Review: 7 Android apps that track your expenses

If you do any business travel, you know how important -- and annoying -- it is to track your spending. These apps can help.

android smartphone with money
Credit: Intel Free Press

Traveling these days is a hassle, no matter why you're going, or where -- and the necessity to track your expenses along the way just adds to the irritation. A good app, though, can make things a lot easier -- not only during the trip but afterwards, when you have to report it all to your (or your company's) accountant.

The following seven Android apps have been created to help users track and report on their expenses. Some are strictly for business purposes; others can be used for both personal and work finance tracking. All of these have been updated within the last six months and have earned a rating of at least 4 out of 5 stars on Google Play by at least 100 users.

All that being said, they encompass a fairly wide range of features. All offer the ability to manually enter an expense, to categorize it, and to either create a report or export the data so it can be used in a spreadsheet or other format. Some allow you to photograph your receipt so you have proof of payment; a couple, such as Abukai Expenses and Expensify, even extract information from those photographs.

All of these have free versions, which are the ones I tested. For each, I entered a number of expenses manually; when available, I added photos of receipts. I exported those expenses as a spreadsheet or PDF, depending what was available, and then explored the app further to see what other features it offered.

Some offer ad-free versions for an additional fee while others offer "Pro" versions with more advanced features; Abukai and Expensify both also have corporate versions with enterprise functionality.

Note: I tested all but one on a Nexus 7 tablet loaded with Android 5.0 (Lollipop). The exception was Abukai Expenses, which kept crashing on the tablet; I tested that instead on a Moto X (first version) smartphone using Android 4.4.4.

As with all apps, which one you choose depends on your individual needs, the needs of your company and what type of interface you're most comfortable with.

Abukai Expenses

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Abukai depends solely on photographed receipts; it does let you add an additional note to each (left); each set of 10 receipts is counted as a submission; free accounts allow for 12 submissions a year (right).

Abukai is a company that sells a number of business productivity products, one of which is Abukai Expenses. The app allows you to photograph your receipts, check the info, enter any additional data and upload it to create a report.

Data entry

Unlike some of the others here, Abukai is strictly for business expense reports. The assumption is that you're going to have paper receipts for all your expenses and that the app will provide a way for you to report those expenses without having to actually type in the information. It opens on a listing of your previous expense reports; two buttons at the bottom are labeled "Add Receipt" and "Process Expense Report."

When you add a receipt, you are dropped immediately into a photo app; if you are dealing with a black and white receipt, you are encouraged to use a mode called "Copy Look" which converts the photo to a simple black-and-white format.

Unfortunately, the app kept crashing when I tried to use it with the Nexus 7 tablet loaded with Android 5.0.2 (Lollipop); I switched to a Moto X (first version) using Android 4.4.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich), which worked most of the time.

Reports and other features

Once you've collected and photographed all your receipts, it's time to hit that second "Process Expense Report" button, which causes Abukai to email you a report of your expenses.

It did so quite quickly and efficiently, as it turns out. About five minutes after I told it to go ahead, I received an email with several files attached: a PDF copy of three receipts I had photographed, and files in five different formats: XLS, XLSX, CSV, OFX and LIF. I took a look at the XLSX (Excel) report and was pretty impressed: In a nicely formatted spreadsheet, it got all three amounts correct, including a handwritten total on a restaurant receipt. Of the three expenses listed, it got only the name of the restaurant wrong (mistaking the name of the server for the name of the restaurant).

Bottom line

Abukai comes with a variety of formats to fit corporate expense needs, and also offers individualized features for companies, such as designing specialized reports and forwarding them to the appropriate staffers.

There are a few glitches that that companies will have to be aware of. Any expenses that do not have receipts -- such as tips, for example -- will have to be manually entered, as will any corrections. And individuals or companies considering Abukai should test it thoroughly first to make sure it works on all their employees' devices. But on the whole, organizations that want a strict accounting of its employees' expenses should consider Abukai.

AndroMoney

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AndroMoney's colorful entry screen lets you enter data into a variety of user-configurable fields (left); this monthly view of your expenses can also be changed to a daily, weekly or yearly view (right).

AndroMoney was the first app that I looked at -- and it presented a high bar that some of the others struggled to meet. Although it's described as a general budgeting app, it could work very well for business people looking to track their expenses.

Data entry

If you do plan to use it as a business expense app, try not to be put off by the design, which is bright, bold and not anywhere near as sedate as most financial apps are. For example, although you start at a summary screen, when you click on "New" for an entry screen, you're confronted with fields decorated with colorful icons and a bright blue, gold, red and green calculator.

You use the calculator to enter your amount; you then can choose a category, account (credit card, cash, etc.), specific project, payee and whether this is a one-time or periodic payment -- every second day, for example. (Although you can't do anything as complex as, say, twice a day for weekends, which would be handy for entering commuting expenses.) You can also add a freeform note.

AndroMoney is extremely configurable. For example, each category has a series of subcategories, making it simple to, say, add an expense for Car > Tolls. Like the main entry screen, the layout is bright and easy to read; main categories are on the left and their subcategories listed on the right. And if you enter an expense and find that none of the existing categories or subcategories fit your need, you can add a new one immediately (rather than having to leave the entry and go to a separate screen).

This ease of use extends to the other entry fields as well. When you're done, you can tap on either "Add Next" or just "Save." With the first, the previous settings are retained (except for the amount). Unfortunately, there is no running total on the entry screen -- to see that, you have to tap on Save, which brings you back to the main summary screen.

Reports and other features

AndroMoney uses reports as a visual way to see your finances rather than a way to send them to others; as a result, the Reports feature offers pie charts, trend charts and bar charts that can filter in a variety of ways. If you want a less graphic report, or something that you can send to your supervisor, you can export your data to a CSV file.

There are a variety of other features, such as the ability to set a yearly, weekly or daily budget (and to send an alert if you exceed it). You can sync your account via an email account or back it up to either an internal SD card, Dropbox or Google Drive. You cannot photograph your receipts, which could be a problem for some.

There is a paid version that costs $4.99, but the only difference between that and the free version is a lack of ads.

Bottom line

AndroMoney was obviously built to be a general finance app for either personal or business expenses, but it is flexible enough to be used efficiently for either, especially if you're tracking expenses on an individual basis. It doesn't let you record images of receipts, and it has only very basic expense reporting features, but otherwise, it could work nicely for many users.

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