Tagged: app

Finding a better iOS calendar app: Sunrise

Sunrise Calendar App IconIn case you missed it, I’m trying to find a better iOS calendar app. Next up, is Sunrise Calendar by Sunrise Atelier, Inc.

I first discovered Sunrise when I heard a designer from Foursquare (one of my favorite apps) had left for a new project. Sunrise was the new project. In the beginning Sunrise only offered integration with Google calendars, so I initially wrote it off as not for me.

Fast forward a few months and they updated the app to work with iCloud calendars. I decided it was time to take another look. I’m glad I did. The app has a great look. It’s simple, but not overly simple like the built-in calendar. If you’ve tried Sunrise in the past, but not recently, give it another go.

Supported calendars

It integrates with plenty of services, such as Facebook, Google, iCloud, LinkedIn and Foursquare. This is a unique feature, as it will automatically pull your Facebook and LinkedIn events right into your calendar. A nice Facebook tie-in will even let you RSVP to events right in Sunrise. The Foursquare integration is pretty cool too. it will add your check-ins, so if you can’t remember where you were yesterday for lunch, you can go back a day on your calendar and find out. It’s all easy to set up and covers more than I was even looking for.

Views

There’s two main views in Sunrise. The default view shows two weeks of a “month” view on top, with a list of your upcoming events below. If you swipe down on the two weeks, it turns into a full month. Each day can be tapped to jump to that day in the list view. There’s a handy button in the bottom left of the screen that jumps you back to the current day and time.

The list part of this view is clean and has a colored dot denoting which calendar it came from. In the case of Foursquare check-ins, those dots become larger and include the icon of the venue type. Birthdays have a present icon and if your event’s name is something like “party” or “meeting” other icons are automatically put in place. It’s kind of a nice little touch. If they’re looking for new features, I’d love to be able to add those icons to events manually when they don’t detect one (or rarely, choose the wrong one). In addition to your events, Sunrise also adds in weather forecasts into the list. A simple icon (sunny, cloudy, rain, etc) and the expected temperature for the morning and evening are added to each day. It’s another small detail that makes Sunrise stand out.

Tapping the three lines button at the top of the screen will take you to view two. This is a more standard “week” look. This can be nice if you’re looking to see how your time actually lines up throughout a day. For some reason this only works in portrait mode, meaning you only see three days at a time. I think it’d be a nice addition to add a landscape mode with a full week (or at least five days). Overall, I hardly use this view. It doesn’t offer much the default view can’t.

Adding events

Sunrise calendar app screenshots for adding events

The event add screen is pretty standard. You can add a location that is auto completed by Google’s database. That makes it easy to set the place you actually want, which later means easily getting directions with the Google Maps integration.

There’s not natural language adding, but since you can use your iCloud calendars, Siri is still an option. Sunrise does have some autofill options when you’re adding an event. If you start typing “call” or “breakfast” they’ll show up. A time-saver, but not as great as other options.

Conclusion

Overall Sunrise is one of the prettiest calendar apps. It has a great look and feel, and is easy to use. The small details like automatic icons and integration with so many services are major pluses. If there’s one thing really lacking it’s an innovative way to add events. Maybe that’s not a deal breaker, as the rest of it is so nice. I don’t think I’ve mentioned the best part of this app yet… it’s FREE. Yes, this good-looking, easy-to-use app won’t cost you a penny. I feel almost guilty using a such a quality app for nothing. My recommendation? Give this one a try. It won’t cost you anything and it’s a big step up from the standard iOS calendar.

Have you tried Sunrise? What do you think? Tell me in the comments.

Finding a better iOS calendar app: Calendars 5

Calendars 5 iconEarly calendar apps from Readdle didn’t really wow me. When they released Calendars 5, I finally found something special. I’ve been using it off and on for a few months now and I’m definitely a fan. Here’s an intro video from Readdle.

Supported calendars

Calendars 5 easily plugs into your existing iCloud. When you start the app for the first time it asks for access to your calendars, contacts and to-do lists. It was extremely easy to set up. For those of you using Google Calendars, it can easily connect with those too.

Views

Calendars 5 screens

This is where Calendars 5 really stands out from other calendar apps. The app boasts views for tasks, list, day, week and month.

The list view has a continuous list of chronological events. You can easily scroll through your upcoming events with this view.

The day view focuses in on one day, displaying all hours of said day with events displayed over top. At the bottom of the screen you can easily select another day.

The week view, which displays the current day at the top and the next six days underneath, is a little different from a traditional week view. Instead of being a week-long version of the day view like most other apps, Calendars 5 displays each day’s events as colored blocks (the colors relating to the corresponding calendar). I find this view to be my favorite. It really gives you a good idea of your upcoming week. If you flip your phone into landscape mode, you will get the traditional “hourly” week view, which can also be helpful and is really nice that they included it.

Month view is pretty standard. It’s a traditional calendar view with color highlighted text of your events on each day’s square.

The only problem with the views is that it’s two taps to switch between them. I’d prefer they bar containing them was always present so I don’t have to tap an extra time. I know that’s picky, but all those taps add up over time.

Adding events

Adding events couldn’t be easier. You can type something like “Meet Jim at Starbucks” which brings up a listing of nearby Starbucks, which you can select from and it will auto-fill the location field. If you continue typing “…Saturday at noon” the date and time will be filled in. It’s very similar to the experience of Fantastical for Mac or how you would speak to Siri to add an event.

If you want to directly edit an event the information is displayed below and can be tapped to change. I really like the user interface used for changing times. When you tap the time, a custom keyboard pops up with common hours displayed with common “fractions” (:00, :15, :30, etc.) below. There’s also a date tab that brings up a mini-calendar view to set the right date. You can set the right time and date faster than using a traditional keyboard, and I really appreciate that.

After an event is created, you can add an alarm, change calendars, make it recurring, invite people and a description with another simple tap.

Auto-complete is a big theme in Calendars 5. It’s a useful and time-saving feature. This app really shines in the adding events category.

Conclusion

Basically Calendars 5 is great. I love the unique week view. It’s probably my favorite view of any app I’ve tried so far. Adding events is super easy (and with auto-complete, pretty fast). I highly recommend Calendars 5. It is truly a useful, well-designed, easy-to-use calendar replacement though. As a bonus, the app is universal and will work on iPhones as well as iPads. That might make the $6.99 price tag a little easier to swallow. That’s the downside. It’s a bit pricey (by App Store standards). Despite price, it’s still a great option, especially for power users.

Have you tried Calendars 5? What did you think? Sound off in the comments.

Quick Review: NameChanger

NameChanger Screen ShotI’ve been using a great app called NameChanger for years now. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve saved by renaming files with its smart replace, append, prepend and series functions. The app is so simple and such a staple to my work flow, I often forget it’s not part of OS X. On that note, if you’re listening, Apple, buy this and make it so.

NameChanger Sequence Screen ShotBasically NameChanger lets you take files from the Finder and batch rename them with ease. There are options to replace first or last occurrences, all occurrences, prepend or append text and even remove characters. All this with just a few clicks. What’s even better is you can create a sequence like it’s nothing. Just imported a hundred images of a recent trip from your camera? Want them to be named my-trip-01.jpg and so on? Drag them to NameChanger and sequence and in a few clicks it will take care of the rest. Bam. Easy. Done.

It’s a really powerful little piece of software that will save you tons of time and increase productivity. The best part? It’s free. I do recommend throwing a few bucks their way via PayPal if you really enjoy it, which I’m sure you will.

App Review: Zite

Zite on iPadThere’s no shortage of news readers in the App Store but Zite stands out as one of the best. Think of Zite as a personal news magazine that scours the internet to find articles you’ll enjoy. After you link a few social media services and pick a few favorite categories, Zite gets to work filling your screen with articles it thinks you’ll like. It does a really great job too.

The longer you use Zite the better it gets. If you read an article you like, just give it a thumbs up to tell Zite it’s been doing a good job. Find an article you don’t like? A simple thumbs down will let Zite know. All of this data is used to continually improve the recommendations Zite pushes to you. If you’re social media accounts are linked up it uses articles that are posted by people you follow to also improve your results. The whole system is simple but creates a great news experience.

The interface is very clean and they’ve added some nice gesture shortcuts. You can easily thumbs up or down an article by a little swipe up or down on the square. To read an article in full just tap it and it brings it up. You can use the built in “reader” mode or view the full Web page. Sharing articles is extremely easy and incorporates all your favorite social media sites, email and even “read later” services like Pocket.

You can set up favorite topics so you can always keep up to date with the latest news on Google, hockey or whatever you’re into. Articles are tagged by categories and you can click one of those tags to see more about that topic. If you like it, just star it and it’ll show up in your favorite list so you can easily stay up to date with that type of content. Your favorites influence your “Top Stories” section as well.

Zite on iPhoneI started using Zite on my iPad at the suggestion of a friend and haven’t stopped using it since. After using it a while I wished there was a way to get that content elsewhere and it wasn’t long before they answered my desire with an iPhone app. The same content in a smaller on the go package.

If I had to give one complaint to Zite it’s that it doesn’t refresh content often enough. There doesn’t seem to be a way you can force a refresh and I’ll find myself flicking through articles I’ve already ready, longing for more. It does seem to randomly add articles throughout the day but I’d like a way to get more after I’ve read through them all and thumbed up and down the results.

Ok, maybe I have one more complaint or rather a request… I want a Web or desktop client. I spend at least eight hours a day at the computer and I want to keep up on my Zite reading. Sure I can pull out my iPad or iPhone but it’d be a lot nice if I could just have a browser window or a desktop app available. It’s a small thing but it’d be a great addition if you ask me.

Overall I can’t recommend Zite enough. It does more than just pull your feeds for reading, it actually learns what you like and don’t like and then presents you with a great selection of articles all over the Web. Go check it out in the App Store and let me know what you think in the comments.

App Review: Solar

Every once in a while I stumble across an app that truly makes me smile. Often it’s resulting from an out-of-the-box way of thinking about user interface and experience. Solar is one of those apps that brought an instant smile to my face.

Solar is, at its most basic level, a weather app. But that doesn’t do it justice. It’s like no weather app you’ve ever seen before. Screenshots won’t even do it justice, you need to experience it. This video will give you a basic idea but I’m telling you, until you have it in your hand and start scrolling through the hours of the day you can’t fully appreciate how cool it is.

In many ways it seems like Solar is the Clear of weather apps. It’s completely simple and doesn’t have all the bells and whistles other apps might boast. That doesn’t matter because it is useful. Very useful. And it does what it does very well. Not to mention it’s fun to use and beautiful.

If you appreciate good user interface and user experience design you should download this app. If you are looking for a simple, easy to use and fast weather app, Solar is the answer. If you’re looking for a weather app with radar and news, this one’s not for you. Check it out in the App Store.

Opinion: Google would be stupid to kill Sparrow

I’ve had a post sitting in my draft box about my favorite email client for months now. I never got around to finishing it and now it looks like I never will. I’m talking of course about Sparrow, the well-designed, simple and easy to use Mac (and iOS) mail client. I started using Sparrow when it was still in private beta, that’s why it pains me to inform you they’ve discontinued development.

According to their website, Sparrow has been acquired by Google. I know the end goal for many startups is to be eaten up by a big-time player but this particular case really makes me sad. They will make Sparrow available and continue to support it but they will be “joining the Gmail team to accomplish a bigger vision.” I’m happy for the team, really. I’m sure that’s a huge opportunity and if in the same situation, it’d be hard to turn down a job at Google. I’m sad for all of us users though, we’ve lost the best email client around. Sure we can still use it but it will never be updated and will slowly become less and less relevant.

Here’s what I think Google (and the old Sparrow team) should do… rebrand it. Make it an official Google product. The iOS Sparrow app is leaps and bounds better than the iOS Gmail app. The only complaints I’ve heard (and share myself) are about the lack of push notifications. Google can handle that, their Gmail app already does. They could easily add that functionality to the existing Sparrow app and package it up as the new Gmail app. It’s a win for everyone. Sparrow users will be glad their beloved email app hasn’t faded to oblivion and Gmail users will be pleasantly surprised by a new (to them) and wonderful replacement. Perhaps they should even consider porting it to Android. Why not share the wealth? It’s a shame to let such an innovative and beautiful product go to waste.

Most importantly, I’d like to see them do a similar thing with the desktop version. Like I said before, I’ve been using Sparrow for quite some time. I love the slick and minimal interface. It’s fast, easy to use and let’s me manage multiple accounts in one place. I love how well it handles Gmail labels and starring. It’s really the Gmail experience I wish the web had, but better because it’s a separate app. I know Google doesn’t have an official desktop email client and they probably weren’t planning to. That said, why not have one? The bulk of the work is already done with Sparrow. If you’re not going to continue developing the Sparrow anymore, at least re-visit gmail.com’s interface. It’s gotten to be unruly and could use a little of Sparrow influence.

Overall I just hope the Sparrow team does well at Google. I’m cautiously optimistic they can influence the Gmail team for the better. On the flip side, I’m a bit irritated that development on one of my favorite Mac AND iOS apps is dead.

R.I.P Sparrow, you will be missed.