Fantastical from Flexibits is already a popular app for the Mac because it makes easy work of adding events to several popular calendar applications through its built-in natural language engine. Now it's available for the iPhone and iPod touch, but does Fantastical for the iPhone live up to the expectations the Mac version sets? Read on to find out.
Fantastical's system for creating events lets you type natural sounding phrases such as "Lunch with Bryan Tuesday noon." Your appointment is automatically added to your calendar app where it then syncs to all of your devices that share the same calendars.
Fantastical's DayTicker view (left) and month view (right)
On the Mac, you use a menu bar item to create new events. Since that isn't an option on the iPhone, Fantastical runs as an app. The events you create in the iPhone and iPod touch version of the app appear in the Calendar app and sync to other devices based on your iOS settings.
Fantastical gives you a simple interface that shows each day's events in a scrollable list, complete with color coded calendar categories. Above that, you'll see a side-to-side scrolling list called DayTicker with a graphic overview of your activities, and with a quick swipe down you'll see a basic monthly overview. Swiping down slowly to reveals the event search field, and tapping an event shows all of its details. The first time you launch the app tips pop up showing which gestures to use to see the different views, which is a nice touch since otherwise you'd be left to experiment in hopes of stumbling across the right moves.
There isn't a week view, but that wasn't much of an issue because Fantastical's deceptively simple interface makes it easy to see enough of your schedule at a glance so that a weekly option isn't really necessary.
Tips show the gestures you need to navigate Fantastical's views
Adding entries is simple: Just tap the plus button, and type to enter your event. There's also a Show Details button that reveals an event entry view similar to the Calendar app. Unfortunately, there isn't a Time Zone field, so you can't set an event for San Francisco time when you're in Denver after it's been created without switching to Apple's Calendar app to make the edit.
The problem isn't with Fantastical. Instead, it's a limitation Apple put on developers. "Sadly, Apple doesn't allow third-party apps to access time zone support when editing events, but they do allow it when creating a new event," Flexibits co-founder Michael Simmons told The Mac Observer. "You can enter like 'Lunch in NY on Friday 3PM EST' and it will set the right time."
The Flexibits team is considering adding a time zone field to the More Details view, but isn't making any promises right now.
Fantastical uses the built-in iOS keyboard it supports dictation, and that's fantastically cool. For example, saying "Lunch with Bryan Thursday at noon slash personal," creates your lunch event and even recognizes the "/" modifier that assigns the event to the correct calendar -- in this case, my Personal calendar.
Fantastical figures translates what you type into events for your schedule
Adding events proved to be simple, quick and reliable, just as it is on the Mac. Editing existing events, however, while easy, occasionally proved to be frustrating when spaces I intentionally entered between words would disappear and I had to try two or three times before Fantastical would cooperate. That's a known bug, and Mr. Simmons said a fix is on the way and will likely show up in an update soon.
Deleting events is simple, too. Just swipe across an event in your appointment list to show the Delete button, or scroll to the bottom of an event in edit view. There's a Delete button waiting for you there, as well.
Fantastical includes settings for customizing its interface. You can set the default view to be the side scrolling day view or monthly calendar view. The swipe down gesture toggles between the two views, so it works the same regardless of which is your default.
It also supports filtering which calendars you view -- a handy feature if you don't want to see long lists of Facebook events cluttering up your schedule. You can set the start day for your weeks, display end times for events, and show week numbers, too, in the monthly calendar view.
The Bottom Line
Fantastical's interface is easy to learn and use without limiting its powerful functionality, just as you expect from a well designed iPhone app. It doesn't support editing existing entries to add time zones, and has the occasional hiccup when editing entries. Neither is a show stopper, and at least in the case of the editing bug, Flexibits can fix the issue, and will soon.
But is it worth using when Calendar already offers its own event entry view, and even Siri can create appointments for you? I say yes. In fact, Fantastical has already earned one of the coveted Home screen spots on my iPhone and is my new go-to choice for adding appointments to my schedule.