The Contexts window switcher

· by mpf · Read in about 3 min · (616 Words)
mac app

I’m at the end of a trial of Contexts an interesting window switching app for macOS (ooh, new style naming!), and I’m enjoying using it so decided to write a review.

From its homepage, the core idea of Contexts is to improve Command + Tab functionality and make it a lot more flexible. In my view it definitely succeeds on both counts, but at the expense of being a little confusing, and maybe having a few too many features.


First, I think the main Command + Tab functionality is great, a quick press behaves exactly as before, but hold down on the keys and up pops a panel. This works exactly as you’d expect, so you can move the highlighted windows with the cursor keys, keep tabbing back and forward, or, if you’re feeling adventurous you can type the number next to the window you want to switch to it faster.

The fact that you can select by number is clearly aimed at keyboard lovers, but in practice I don’t really use it, as I tend to tab through window lists.

Contexts main list

One of my main UI hangups is here, in this panel. By default, Contexts binds the keyboard shortcut Command + ` to move the down the window list, which makes sense, as it’s easier to type than Command + Shift + Tab, but it hijacks a shortcut I use all the time.

By default, Command + ` switches between the windows belonging to a single app. So, for example, if I had multiple Chrome windows open, as I often do, I could switch between them my repeatedly pressing the shortcut. Now though, I have to read the list, find the Chrome window I want, and then tab to it. This is made a bit more difficult because Context’s window list reorders itself to keep the most frequently used windows at the top. Luckily there are plenty of other keyboard shortcuts you can use instead, as you can see in the preferences pane.

Contexts' preferences

On its own, the main list interface probably wouldn’t be worth paying for, but Contexts search functionality really adds value. By default this was bound to the shortcut I use for Launchbar Option + Space, but that was easily changed, so now, when I press Ctrl + Space, I see this awesome search box:

Contexts' cool search panel

As you can see, typing window names filters the list, and as with the main switcher there are numbers you can use to jump to them (for example, typing Command + 2 would jump to iTunes in my example). It’s cool, and actually pretty useful.

Another interesting feature is Contexts’ side panel, which you activate by dragging your finger vertically along the side of your trackpad. Doing this makes it pop out, and show a narrow version of the window list (although you can change this to the full list). Dragging down the side of the pad selects between the listed windows, although in practice I found that I could only reach the top 70% or so of the list because my trackpad isn’t big enough!

Contexts' side panel


Overall, Contexts is a really interesting app, and I’m probably going to pay for it. I’m still not entirely sure about some of the features, and there are more I’ve not mentioned, but it’s still quick and simple to use, and some things like searching are cool.

If you already use an application launcher, like Launchbar, you can probably do some of what Contexts does natively, see this, for example. This doesn’t seem to list individual windows, but still makes a nifty application switcher.

Contexts is currently priced £7.07, so probably $10 in post-brexit UK. I’d say its worth a look.