While the default Calendar app for iPhone can get the job done, the interface leaves a lot to be desired. At the end of the day, a calendar app should be powerful, but still allow you to enter and find appointments as quickly and easily as possible. It's a balancing act. But which one is the best balance?
We've taken a look at a lot of the most popular alternative calendar apps for iPhone including, Week Cal, Calvetica, and many more. After testing all of them out, we believe Fantastical by Flexibits is the best choice for most iPhone users. Here's why...
User interface and design
The first thing you notice when launching Fantastical for iPhone is the interface. If you're used to the default Calendar app for iPhone, you'll notice it's very different. In this instance, that isn't a bad thing. The color schemes of Fantastical just work and they aren't overdone. The subtle change from grays to blacks and from bright colors to pastels is honestly breathtaking. It's a nice change from the grayscale layout of the default calendar app but you can tell some design cues were taken from it, such as the colored dots representing events on different calendars.
The way you interact with Fantastical for iPhone is mainly gesture driven. By default the top of the main menu consists of a timeline of days while the bottom of the screen is occupied by a list of events that are coming up. As you flick and scroll through events in the bottom portion of Fantastical, the top portion automagically scrolls with it so you always know what day you're looking at. This is where Fantastical greatly differs from the default Calendar app for iPhone.
Alternatively, you can also scroll through the top portion to a certain day and Fantastical will auto scroll the bottom portion of the event view to match the day. Whichever you prefer, the app will respond accordingly.
Fantastical offers two main calendar layout views which are day and month. By default you'll see the day view which is the layout in which you can scroll through vertically and horizontally and each section will change to match. The other view Fantastical offers is month view. To switch between views just swipe down with your finger from the top of the menu bar. This will toggle between the two views. Whenever you want to switch back to day or month view, just repeat the same action.
The month view within Fantastical will circle today's date so you know where you're at. Tapping on any one day will change the bottom portion of the screen to show the event menu for that day. To tap into an event, you can obviously just tap on its name. From there you can edit or view more details.
In comparison to other apps like Week Cal, Pocket Informant, and Calvetica, Fantastical is better looking and easier to navigate. When looking through other third party calendar apps, the interfaces got cluttered very quickly. Icons were floating around in random places that just didn't feel right or solid colored bars indicating dates and events became overwhelming.
Fantastical aims to solve the interface issue by improving upon the default Calendar app. It adds a few features that the default iPhone Calendar doesn't have but not too many to where it becomes cluttered and unusable. This is where Fantastical walks that line between form and function better than the rest.
Creating calendar entries
To create a calendar entry within Fantastical, tap the plus sign in the upper right hand corner of the main calendar view. Here you'll be taken to the add event feature. This is really where Fantastical shines. It understands regular text, meaning you don't have to enter individual fields. For example, you can simply enter Meeting with Rene on Friday at noon and Fantastical will take care of the rest.
If you have a device that is Siri enabled, event creation becomes painless and effortless. You can easily dictate anything into Fantastical. Once you're done, you'll see an overview of your entry. Even if you don't have Siri, or prefer not to use it, as you start typing, Fantastical will automatically start filling out the fields and showing you a preview. The preview section makes it very easy to see if what you're trying to schedule conflicts with something else.
If you'd like to be able to fill out details yourself, or view them to make sure Fantastical entered them correctly, you can do so by tapping on the Show Details button underneath the new event entry field. If you currently use the default Calendar app, you'll feel right at home since the calendar entry form is pretty much the same item for item and line for line. Fantastical will also integrate with anything that the default Calendar app does such as iCloud, Exchange, and more. If you'd like to invite someone to an event, you can do that straight from Fantastical as well.
The one thing I've found about Fantastical that the default Calendar app doesn't let you do is create meetings and entries at off-times. While the default Calendar and Fantastical both give you increments of 5 minutes, if you dictate or put a different time in the event summary in Fantastical, it will accept it. So if for some reason, you have a meeting or appointment that starts at 9:58am, you can add it in. Obviously, this doesn't happen very often for most people, but it's a little extra I noticed when entering events in.
Apps such as Week Cal and Calvetica may have more powerful calendar entry forms but they quickly become cluttered, unorganized, and daunting to use. This is where Fantastical really excels. At first I was somewhat disappointed with the lack of extra options Fantastical offers from the default Calendar app but over time I came to realize that it was probably the right decision. It may not have as many options as other calendar alternatives for iPhone but for most users, it does what they need elegantly and without effort. And for most, that's what matters.
Alerts & settings
Fantastical for iPhone features the same alert schemes as the default Calendar app. It will actually feed off the default Calendar app which means any alerts you've already got set up, Fantastical will abide by since it feeds everything you input into the default Calendar app.
There's only been one issue I've found with this strategy. If you slide to view an event, it obviously opens the default Calendar app instead of Fantastical. It's somewhat of a double edges sword. There's nothing to do in order to configure alerts since Fantastical abides by your default ones, but you'll be forced to view the default Calendar app from time to time.
While some other alternative calendar apps may have their own notification systems, we didn't feel it was an issue to the extent that it makes Fantastical any less useable. While it would be nice to see them integrate their own native notification system so you can ditch the default Calendar app altogether, it's more than bearable for the time being.
Syncing and cross-platform support
Fantastical currently has an iPhone version that is compatible with both iPhone and iPod touch. Unfortunately there isn't yet an iPad version, although you can run the iPhone interface letterboxed or at 2x on the iPad. It's not ideal, but it works.
If you're a Mac user, there is a Mac version of Fantastical already available. This was actually Flexibits' original product with the iPhone version coming later. It's been my default calendar on my Mac for some time and I was ecstatic when an iPhone version was finally released.
Fantastical for Mac combines notifications and calendar events in one app which means I no longer have to check two apps when working on my computer. I can simply access Fantastical from anywhere right in my system tray.
The Mac version is available in both the Mac App Store and online via Flexibits' website. We'd recommend picking it up from the Mac App Store though since you'll be notified easier of updates than purchasing it outside of the Mac App Store.
As far as syncing is concerned, Fantastical already uses the existing Calendar app as a bypass for sync which means any device you have your calendar events enabled on for iCloud, Exchange, or another service will automatically be updated. So if you have an iPad, even though you don't have a Fantastical counterpart, anything you enter in the app from an iPhone or Mac will still be synced with the default Calendar app on your iPad, creating an entirely synced ecosystem.
While some of the other alternative apps we looked at had either their own syncing services or tied in similarly, they just didn't seem to be able to pull it off as elegantly and fluidly as Flexibits has with their Fantastical arsenal of apps. We only wish they'd release an iPad version soon.
The iPhone version of Fantastical will currently cost you $3.99 at regular price. This is higher than apps such as Week Cal that come in at $2 or Calvetica at $3 but for only a few dollars more, we just feel most users will appreciate the much more refined experience. Alternative calendar and productivity apps such as Pocket Informant run around $10 and while they may have more functionality, unless you need all they offer, Fantastical will be a better deal all around.
If you'd like to complete the collection by adding the Mac OS X version of Fantastical, it'll run you an additional $19.99 at regular price. This may seem high for some users and if you think it is, you don't have to pick it up. All your events feed into the regular calendar which means, just like your iPad, iCal on your Mac will always be in sync regardless which calendar program you decide to use on your desktop.
Fantastical sits right in the middle when it comes to pricing points for iPhone and Mac calendar apps. It's also one of the best available in our opinion and if you're on the fence about what to buy, just remember that more expensive doesn't always mean best experience.
The bottom line
Everything from the way Fantastical presents calendars and uses gestures to change views to the super simple and fast event entry makes it better than the default iPhone Calendar. Alternative calendar apps such as Week Cal, Calvetica, and Pocket Informant may offer additional features that Fantastical doesn't, but they compromise ease of use and interface to get there.
Fantastical may not be the most robust and feature rich alternative calendar app for iPhone but it does what most people need it to do much more elegantly than all the others. If the default Calendar app suits your event creation needs but you desire more of a robust interface and more ways to interact with your calendar events, Fantastical can't be beat.
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