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When they were first invented, calendar apps were one of the few reasons someone would buy a PDA—the early pocket computers that foreshadowed today's smartphones. Computerized calendars were a big deal. They let you ignore the wall calendar at work without worrying about forgetting your next appointment. Then came email event invitations, shared calendars, and before you knew it calendars were an undercurrent on all of our devices—something you expect to be there without really thinking about it.
For that, Google Calendar is one of the best options. It's free with a Gmail account, syncs with the built-in calendar apps on most devices, and can so easily disappear into the background that you'll use it without thinking about it. Add it to your phone, and you'll accept calendar invites in emails, ensure you don't miss meetings with push notifications before they start, and more without ever opening Google Calendar itself.
But it's worth taking some time to use the main Google Calendar app too, recently redesigned to put your events and agenda forward. There are the normal features you'd expect: color-coded shared calendars to organize events, Google Tasks to keep track of the things you need to do inside your calendar, views to zoom out or into your schedule, and search to find past events along with other G Suite files.
Creating events in Google Calendar is simple. Click and drag on the time you want the event, type in a name, then save or click More Options to add a rich text description and invite others. Need a meeting room? You can now look through your company's rooms in G Suite to see which are available during that time—and can check your team's calendars to make sure the time will work out for everyone. If you're meeting online, Google automatically adds a Hangouts call link to new events for an easy way to jump on a video call. And if your event happens to be for a holiday or meal, Google Calendar will add a graphic for a bit of scheduling fun.
It's great on its own, and even better when used alongside Gmail. Google can recognize upcoming events from your tickets, reminders, and other date-related info in emails, and automatically add your trips and more to Google Calendar. And when you add contacts to your Google Contacts address book, they'll be only a click away in Google Calendar to invite them to new events. You can then sort your own calendar into day, week, and month views, and drag around events to fit them into your busy schedule.
Over time, your calendar will fill up with events from your work and personal life, holidays and social events, and more. Google Calendar can help you manage it all with its unique views. The day view helps you plan your work down to the minute, while the Schedule view lets you see a work-week at a glance. Or, use the year view to see an overview of everything you're doing this year—and use search to dig through the details.
When you need it, Google Calendar's tools will help you plan meetings better and make sure your schedule isn't overbooked. And the rest of the time, it'll quietly run in the background, adding new events and reminding you about them without any extra work.
Do more with the new Google Calendar our guide to the 8 best new features in Google Calendar.
Also, Google Calendar has a powerful API which is perfect for extensibility -- you can learn how to use the Google Calendar API.
Originally published February 5, 2016; updated April 20, 2018 with new screenshots and features.