Although there are tens of different solutions you can appeal to for handling your day-to-day GTD routine, the one corner of the market that has seen less attention is the student subset. Although workarounds can be accomplished with all the major task management systems out there, it’s clearly preferable to have a solution that is dedicated to managing your education specifically.
This is the void that iStudiez Pro aims to fill. Available on the iPhone since April of 2009, this powerful app has recently made its way to the Mac App Store, and following the recent 1.01 update we wanted to take a look and see how well it’s made the transition to the desktop!
If you’re familiar with the portable versions for iPhone or especially iPad, you’ll feel right at home opening iStudiez Pro on the Mac.
The skeuomorphic interface looks like a planner sitting on a chalkboard, and it succeeds in presenting you with the information you need in a clear and attractive way.
Access to the features is quick and intuitive, and the fact that the whole system is course and assignment based (rather than event and to-do based like most GTD apps) will make setting up and preparing for a semester far less convoluted.
Features & Functionality
iStudiez Pro separates its functions into five basic areas: Overview, Assignments, Planner, Instructors, and Holidays. The labels are self-explanatory, but it’s worth delving into each section to highlight some of the functionality.
The Overview tab is what you see as soon as the app opens. Not entirely unlike the standard iCal interface, iStudiez deviates in that there is no separate month view; there is a standard weekly view, a day view, and the monthly overview is situated to the right of the main planner module at all times so you never have to flip back and forth — this is a very smart design choice.
The monthly view not only shows you the current date in large numbers, but it also features dots underneath the dates in the calendar representing the number of events on that day.
The Day view is designed like a two-page notebook, with your classes and iCal events appearing on the left “page”, and any upcoming assignments on the right. The items are laid out attractively, with your chosen icon and colour-coding intact to make the information easy to pick up at a glance.
Arrows near the top right of the interface above the monthly calendar let you flip back and forth between days, and the “Today” button ensures that you’re always only a click away from your current schedule.
Just like in the iPad interface, the weekly view features coloured blocks in the appropriate time slot for each class, showing the title of the class and whether it’s a lecture, lab, seminar, etc. based on what you’ve set it as.
iCal events also appear, though you cannot interact with them, which is aggravating since it forces you back into another app. There is also a handy red bar that moves down the page indicating the current time. This is nifty because it gives you a more visual way of appreciating how far along you are in your day.
In either of the two Overview views, you can double-click a class to flip open a quick edit window that allows you to make adjustments to its settings, but you cannot add a new class outright from the Overview tab. This is an annoying oversight since it means flipping back and forth between Overview and the Planner.
The Planner is the main tab for setting up and managing your class schedule. This area of iStudiez helps you manage your semesters, the courses within them, and the classes you have for each. The fact that the app is designed around this system makes it a breeze to get started, and once you’ve added courses and classes, you’ll get a great birds-eye view of your upcoming semester.
Adding a semester is as easy as hitting the plus button on the bottom left, and selecting “New Semester” from the menu that appears. Once you name it, you can start adding courses using the same button and begin populating your schedule.
Courses start out as empty shells, but after you’ve named them and (if you like) selected a colour using the button beside their title, you can begin adding classes.
“New Class” is where this process starts, and in the popup window (which is essentially what you see when you double-click a class in the Overview), you can set the start and end dates for the class, select whether it’s a class, lecture, lab, study group, etc., set the time and recurrence, location, and instructor.
If you click the icon, you can even choose from a wide selection of different visual representations to make recognizing this class in your Overview as easy as possible.
Once you’ve added your class(es) for the course, you can also add an exam if it has one. This is a useful feature since it saves you the hassle of creating an independent event — this way the exam is linked to the course immediately.
The left panel of the Planner shows you past semesters as well, in case you ever need to look back and remember the details of previous years.
Probably everyone’s least favourite part of school is homework. Since it’s a necessary evil though, you’ll at least be happy to see that this iStudiez Pro gives it a dedicated section that helps you manage your assignments.
Adding an assignment via the plus button allows you to name it, add a description, select a class, indicate the due date, and assign it a priority. The description area is extremely useful for holding important websites, submission addresses, and other miscellaneous information regarding the assignment that you want to keep together.
The Assignments panel itself is organized several different ways. For starters, you can view Current or Completed assignments (useful if you need to look back over what you’ve already accomplished and when). In either view, you can use the buttons on the top left to arrange the assignments by Date, Course, or Priority as you see fit.
Functioning exactly like an integrated address book for teachers, the Instructors section is actually a pop-up window that allows you to manage your professors, teachers, mentors, etc. and their contact information without having to make entries for them in your actual Address Book app.
For each instructor, you can specify a name, title, department, affiliation (school), email, phone number, web address, and office hours. In addition, once you set them as an instructor for a course in your Planner, the classes that they teach will also appear in this window so you never forget what you had them for.
The final area of iStudiez Pro is the Holidays window. This floating panel allows you to create holidays that make it extremely easy to keep your calendar accurate without having to wrangle repeating events like you’d have to in a standard event-based app.
This way, a holiday will remove classes from your schedule during indicated holidays without upsetting the scheduling you’ve set up in the Planner. This also means that dealing with changing holiday dates is simple.
If you prefer to have your schedule shifted forward as a result of the holiday, you can activate the checkbox and iStudiez will push everything back by the appropriate number of days rather than just remove the classes for those days.
One of the trickiest aspects of managing education schedules is keeping track of grades. iStudiez Pro has a robust system for this, and you can do it using percents, letters, or points depending on what your educational institution makes use of.
While percents are self-explanatory, the points system lets you specify a range (from 1 to 10, for example) and the letters option allows you to set up the precise percentage range values for each letter to make sure the grading scale is accurate.
iStudiez will also attempt to calculate your overall GPA if you want it to (Preferences -> Grades), and you may find this is a useful way of staying aware of your performance during a semester. Previous versions provoked some issues with synchronizing grades for some users (I encountered no problems), but the 1.01 update has addressed them.
Having all these amazing features available between platforms is great, but only if you can keep everything in sync across all your devices (Things, I’m looking at you). Thankfully, iStudiez Pro offers a full cloud sync feature that helps keep all your data up to date no matter where you are.
While this is useful for, say, completing an assignment while on the go and having it cleared from your list when you get home, there’s also the added advantage during initial setup of being able to use a mouse and keyboard to quickly input all the semester’s data without resorting to touch-typing on a small iPhone screen.
Syncing is handled via an account, and once you create one (free) and log in on both your portable device and the Mac app, you’ll be able to sync seamlessly at will via the “Sync Now” button at the very top right of the desktop interface. On your iPhone, just shake the phone with the app open to initiate sync.
Back to School
Despite being a truly incredible solution for students, iStudiez Pro suffers from a few baffling drawbacks that hold it back from being an all-in-one solution.
For instance, the inability to add a new class right from the Overview is strange since you can already modify classes thoroughly. Similarly, while the 1.01 update added the ability to select different iCal calendars to display in the Overview, you still can’t interact with the iCal events — adding/removing/modifying them is impossible unless you switch back to iCal (or similar) to do it.
This defeats the purpose of trying to replace iCal with a student-centric alternative and means that, for all its streamlining and efficiency, you’re still adding a second app to your workflow.
Another odd oversight is the fact that you cannot add a new instructor when you’re adding a new class in the Planner. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to have to input your instructors first in order to be able to select them when you set up a class.
Finally, while the syncing works as advertised, I noticed that the accounts seemed to enjoy signing me out automatically without any apparent reason, forcing me to re-login several times. Seems like more of a glitch than a serious flaw, but it wastes time while dashing out the door with backpack in hand.
There is always room for improvement, and the developers are courteous and quick to respond to bug reports, so it’s only a matter of time before these inconsistencies are ironed out. Either way, they only really become bothersome for power users who are hoping to completely replace their existing scheduling app.
Complaints aside, iStudiez Pro is without a doubt the most robust system for managing a school schedule. Its longevity, slick design, and efficient workflow have made it truly peerless and earned it well deserved recommendations from critics everywhere — this one enthusiastically included.
Do you use iStudiez Pro? Have you found the desktop app to be a good complement to the mobile ones? Is there another system you prefer for managing school schedules? Let us know in the comments!