My smartphone is finally fulfilling its destiny.
I’ll tell you why not: most period tracking apps SUCK. I can only assume the the predominance of flowers and the color pink means that they are aimed at a target market that is not me, and not just because I’m in my forties. I’m a designer. I cannot use an app that looks like a unicorn threw up all over it.
Happily, in the time between getting pregnant, having a baby, and finally getting my period back after a year and a half (thank you, breastfeeding), the selection for period tracking apps has expanded to include things that don’t make me cringe. Some of them don’t use pink at all!
I chose four free period tracking apps to try out; two are ad-supported but offer paid versions that are presumably ad-free.
(I have Things to Say, so this is going to be a long one.)
Here are the apps I tried out:
(Also: shout out to Carefree for the best freaking pantyliners I’ve ever tried. I got a sample of the Acti-Fresh Body Shape Daily Liners from Influenster* and even though I’m an Always girl I was super impressed. If you’re like me and never sure when your cycle is going to start, these will make your life so much easier.
*Influenster sent me this product in return for a review. The opinions expressed above are all mine.)
Like I said, I’m not big on the cutesy tween vibe, so my app choices were largely based on whether I was actively embarrassed by previewing the design. As far as icons went, Groove was the least period-tracker like, which is both good and bad (I could totally see myself forgetting what the app was & assuming it was yet another fitness tracker). Clue came in second, with its pleasantly abstract, vaguely spirograph-ish logo. Period Tracker has a nice, clear icon, but I dislike how it and Monthly Cycles abbreviate their names on the home screen. Monthly Cycles uses the dreaded flower icon, but the colors make it slightly less cloying that some of the others.
Clue’s got a nice visual interface, with current cycle information front and center. Push the big button in the middle to record information about that day, or press the calendar icon at bottom left to change the calendar view.
Both actions bring up an extremely minimal list of additional attributes from which you can choose. The most useful is the Period attribute, which allows you to record how heavy your flow is on any given day, with four options to choose from. Each attribute, in fact, gives you only four options, which is the only thing about Clue that I really dislike. (The exception is the Tags menu; you can add as many tags as you like to each day, and you can create your own.) For example, if you tap the Pain attribute, you can choose between Cramps, Headache, Ovulation and Tender Breasts – but if you’ve got a backache, for example, you’d have to enter that as a tag. The Mood attribute is even more limited – you can choose from Happy, Sensitive, Sad, or PMS. I’d love to see more options here, especially since PMS isn’t exactly quantifiable.
The app is gorgeous, though, and there are no ads.
Period Tracker, despite its nice modern logo, is a little more cutesy than I’d really like. The main screen shows a very large image (the default is a series of loosely seasonal illustrations; you can choose from a few different themes in the settings) with either the current duration of your period or the number of days until your next period at the top of the screen. At the bottom is the current date with a “How are you?” prompt.
Slide your finger up and you get a very thorough menu of options: Thoughts for the day (here you can also include a photo, if you wish), Location, Temperature and Weight, whether or not you’ve been Intimate or are Spotting, Flow/Symptoms, Moods, and Medications. This is exactly what I want from a period tracking app – except for the fact that you can’t actually do anything with the data. (You can look at it. If you really want to scroll through each individual day to see if you had a migraine at this time last month, you can do that.)
There’s also a Community button. I honestly have no interest in finding my menstrual cohort, so I left this untouched.
Period Tracker has ads at the bottom of every screen, but they’re relatively unobtrusive, and there’s a premium version.
Look, it’s a flower! And when you press it, you get – a full-screen, full-volume ad? Oh hell to the no.
But once you get past all that, Monthly Cycles is quite nice. It has a calm, relaxing design, with the date and either the current duration of your period or the number of days until your next period in a big circle at the top of the screen. Below it is the current month’s calendar. Days that include period data are highlighted pink; fertile days are highlighted lavender, with the projected ovulation day highlighted purple.
Scroll up or tap the pencil icon to open the daily info screen, where you can choose whether it’s the first/last day of your period, the heaviness of your flow, the amount/type of mucus, your temperature and weight, whether or not you “Had Fun” (which is presumably a euphemism for sex, as it’s a yes/no toggle; I’d like it if it were less ambiguous because I am not twelve), and whether or not you took your pills (presumably birth control).
Here’s where Monthly Cycles really distinguishes itself from the rest, though: you can click “How do you feel?” in the daily info screen to not only add a text update but also to choose from several Moods and/or Events (these include icons that, when selected, show a quick explanatory text – which is useful, since the icon of a person hiking actually turns out to mean “Heavy Work,” and the ice cream cone means “Have Cold Food” instead of “Sugar Craving” like I assumed). Back in the daily info screen you can also tap Symptoms to choose from an impressive array of both period- and non-period-related symptoms like acne, dizziness, bloating, etc. Each symptom has three levels of severity.
At the bottom of the screen you can tap Diary to see a quick overview of your entries. You can also click Charts for a bar chart of your Cycle Length and Duration, line charts for both Temperature and Weight, and information about how many days in the month or week you experienced Symptoms and Events. Over time, this could be really useful (although I still wish there were an easy way to see all of this together – a month view that shows spikes in headache pain, for example, would really help me to figure out whether my migraines are being triggered by hormones).
Of the four apps I tried, Groove is by far the most minimal. It’s almost too minimal; this app will track your period, and that’s pretty much it.
The main screen shows where you are in your cycle, using a design that looks very much like a circle of birth control pills. The days on which period information was recorded show in varying shades of pink, depending on the flow level. Non-period days are gray. You can see at the top how many days you have until your next period. None of this is interactive; to add information, you need to tap the menu at the top of the screen.
Tapping the plus sign brings you to a daily information screen. The options here are pretty minimal as well – you can record information about your cervical fluid (including whether it’s a peak day), whether and how much you’re bleeding, and whether you had intercourse (with both protected and unprotected as options).
Once you’ve recorded a few months of information, you can see your average cycle length and luteal length by tapping the third icon in the top menu.
Groove is free, but there’s also a Groove Pro version that helps you practice the sympto-thermal method of fertility awareness to help with either avoiding or maximizing chances of pregnancy.
So which is the best?
Honestly, after trying all of these apps out for a month, I’m torn between two of them: Clue and Monthly Cycles. On the one hand, I love the simplicity of Clue. (It’s also the only one that offers either an iWatch version or integration with the Notification Center, if that’s important to you.) On the other hand, Monthly Cycles is pretty much exactly what I want from a period tracking app (with the exception of the ads, and those can be eliminated for a one-time fee of $1.99). I’ll upgrade to the premium version of Monthly Cycles and report back.