I tend to just take quick glances at my calendar, checking the dates of events coming up or looking to see if I can fit something new in. Sometimes it’s a huge pain to open the app on my phone or computer, so I end up guessing whether I have anything on a particular date — which is a recipe for disaster.
What I need, I realized a few weeks ago, is a good menubar calendar that I can call on at a moment’s notice with a simple click of the mouse or tap of the keyboard. Qbix’s Calendar Plus fits the bill, and to sweeten the deal it includes great customization options. Let’s check it out.
Calendar Plus lives permanently in your menubar, symbolized by a generic calendar icon with the numbered day of the month. Clicking on that reveals a drop-down menu with the month view. You can navigate through days and months, with event information shown to the left of the calendar. If there’s an event listed on a particular day, you’ll see a small colored circle — the specific color depends on the calendar the event was taken from.
Calendar Plus automatically imports your iCal calendars and syncs to iCloud. You can disable some or all of these in the settings, where you can also add Facebook and Google calendars. The app recognizes your color-codings in iCal, and duplicates them in its own calendar display. All calendars (that are turned on) get shown together in a unified view; there’s no separate viewing option.
Clicking (or possibly hovering, depending on your settings) on a day shows the events for that day and a set number of days into the future. I like to know what’s going on a week ahead of things in my calendar, so I set that to seven days. You can specify whether to display events on one line or two, with or without the end time. If you’re anything like me you make up the end times as often as not, so this is a welcome option to reduce unnecessary information.
Double clicking on an event opens it in iCal or BusyCal, where you can edit or check out more detailed information about it. The app doesn’t show the location field for events, which is anything from a minor to a major inconvenience — depending on your needs. Hopefully that’ll be added as an option in a future update.
It’s Getting Hot in Here
Putting weather forecasts in a menubar calendar app seems like a stroke of genius — I can check the weather right alongside my upcoming events, planning ahead or even considering whether we need to cancel due to adverse conditions. Calendar Plus can grab minimum/maximum temperatures, humidity, precipitation, and even sunset/sunrise information for you and pop it right in the events list as well as on the main calendar. Unfortunately, the service it uses to get weather information is consistently wrong for my area.
Your results may vary, and I suspect those of you in North America will have the best luck, but its track record in Melbourne (Australia) for the couple of weeks I’ve been using the app is terrible — temperatures several degrees off the reality (and our local bureau’s predictions), with conditions also wrong. For instance, I’m writing this on a lovely 24ºC day full of sunshine but marred by strong winds. The Calendar Plus weather widget says it’ll be partly cloudy with a max of 19ºC and mild winds.
Customize to Your Heart’s Content
Don’t like the default look of the app? No problem — you can change it. We’ve already covered some of the customization options, including the display of events and weather. There are also ten color schemes, your own choice of background, keyboard shortcuts, optional visual flair, and more.
Backgrounds can be set individually for each month or overall for all months. The app includes five, seasonally appropriate (for the northern hemisphere) images for each month. But you can search Flickr or choose from your hard drive if you want something else. Fans of skeuomorphism can add space (about 20 pixels) between the menubar and the calendar, with options of ropes, spring, wood, or glass. You can also resize the calendar by dragging from the bottom right corner, if it seems too big or small for your purposes.
Calendar Plus is completely controllable via the keyboard. Press Command-Shift-K to open it, then use arrow keys, space bar, Return, and Escape to navigate around or close it. These work well — better than the mouse, sometimes — and will no doubt please people who like to keep both hands on the keys.
You can also specify which day weeks start on, what should be displayed when the calendar opens, whether or not to label events with the name of the account they come from, and whether the menubar icon should be colored or grey.
For power users and customization nuts, Calendar Plus has nearly everything. But what if you just want a basic drop-down calendar which tells you what days you have things on, perhaps with quick access to iCal? Qbix has you covered there, too, with the aptly-named Calendar, which is a popular free alternative. Other lightweight options include ACalendar, CrisCalen (which lives on the desktop), CalendarMenu, and QuickCal (which is more focused on events).
At the other end of the spectrum, Fantastical offers a plethora of features with fewer appearance-tweaking options. It’s a great app, but comes with a big price tag. Blotter does the same, only from the desktop. If you have any other calendar assistants to recommend — either lightweight or more full-featured — let us know in the comments below.
A Fine Calendar Assistant
Calendar Plus fits a need — to quickly check your calendars and any upcoming events — and it does so with great panache. The many tweaks and customization options it offers hark back to the old days of third-party apps, where skins and user-defined behavior was placed above pure aesthetics (which is both a good and a bad thing, I should note — there’s something to be said for visual uniformity). And it integrates well into existing iCal, Google, and BusyCal workflows (and Facebook, too, if you use it that way).
The result is a handy tool that you can make your own, which may not fit with current trends of minimalism and skeuomorphism but puts a bit of you back into your menubar. It’s earned a permanent place in mine. It could do with a few more options regarding themes and events display, but it’s made a great debut.
Don’t forget to read our interview with the creators of Calendar Plus, Qbix, on their development and design philosophies and procedures.
A highly-customizable menubar calendar app, Calendar Plus includes weather forecasts; Google Calendar, Facebook Events, and iCal/BusyCal integration; and support for themes. It can be unattractive if not configured carefully, but it gives quick and easy access to all your events.8
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