your feed. This is also great if you want to quickly check the latest tweet in your timeline, and then go back to the tweets you were reading. The fact that I can resume the reading position I was in means that I don’t have to spend ages scrolling to find a location.

Best Update

Carrot Weather

This year, the 4.0 version of Carrot Weather was released, and it was amazing. The app was completely redesigned, with a much easier to understand interface, that could be read with a glance. The addition of Premium Club in the update also added customisation, allowing you to add extra data pints to the hourly and daily views, and customise the data points for nearly every view of the app. Included in the Premium Club was the ability to change the weather data source. The app also got a radar that allows you to change the data layers on it, and meant that tracking storms was easier than ever. Locations were also improved, so you could select the nearest weather station to you for even more accurate weather. Fun-wise, personality modes were added, and a secret location game was also added.

Carrot Weather manages to stand out from the crowd with it’s personality, and I really love checking the weather with the app – it makes it fun.

Runner Up – Copied

Copied iOS 11 update was amazing. It completely redesigned the app to bring it more inline with the look and feel of iOS 11, and added more features. The app looks so much better now, and it also works a lot better. Managing your clipboard has never been so easy, and Copied makes it that way.

Runner Up – PCalc

PCalc has been getting tons of updates this year, including new icons, a game hidden inside the app, themes, and so much more. The app has certainly moved on from where it was in 2016, and the developer has managed to do so much with a calculator app.

Best New Release

Rules of Survival

I don’t normally pick games for the awards, however Rules of Survival is so good that it has to get the best new release. The depth of the game is amazing – it never gets old. The huge map means that there are always places to explore, and the game is very tense, and often you do not know where other players are. The game starts out by putting you in a preparation place for a minute, where you can run around and get ready for the battle, familiarising yourself with the control scheme or changing it to make it better. Then, you and another 119 people are placed in a drop ship that flies over the map. You select where you drop, and then you need to find weapons so that you can defend yourself. As the game advances, try to stay hidden, as if you manage to stay hidden for around 6 minutes, you’ll be in the to 60. You’ll need to start moving as the area closes down, so be on the lookout for enemies. Eventually, it will just be and one other person.

Another great thing about Rules of Survival is that you can play it with friends. You can either be in a duo, or a squad with four friends. This means that you four are working to win, and often squad games are super fun as you are playing with your friends. I wouldn’t advice playing in a duo or squad with random people though, as often they run off and do their own thing.

Rules of Survival is an extremely impressive game on iOS, and it is a must have for anyone.

Runner Up – Yoink

With iOS 11, a ton of shelf apps came into the App Store. However, none work so well as Yoink. I love stacks, as it means I can store everything I need for a post easily in one place, and they don’t get all mixed up with other stored things. The ability to select whether the app copies things in Yoink or moves them out of Yoink when I drag them is also brilliant, and I love the simplicity of the app. However, don’t let its simple interface fool you – Yoink has a lot of power, such as selecting whether you want to drag out rich text or plain text, and so much more.

Runner Up – Apollo

I went on a journey to find the right Reddit app for me. It started out with the official Reddit app, but it was too buggy. Then it went to Narwhal, but that was too ugly. After going through a few more apps, I found Apollo – a beautifully designed Reddit client that makes reading, posting and commenting on Reddit a dream. I love the ability to star subreddits to easily find them, and the app looks so good it makes me want to browse Reddit more than ever.

App of the Year

Ulysses

Ulysses has had an interesting year, as it made a huge change – switching from a pay once to a subscription price model. However, the app has improved so much over the year, with tons of new features being added, such as drag and drop, better notes sheet, redesign of inline images, footnotes and so much more.

I love the way the team behind Ulysses has managed to have a markdown app that also handles in-line images so well, something no other markdown app does so well.

Ulysses lets me write my website with ease, as the WordPress integration is excellent and allows me to quickly and easily post updates to my site. Ulysses allows me to write content easily, and publish it easily and without hassle. Ulysses lets me write The Nerdy Student, and is certainly deserving as the app of the year.

Runner Up – Working Copy

Working Copy allows me to easily work with GitHub on iOS, and it’s the app that glues together programming for me. Without it, it would be a lot more difficult to do programming on iOS. I love that I can edit code, and then easily commit it to a repository.

Runner Up – Evernote

Evernote is a very important part of my digital life, and I would find it very hard to manage all my notes without it. The iOS app isn’t the most perfect of apps due to bugs, however it has a great interface, and it’s very encouraging to see that the Evernote team are still improving it to this day.


2017 has been a big year for the iPad and iPhone. The release of iOS 11 adds even more power to the platform, and as the iPad and iPhone are getting even more powerful, more and more pro apps are coming out. Hopefully, more developers will take advantage of the changes and we’ll see even more great apps coming out in the next year.

I’m excited to see more desktop class apps and games that come and next year.

  1. Desktop games such as Civ 6 and Grid Autosport show that the iPad and iPhone can be extremely powerful.
  2. I really like writing in markdown, and Drafts lets me write markdown notes and then easily export the result formatting to Evernote.
  3. This allows you to set both a due date and a date that you actually want to complete the task.