When you’re looking through or setting up your schedule for the week, it’s important to have maximum visibility of your available time slots, and be able to fill them accurately and easily. Several developers in the App Store believe they make the best tool for the job, but we can’t just take their word for it. To find out which calendar apps we could get used to using regularly, we took a bunch of them through a rigorous couple of weeks, packed with meetings, parties, lunches, dinners and everything in between.
You’ve got a wide range to choose from when it comes to calendar apps for the iPhone, so much so that even after you go through our roundup, you might find it useful to try out more than a single app to see which one suits your needs best. When we took these calendars through their paces, we looked at how intuitive they felt when adding events, and how easily we could scan through our schedules for events and free slots — as opposed to the number of features they pack in.
Additionally, you’ve got a smaller screen on the iPhone than on your desktop or tablet, and so intelligent layouts that make the most of the available display area found the most favor in this roundup. Let’s take a look at our calendars, shall we?
This app gets a lot of praise around the interwebs, and you only need to spend a few minutes with it to understand why. Fantastical 2 features a very well thought-out UI that makes it easy to scan through your day’s events and tasks — and also see how your month is looking — all on one screen.
The main layout includes a week ticker that you can swipe left or right on, to see what you’ve got going on, one day at a time. Swipe down on this ticker to reveal a month view, without moving away from the day’s agenda you were just looking at. Tiny icons beneath each date in month view indicate which of your calendars you’ve got events from, and also if you have tasks or birthdays to keep in mind. Plus, unlike most calendars in our roundup, there’s a search function you can access too, by swiping down on the week ticker/month view.
Fantastical 2 also makes it a cinch to add events with its natural language parsing: you can type ‘Lunch with Susan’s folks on Thurs at 1pm at The Glass House’, and the app will note the day/time/location, with an animated indication of how your input is being translated and entered into the right fields. Fantastical also does reminders that don’t have a set time like events, and you can toggle a switch to change an event input instantly into a reminder. You’ll also find thoughtful little details throughout the app: I love how, when entering a new event, you can pull the input visualization slightly to the left or right to check what you’ve got going on the previous or next day.
Event input works extremely well here, and perhaps better than in any other app we tested. Another nice feature is the block view, that you activate just by flipping your device to landscape mode. You’ll see a week’s worth of events marked with blocks that you can drag and drop to reschedule.
Well thought out UI – just a single gesture to remember: pull down on the day ticker to reveal the month view. flip to landscape to view a week in blocks, and drag-and-drop to reschedule.
Fantastical is certainly delightful to use, but at the same time, it does cost $5 — which means it’s a great purchase for productivity junkies who want an intuitive and fast experience, but not for those who just want a prettier calendar.
➤ $5 – Buy now
If you’re looking for something more than just your bare-bones calendar that’s also free, Sunrise Calendar is a great choice. The primary interface lets you view a running list of appointments along with icons indicating event type and weather, and this makes a lot of sense when you’re looking for room in your busy schedule to squeeze in another meeting. There’s a 2-week date picker that you can pull down to reveal a whole month, and tapping any date scrolls the list down to the events for that day.
You can switch between this agenda view, and a block view that shows you three days at a time. While some users might bemoan the lack of a landscape mode for block view, I actually prefer it in portrait mode as I get to see my agenda from 9am – 5pm on a single screen, and being able to see three days at a glance is enough for me. What is limiting here is the lack of editing controls for existing events — you can’t move, delete or duplicate blocks in this view, like you would with Fantastical or even the default Calendar app.
While adding events, Sunrise will add icons and suggest times by parsing your input: typing Lunch will add a knife-and-fork icon and suggest 12pm – 1pm. It’s neat enough but you’ll still have to manually enter your event location and invitees: Fantastical does a better job of handling input and saving you time. However, Sunrise gets points for custom time and date pickers that work much better than iOS defaults, and for using Google to search for locations over wildly-inaccurate-at-times Apple Maps.
Another plus with Sunrise is that it handles Facebook event invites surprisingly well — you can RSVP to events from within the app, and this is great for invites that you don’t want clogging up your agenda. Plus, you can add special calendars to keep track of national holidays, sports leagues and stock exchanges. With its clever features and simple user flow, Sunrise is easy to recommend, even if it were a paid app.
➤ Free – Download now
This one’s for the true road warrior: Calendars 5 doesn’t hold back on the features front, and packs a lot into an elegantly designed app that’s easy to get around. From the simple list view that shows you upcoming events, you can quickly toggle between Day, Week and Month views to figure out your life in a snap. Each of these views allows you to drag and drop events to reschedule them, or tap and hold to copy, edit or delete events.
Calendars 5 also features powerful natural language parsing that’s comparable to Fantastical’s, and recognizes locations, event types and invitees. Plus, the app can handle tasks as well as some standalone to-do apps, with its own set of task lists and the ability to sync with iOS Reminders. It’s nice that you can add a task like you would an event, just by hitting Space before keying in your entry.
My only niggle with this app was that it asked me to sign in with Google, but only allowed me to add a single account, thus leaving out my Google Apps account calendar. So I signed out and synced with my local calendars (which includes both Gmail and Google Apps calendars). I won’t say it’s a deal-breaker, but I do wish this was handled better.
Overall, it’s a great calendar app that makes lets you manage your schedule with ease, and formidably handles tasks too. But is it worth $7? The only thing that really justifies the price (given the competition) is that this is a universal app that you can use on your iPhone and iPad, whereas Fantastical 2 has different versions for each form factor that cost a total of $13.
➤ $7 – Buy now
Who says calendars need to look boring and stuffy? Not the folks at Any.Do. — the makers of one of the most popular to-do apps around took a swing at crafting a beautiful calendar app, and they hit a home run with Cal. The gorgeous UI teams photos from contacts and its own library, with Swiss-inspired typography to brilliant effect, and suddenly it doesn’t even feel like a typical calendar app anymore.
That’s not to say Cal is all looks and no substance: natural language parsing takes care of your locations and invitees (but not date and time, sadly), and the agenda view allows you to pull down a monthly calendar to spot events. You can flip to landscape mode for a block view that doesn’t allow event management a la Calendars 5.
Cal also pulls in extensive details from Facebook events, and lets you message/call/write on contacts’ walls on their birthdays. Plus, it handles tasks in conjunction with Any.Do, which means that any tasks you add into the to-do app will show up in your calendar. While it works well enough, it would have been nice to have been able to add tasks from within Cal itself.
If you’re just getting started using a calendar, Cal is the best-looking app for managing your schedule.
➤ Free – Download now
It wasn’t easy choosing a favorite out of these brilliant calendar apps, because they’re just different in some respects, rather than better or worse. Fantastical 2 is an all-round winner because of its intelligently designed interface and amazing natural language parsing for super-quick event entries — but it’s not a universal app, which means that if you use an iPhone and iPad, you’ll need to purchase two separate apps that cost $13 in total. Meanwhile, Calendars 5 offers stiff competition on both fronts and costs $7 as a universal app.
If money’s no object, we’d go with Fantastical 2 because it’s friendlier and easier to make a habit of using frequently — event entry is a breeze with the enhanced keyboard (that includes numerals) and the animated parsing visualization. For a free option, give Cal a go and you’ll be surprised how much this beautiful app can do.
What about the rest?
The other calendars we tried weren’t necessarily bad, but they just seemed to sit there in a home screen folder gathering dust. The Calendar app in iOS looks good but doesn’t offer any frills when it comes to views or event entry. Calendate ($1.99 – iTunes link) steps things up a wee bit with a home screen that has a nice weather display, color themes, event icons and an always-available field to quickly enter an event, but is focused more on planning individual days than weeks or months, and that may not work for everyone.
Agenda Calendar 4 ($1.99 – iTunes link) from SavvyApps featured a few good ideas, including a range of views that kept a running list of events in focus and a customizable quick entry dialog, but without natural language parsing, it only really does better than Calendar (iOS) and Calendate, and falls behind when compared to Cal or Sunrise — while costing $2.
We also looked at the recently-launched Timeful (Free – iTunes link), which is really much more of a time management app than a calendar. However, it’s an interesting app and a compelling choice as a calendar, because it takes on the task of finding suitable time slots for your to-dos based on how you function through the day.
Timeful constantly learns about when you’re most productive and when you frequently have time to spare, and suggests scheduling your tasks and habit-forming sessions (such as learning a language or exercising) during those empty minutes and hours. While it’s great for users who have trouble managing their time each day, Timeful isn’t for those who want a flexible tool to manually schedule appointments quickly.
We previously left Tempo out of this roundup because it’s only available in a few countries at present. The app is designed to let you do more with your calendar, and includes some nifty features that we really liked, by integrating tightly with your mail and social networks.
For starters, Tempo features great language parsing for quick event entry, along with a visualization so you know the app has understood you. When it comes to contacts’ names, Tempo does more than show you a photo: you can see friends you have in common, when you last met and more.
If you’ve got an event coming up, you can quickly text or email others if you’re running late, or look up a map to find your venue and see how long it’ll take to get there. As for views, you can choose from month, day, week, and list views. My favorite is the Two Weeks view that covers everything I need, including a pull-down monthly calendar, weather updates and a running list of events. Oh, and it does reminders too, by plugging into the native iOS app.
Every feature in Tempo is smartly implemented and well designed. I’d easily recommend this over the rest of the lot. Heck, it’s worth creating a new iTunes account in case it isn’t available in your country.
➤ Free – Download now
That’s all the time we have before our next appointment! What are your calendar pet peeves and must-have features? And did your favorite app make the list? Let us know how you stay productive, in the comments!