Calendars 5 is the newest iteration of Readdle’s calendars app (Calendars+ being the previous version). Readdle has been a developing team I’ve long admired, as they’ve consistently produced high quality productivity, utility and business apps that get the job done, plain and simple. In September, I wrote a how-to article that features their Printer Pro app, which makes it incredibly easy to print from an iOS device to a non-AirPrint enabled printer. I should also state, for the purposes of full disclosure, that I’m a member of their beta program.
Be that as it may, I always find myself being very critical of new calendar apps, and make no exceptions with Calendars 5. The iOS 7 Calendar.app has done little to sway me in using it full-time. Fantastical 2 is a quite good, overall, but I just don’t like how the events list functions. Sunrise is my favorite calendar app, which I recently reviewed, but it lacks some key features (discussed in my review).
While it may seem like I’m attempting to boast about how I’m never satisfied with calendar apps, or that I’m just incredibly picky, I assure you that neither are the case (at least that’s what I keep telling myself). A calendar is a very important tool in most people’s lives, so when using an app for calendar management it’s important that it makes this task as easy as possible. With that in mind, let’s find out if Calendars 5 has what it takes to get the job done.
A Fresh Coat of Paint
Just to get it out of the way (because UI design has been a major focus of most app reviews post iOS 7), let’s first discuss Calendars 5’s new design. Though released a few weeks before iOS 7, the app fully embraces the OS’ more simplistic style, but it by no means is another app just copying the default iOS 7 UI. Calendars+ was already a minimalistic app in its own rights, but Calendars 5 now lacks any sense of depth. Instead of gradients and shadows, you have a lackthereof.
UI elements are flat, and the color scheme features white, various shades of gray and a stark blue that combine to make a distraction free experience. Additional colors continue to be used for events and tasks, with event colors being more indicative of what you’ll find in OS X Maverick’s Calendar.app. I’m an admitted fan of minimal design, which I’ve professed to in countless reviews, so I find Calendars 5’s new design to be more polished and an absolute thing of beauty.
Navigating the App
If you’re familiar with Calendars+, you may find the transition to Calendars 5 to be both familiar and a bit alien. Each view–Day, Week, Month, List and Tasks–is still present and very little has changed to them in terms of UI. However, navigating between views has changed rather drastically in Calendars 5. Switching views was a quick task in Calendars+ due to the fact that buttons for each view were always present on screen. Calendars 5 hides these buttons in a menu that’s accessible by tapping the hamburger icon in the upper right. You’ll also access the settings and Calendars view (where you can toggle on/off or edit your available calendars). Granted, it’s just an extra tap, and on the plus side, the hidden menu does help reduce clutter and keeps only the most important elements on screen.
With the addition of the hidden menu, the date picker now finds itself the lone occupant of the app’s bottom area. This UI element is unique to Calendars 5 (including previous iterations), and makes it fast and easy to jump to later dates. Because of this change, unfortunately, the manner in which you return to the current date is no longer as apparent. Previously, a current date icon was displayed in the lower-right that, when tapped, returned to the (you guessed it) current date. Now, you’ll need to tap the view’s header (e.g. date at the top or the view’s name). Once you’ve figured this out it’s a non-issue (kind of like finding Spotlight Search in iOS 7), but I still find it to be a poor implementation because it’s not easily discoverable. A better option would have been requiring users to tap the iOS status bar, which is a familiar action. Oddly enough, though, when I tapped the status bar in the List view I was taken to events that occurred several months ago.
One of my favorite iOS 7 features is swipe navigation, which allows you to quickly switch back and forth between pages. Calendars 5 isn’t optimized for iOS 7 since Readdle opted for iOS 6 optimization, which I can understand from a business standpoint. So, the app doesn’t feature the iOS 7 swipe features. Instead, you can perform swiping actions in the Day, Week and Month views to navigate between dates. Integrating swipes navigation isn’t exclusive to iOS 7, however, and would be nice to have in the Tasks view, which requires you to navigate through multiple pages.
One issue that has nothing to do with OS compatibility is Calendars inconsistent use of icons and fields. Each calendar view displays a + icon in the upper-right that’s used to add a new event. However, the Tasks view opts to display a magnify glass icon that accesses a search feature, and displays an “Add a new task” field below the header. By comparison, the same location in the List view houses a search field. I don’t know if it’s a question of not being able to change how the + icon works between different views, but there seems to be little reason why it can’t be consistent in all views and just add the search field in the same location in both the List and Tasks views.
One last thing to note, in terms of navigation, is that Calendars 5 works in both portrait and landscape orientation. If you’re a Calendars.app user, you may know that the app uses landscape orientation to display five days worth of events. Calendars 5, in contrast, simply displays the same view that’s currently displaying in a somewhat altered manner, which doesn’t offer much extra in terms of usability. Only the Week view displays events in a drastically different fashion (vertically instead of horizontally).
Readdle has jumped on board the natural language input bandwagon, which was introduced in Fantastical and has been embraced by other calendar app developers. If you’re not familiar with natural language input, it allows you to enter a phrase that the app will then use to create the full event. So, instead of manually entering an event title, selecting the date and time, and entering the location (if desired), you can just enter all the information together (e.g. “dinner tomorrow between 7 and 9 PM at Red Lobster).
I ran Calendars 5’s implementation of natural language input through a gauntlet of tests and determined that it works pretty well, but isn’t without its issues. The app does a good job of eliminating unnecessary words from an event’s title. For example, I created an event by saying, “Football game from 4 to 7 at Lucas Oil Stadium,” and the created event’s title ended up being “Football game” and didn’t include “from” (an issue Nathan Snelgrove ran into while reviewing Calendars 5 for iPad).
One recommendation I have, though, is using “AM” and/or “PM” when creating an event, as results can be a bit inconsistent at times without them. For instance, I created multiple events in the early afternoon by entering “dinner from 7 to 10,” figuring it would create an event for the same day from 7 to 10 PM. Instead, the app created the event for the following morning from 7 to 10 AM. Some other created events would, occasionally, end up being incredibly long. When I entered “dinner tomorrow night at four until eight,” the event times ended up being 4 PM and 8 AM. That’s a long dinner. So, just add an “AM” or “PM” to the phrase (“…from 4 until 8 PM”) and you’ll be all set.
An aspect of natural language input that I find perplexing is its inability to recognize attendees. This issue isn’t unique to Calendars, as it’s found in all calendar apps utilizing the feature, but it would be a great deal more convenient if it could be implemented. However, I finding myself less annoyed with this issue while watching calendar events being created in real-time as you enter specific information (e.g. the event’s time or location change automatically while entering said info), because it’s a rather fun spectacle. If you find that natural language input to be more than you can handle, or just plain dislike, it can be turned off in the settings. As far as manual date and time inputs are concerned, the UI hasn’t changed since Calendars+, with the exception of the new flat and minimal design.
Tasks & Reminders
Calendars, in all its iterations, has included the ability to create tasks. This always seemed like such a perfect marriage, especially with tasks that required alerts because they both deal with specific times and dates. Calendars 5 takes its task feature one step further by implementing iCloud Reminders (referred to as iOS Reminders within the app). As someone that made the switch to Reminders.app as my full-time task manager, I love the ability to create and manage reminders and tasks without having to actually use the app.
iCloud Reminders aren’t on by default, requiring to make a trip into the setting to activate the feature (same as Google Tasks, if that’s your preferred task manager). Once on, you’ll find each Reminders list you’ve previously created in the Tasks view, as well as a few all-purpose lists (e.g. Today, Upcoming, Completed and All). What’s even more neat is tasks with a specific date will also be displayed in each calendar view (Day, Week, Month) and can be marked as complete in most of them. This level of Reminders control is sorely missing in Sunrise, which I hope to see implemented in the near future.
While I’m fond of Reminders.app for task management, I’d really love the ability to set a due date without an actual alert–that way I can see said tasks in the Scheduled view or Today tab in Notification Center. As luck would have it, Calendars 5 offers this ability in the form of a due date option (clock icon in the task creation view), with alerts as a secondary option (alarm icon in the task creation view). When you view tasks with a due date in Reminders.app for iOS it displays the date but no associated time, whereas a time (usually 12 AM) is displayed when viewing the task in Reminders.app for OS X. Don’t worry, though, as you won’t be woken up at midnight to be reminded to clean out the litter box.
Currently, when I create tasks for a specific date that I don’t necessarily want to be reminded about, I’ll set it for a much later time so that it shows up in the Scheduled view, but will be checked off before the alert will sound. In comparison, Calendars 5’s due date feature is much easier. If you’re creating a task for the current day, you can simply tap the star icon, which automatically sets the due date for “today.” The big downside to the due date and alert feature split is that setting an alert date and time doesn’t automatically set the due date. So, when I created a task and set an alert date for the following day and time for 10 AM, the task didn’t display the date like it would if a due date was set (in Calendars 5 or Reminders.app). This means you’ll need to set both if you want to see the due date and get an alert, which seems like more work than should be required.
Fantastical 2 also offers the ability to manage iCloud Reminders, which works rather well. However, it doesn’t allow for the due date feature, but does offer the ability to be reminded by location, which is nowhere to be found in Calendars 5. Location based reminders are a major selling point for using Reminders.app (as is the ability to create reminders with Siri)–at least for me–and the fact that it’s not supported in Calendars 5 ends up taking a lot away from what is, mostly, a killer feature.
When deciding which calendar app to use full-time, minor features have the potential to be a big deciding factor. Calendars 5 is chalked full with customization options, such as providing multiple options for the badge icon (e.g. number of events or tasks for the day, a combination of the two, or displaying the current date), which view to show on start, when the week starts (e.g. today, which shows the current day first and then subsequent days, or a traditional week with Sunday as the starting point). You can also set a time zone manually, and determine whether you’d like to be notified via an alert, email or SMS. Even more options are available, but they’re not all worth noting. I was disappointed that the app lacks new alert sounds, which means you’re stuck with alerts that seem more at home with iOS 6 than iOS 7 (e.g. rooster crowing, doorbell, horn, church bell).
The Bottom Line
Calendars 5 isn’t without its issue, but that doesn’t take away from that fact that it’s the best calendar app of it breed. I personally don’t think it’s on par with apps like Fantastical 2 and Sunrise, which offer a unique approach for managing your calendar, but it trumps all other calendar apps that offer a more conventional approach–especially the default Calendar.app.
With that being said, the $7 price tag may be a bit more than most people are willing to spend on an app. But, if you dislike Calendars.app enough, and want a conventual calendar app, you can install the free version of Calendars to get a feel for what it offers. Features like natural language input, task manager, recurring events and iCloud Reminders are paid upgrades (most costing $2 each), allowing you to buy only those features you really need or want, which may help you save a few shekels.