App Review: Calendars 5 by Readdle

The good people at Readdle were kind enough to hook me up with an advance copy of their iOS new calendar app, Calendars 5, which releases today in iTunes. You will be able to find lots of reviews that will talk about the features and such of the app, and Readdle wrote a blog detailing its features. I wanted to write about my experience because, as I've noted in the past, I find too many tech bloggers tend to merely rewrite the press release without playing with the app and putting it in some context.

I used Readdle's now-discontinued app, Calendars+ for a few weeks after getting it on a promotional deal for free (it was a $6.99 app). For the most part, I enjoyed it. It was my first venture in using anything other than the default Calendar iPhone app (which I had synced to my Google Calendar so I could access it on my browser).

But that experience with Calendars+ got me investigating other calendar apps for my iPhone. I used Tempo's Smart Calendar for a while, really liked it, and figured that would be my more-or-less permanent calendar app going forward. But then I needed to incorporate a to-do list into my daily life, and after some trial and error with Google Tasks and a few other apps, I settled on Any.Do, due to its nice interface and Google Chrome extension that keeps my to-do list at my fingertips whether I have my iPhone with me or whether I'm on my desktop computer at home or work. Plus, Any.Do has voice input, so I can press the microphone button and dictate my tasks. Its voice recognition is excellent.

And my usage of Any.Do resulted in me downloading Cal as my new calendar app, replacing Tempo. Cal integrates the Any.Do to-do list in my daily calendar summary, which is a nice feature (although you can't add new to-do tasks from Cal, which is one of its weaknesses). Cal is a visually beautiful app, easily the nicest looking calendar I've ever tried. The big problem with Cal is that it's ridiculously slow on my soon-to-be-replaced iPhone 4, and its monthly view doesn't show you your events.

Which brings me to testing Calendars 5

It's a really nice app. My biggest nitpick about the calendar interface is I'm not crazy about the way you choose dates and times for an event as I prefer the standard spin wheels that are on most calendar apps. But the app is super fast, even on my old iPhone 4. You can flip between day, week and month views very easily. It syncs great with my Google Calendar. It is ridiculously easy to set up a repeat calendar entry. Based on my experimenting, it's natural language input works very well - tell it you want something scheduled "tomorrow" and it automatically schedules it for, well, tomorrow. Events can be moved via drag-and-drop (which is easier on the iPad version than the iPhone). The app looks fantastic on the iPad. In short, the calendar part is GREAT!

I was excited about testing the integrated task list, which can be synced with either Google Tasks and the native iOS Reminders app (the latter of which I barely ever use). So there was great potential here to have my calendar and my tasks in one iPhone app rather than my current two of Any.Do and Cal.

So for the purposes of giving Calendar 5 a fair shake, I nuked Any.Do and Cal from my iPhone and moved to Calendars 5 with integrated Google Tasks for a while, and added the Google Tasks extension to Chrome. The first thing I noticed is that tasks were automatically added to my Calendar 5 daily view if I put a due date on them. I approve.

Unfortunately, my happiness with the integrated tasks pretty much ended there. The Task tab of the app was a little clunky, and not terribly intuitive. 

New tasks can be put into "Today" or "Inbox." Why? I don't know. If you add a task to "Today" it stays there. If you add it to "All" it moves to Inbox. If I added an event for today, it was in the Inbox. If I added an event for Friday, it was in the Inbox but also showed up in "Upcoming." So I'm not entirely sure what the Inbox is supposed to do or what is supposed to be in there.

The Google Task integration and syncing didn't work the way I thought it would. Instead of one integrated list, I had two - the native Calendars 5 Task list with all of its sub-categories and my Google Task list (the red "To-Do list" in the picture). They both sync from the app to my Google Tasks extension (although in a very ugly and non-user friendly way, and that has more to do with the primitiveness of Google Tasks I suspect), but I was expecting one, clean list. After asking Readdle about it, I was informed that I can leave my To Do list open as the default view and it will stay that way when I go back to tasks. So that's an acceptable workaround.

I also tried the Calendars 5 task list integration with iOS Reminders. It was a more pleasant experience than with Google Tasks. And, again, my tasks were automatically added to my Calendars 5 calendar. Which is also good. If I didn't have a pathological need to be able to access my task list from my browser, I'd probably be pretty happy with this setup.

But, generally, I missed Any.Do.

So in a perfect world, I would have the greatness of the Any.Do task list with the features of Calendars 5 all wrapped up in a single app. As it stands, my Calendars 5/Google Task/iOS Rembinders combo has a better calendar and a weaker to-do list. My Any.Do/Cal setup has a superior to-do list and a weaker calendar.

One further comment on Calendars 5: the price. It's on sale now for $4.99 as an upgrade incentive from Calendars+, but it will regularly retail for $6.99. There are a lot of really nice calendar apps out there for free (two of which I've mentioned in this review). Heaven knows how free calendar apps make money in the long-term. But I confess that despite really good reviews, I didn't even give Readdle's Calendars+ a second look until it was free. I think the price point for Calendars 5 is too high, but maybe I'm just cheap. 

The bottom line: Great calendar, but the to-do list may cause frustrations. And it's hardly an impulse buy at its $6.99 regular price. But fans of Calendars+ surely will not be disappointed.
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