Modern calendar apps have two serious problems: they’re ugly, and they’re hard to use. I like Google Calendar as much as the next guy, but I’m always on the lookout for an experience that could be better — and by all accounts, I think Google Calendar could be better than it is. But there aren’t a lot of popular alternatives on the Play Store, and even fewer that people say you *have* to try out before making a decision.
That’s what makes Cal by Any.do interesting. It marries a well-designed calendar with the simplicity of Any.do, and it does it with aplomb. Although it’s been available for iPhone for a long time, Cal finally saw its release on Android recently with a few new features of its own — some of which are Android-exclusive, for now. Let’s dig in and find out whether or not this ecosystem is worth getting into.
The first thing you’re going to notice about Cal is that it simply looks awesome. This is a smartly-designed app, one that makes every day fresh and new without ever feeling anything less than unified. That’s because the app uses a different photo for every calendar day from a wide variety of sources. The categories, which are user-adjustable, include art, fashion, food, landscape, animals, design, cars, architecture, and illustration. You can turn off any of those if you prefer.
The app also makes good use of white space and colour accents, much like Any.do. Any.do uses white with blue accents, while Cal uses white with red colour accents. Cal has the unfortunate luck of making Any.do look slightly antiquated; the lines are a little cleaner in Cal and they look more geometrically sound. I think Cal is a more appealing app.
If you have a todo in Any.do listed for the day, it’ll appear in your schedule beneath your planned events. If you tie your Facebook account to Cal, it will also display everybody’s birthday and allow you to easily send a text, email, or post on their wall in celebration of the occasion. I think that’s a great idea, but in my experience, it doesn’t pick up on all of my friends’ birthdays. I know there are two birthdays today amongst my friends. Cal does not have either listed.
Pulling down on the dates reveals a monthly calendar, which is useful at a glance but at the same time could provide more information. Even a red line beneath dates, getting wider as more events are added to the schedule, could help busy people isolate their most hectic days and schedule meetings only on days that are less stressful. If you’re not the monthly calendar type, you can swipe to go from week to week.
One nice little Android-exclusive is a landscape mode that looks really good. Cal users on iOS are probably pretty jealous right now, and while that’s not a good metric to judge the quality of the feature, it just looks good. This landscape view works pretty well on a tablet too.
Finally, the app has a nice widget that looks strikingly similar to Google Calendar’s default widget on my Nexus 4. For me, it’s not a make-or-break deal, but for those who require more from their calendar widgets, you might be better off looking elsewhere.
The bottom line is Cal looks pretty good. But looks aren’t everything. Adding and managing events are still the crux of the experience, and most apps aren’t very good at it. Cal improves some of these areas with its attractive interface, but I’m not sure it’s bringing enough to the table.
It’s easy enough to add an event. You just have to fill in the proper fields and move on from there. Cal doesn’t use its own proprietary calendar system, so it’ll tie in with the Google Calendars you already use (or just about any other system, from what I’ve been told). From there, you can add in all the other details. It’ll fill in the date based on what date you’ve selected in Cal (although you can, of course, manually change that), and you can also invite friends and set locations, reminders, and notes.
All of this is done in, of course, an interface that’s far prettier than it has to be. But it takes forever. This is still the fundamental failure of most calendar apps. I’d love to see Natural Language Parsing make its way to Any.do Cal. What I mean is this: I’d like to, instead of typing information into separate fields, simply say “Kayaking with Matt on Saturday afternoon at Grand Rapids” in a single text entry field. From there, I’d want Cal to automatically parse the information so that the event is called Kayaking, it’s scheduled for Saturday afternoon at 1 or 2, Grand Rapids is marked as the location, and Matt is automatically invited.
Nobody said making this sort of system was easy, and I’m not saying it will be, but I am saying it’d be a lot nicer. I’m certain the Any.do team could handle it.
And now we get to the big reason Cal is already successful: Any.do integration. In a perfect world, I think a simple task manager and calendar would be combined into one application. I’m not sure why the team isn’t able to do this, but I wonder if it’s because the task management system is proprietary while the calendar functionality is not related.
The problem, for me, is that I can’t even complete items from Cal. I keep up a music blog called Unsung Sundays with weekly posts and a reminder to get started writing each weekly post. If I’m ready to mark that task as complete, I have to tap on it from within Cal and open Any.do to do so. Since I also can’t create a task in Cal, it necessitates that I have both apps on my home screen.
What this means is that Cal isn’t really presenting a complete solution for this either. It’s just listing everything together in one app. While that’s all well and fine, it’s still a bandaid solution to a real problem.
The Final Word
I think Cal is beautiful. There’s no bones about it. But the thing is, beauty only goes so far. While it’s nice to have your todo list and calendar together, especially for Any.do fans, I’m not sure the additional functionality is going to bring anybody new to the ecosystem. So for current fans, the calendar app is pretty, but flawed. If you aren’t using Any.do, this offers very little reason for you to try it.
That being said, if you value aesthetics and don’t mind a good — but not great — solution for some of your problems with day-to-day organization, then it could be worth trying. I just wouldn’t bank on Any.do Cal being anything more than a beautiful, but half-baked, solution to a big problem.
Cal is a beautiful app, but I wish it used Natural Language Parsing and allowed me to mark todos as complete at the very least. There's lots of room for growth, and while Any.do fans will find a lot to like, there's little reason for new users to join the ecosystem.7