The default Calendar app on iOS and macOS does a pretty decent job for most people but power users definitely want more. The stock Calendar app's natural language processing could use improvements for things such as repeated events, and its rudimentary widget isn't good enough for many. It also lacks a menu bar icon, which can provide easy access to many features.
Fantastical 2 is a calendar app for iPhone, iPad, and Mac, made by the indie developer Flexibits and it claims to be a superior alternative to the stock Calendar app. We used it for over a month to see what it has to offer.
Our job doesn’t require us to do advanced tasks with calendar apps so we never bothered to use the stock Calendar app much. We’re more into to-do apps such as Cultured Code’s Things 3, but during the course of the review period we found quite a lot of use for calendar apps as well. Things 3 shows all entries you add to your calendar, so the combination worked well for us. To give us points of reference, we tried out Apple's Calendar app, BusyCal, and Google Calendar simultaneously, and we also looked at alternatives such as Outlook's built-in calendar app (which includes features from Sunrise Calendar that was acquired by Microsoft) and InstaCal, which is just a simple, menu bar app if that's all you want.
We began using Fantastical 2 to keep track of interviews, sports events, holidays, and even found a way to make the app display results of recently concluded sports matches. Fantastical 2 also has a neat menu bar app, which shows you all your calendar entries for any day, apart from the calendar in month view, and lets you add entries to the calendar as well.
The best thing about Fantastical 2 is natural language processing - it's not a unique feature, but it's very well implemented. You can add events by tapping the + button and typing: “Record Orbital Podcast at NDTV office at 7.30 pm every Wednesday calendar Work alert 15 minutes before”. The app will then schedule the event for Wednesday every week, and it even picks up the location of the office and marks it on a map. It will alert you 15 minutes before the event and add this event to your Work calendar. Instead of selecting from a bunch of toggles, you can just type the way you talk and Fantastical will do the rest. This is better than the natural language processing on Apple’s Calendar app, which wouldn’t pick up cues for repeating events among other things; we had a similar issue when testing this phrase with Google Calendar as well. One thing we did miss here is that Fantastical 2 doesn't integrate with contacts, so it can't pick up people from your natural language entries.
Most of the other calendar apps we tried couldn't process natural language cues for repeating events, or adding entries to a particular calendar from your list of calendars. Google Calendar was the closest to recognising what we typed, but it chose its own 10-minute alert instead of the 15 minutes we asked for.
Fantastical 2 for Mac also supports ‘Time to Leave’ alerts, which will send a notification when it’s time to leave for your meeting just like Apple’s Calendar app. It bases this data on traffic information gleaned from Apple Maps, as long as you add the location of the event. Unfortunately, Apple Maps doesn’t support navigation in India, so this feature didn’t work for us in either Fantastical 2, or Apple Calendar. This is where Google Calendar is so much more useful, but its Chrome app for the desktop looks outright ugly, and doesn't allow you to sync non-Google calendars.
Fantastical 2, on the other hand, looks really good on macOS. The app icon is really nice, the overall UI is really good, and it’s great at displaying events in the month and year view. The day and week views tend to get a bit cluttered and required us to scroll down to see all events, which we didn’t like that much. However, we spent the most amount of time in month and year view, so that didn’t bother a lot.
We enjoyed using Fantastical 2’s calendar sets to quickly activate and deactivate our calendars too. You can add public calendars - obviously this can be done with other apps too - and we added a sports calendar we found via Google. When the sports events got distracting at work, we added them to a different set of calendars and disabled those with one click. Fantastical lets you group some calendars and use shortcuts such as CTRL + 1, CTRL + 2, etc to open different calendar sets. This way you can quickly enable or disable certain calendars. The best thing is that you can even automatically activate certain calendar sets when you reach a particular location, such as your office. This is exactly the kind of control that power users will appreciate.
Other than the app using Apple Maps for location-based features, there isn’t much to complain about with Fantastical 2 for Mac and we’d highly recommend it to everyone who depends on calendar apps.
Fantastical 2 is sold separately on iPhone and iPad, though at least the developers didn't choose to charge a subscription fee. We used the Mac app first, and then the iOS apps, which highlighted some of the shortcomings of the latter. The Mac app is much more powerful, and we found ourselves wishing for some extra features on the mobile devices.
For instance, the Mac app allows you to add attachments to your calendar entries so you could easily add an Excel sheet showing important data for quick reference while a meeting is on. The iOS apps don’t have this feature. The upcoming Files app in iOS 11 could make such a feature easier to implement, but at the moment it’s missing from Fantastical 2’s iOS apps.
Also, the Mac app supports a mini window view, which allows you to keep Fantastical open in a single-column window on the desktop while you continue to work in other apps. There’s no such feature on the iPad app, where we missed it the most. Perhaps support for SlideOver view for Fantastical 2 could be a solution. Since iOS doesn’t support floating apps at the moment, you’ll just have to use the CMD + Tab shortcut via Bluetooth keyboards or keep checking the widget. The expanded widget view, which shows the calendar in a month view, also looks much better on iPhone than it does on iPad. On the iPad, in both portrait and landscape mode, the widget looks a bit too wide and with too much empty space relative to the font size of the dates on the calendar.
Fantastical 2's calendar widget looks very nice on the iPhone and it packs the month view into that compact space. We now use this every day to plan interviews, check schedules, and to keep an eye on sports events. Using 3D Touch on the app icon shows the next event on your calendar and it shows the time till that event in a large font, which looks very good.
Fantastical 2 integrates with the calendar accounts you add via the Settings app on iOS. We found ourselves wishing for some kind of a calendar sync service to automatically import our calendars from the Mac app but sadly Fantastical 2 doesn’t support that. We had to sign in to our calendars once per platform we used Fantastical 2 on, and that was a pretty cumbersome process. This is the biggest shortcoming of the app at the moment, in our opinion.
Otherwise, the app worked fine on both iPhone and iPad. It doesn’t have as many features as the Mac app, but then it costs less on these platforms as well.
So how does Fantastical compare against other apps we tried? Favourably, in our opinion. Google Calendar has some neat features but it doesn’t support non-Google calendars its natural language processing broke during our testing. It worked for the first event we added, but not for subsequent events. This bug was present on both an iPhone 7 and an iPhone 7 Plus, and made the app a lot less useful. We didn’t face these issues with Google Calendar on Android.
Apple Calendar is pretty good for most people but Fantastical adds a better design on both iPhone and iPad. BusyCal is a universal app on iOS and works just fine, but it's not that much better than Apple's Calendar app as to merit a Rs. 4,000 purchase on Mac, and an additional Rs. 400 on iOS. You could also consider Calendars 5, which is a pretty nice app and for Rs. 550 you get both iPhone and iPad variants, making it a good option if you only need an iOS calendar app.
We feel that Flexibits has done an excellent job with Fantastical 2 and anyone who needs a calendar app on macOS should upgrade to this app. On iPhone and iPad, the app is not as powerful as its macOS counterpart, so you could stick with the stock Calendar app. Its strengths are great design and natural language processing and a calendar syncing service would make us recommend it on all platforms.