20 February 2012 18:00 GMT / By Chris Hall
Sometimes the best apps aren’t those that bring you a whole new range of features, but those that take something you already have and make it better.
You’d think that the humble calendar would be immune from tinkering and modification, but if you’re a heavy user of iCal, or other Mac calendars, then you might just find today’s app interesting.
- Mac OS X
- App Store
We’re sure we don’t need to explain the cunning way that the name Fantastical combines the word “fantastic” with the word “iCal”. But that’s what this app does: it makes iCal fantastic.
iCal isn’t the best calendar app around. Sure, it does the basics, but we’ve never really enjoyed using it. Some might think that sounds a bit weird, but if you use your calendar a lot, you’ll know what we mean. Of course there are other Mac calendars and via various means you can use Fantastical with those too.
In addition, having to have iCal open as another app when you want to manage your appointments can be a bit of a pain. Resizing windows and shifting things around to get an appointment from your email into iCal is just one step away from being too fiddly.
Fantastical, thankfully, cleans things up a little bit. Rather than having to use iCal as an app, it just picks up the details and gives you an icon on your system bar. From here you can dropdown the calendar over whatever else you’re doing, rather than moving to iCal proper. There is also the option to anchor the app, so it stays open as you switch between other apps, which is really useful.
This dropdown interface gives you a month overview so you can select any date you want, as well as displaying your appointments beneath it. There are two boxes across the top: one for appointment entry, the other for searching.
Appointment entry is one of the smart things about Fantastical and one of the biggest selling points. Rather than having to popular every box to get the right details in the right place, Fantastical can figure it out from what you type, using what the company calls “smart language”.
So you can type in “Sony press conference @ Venetian” and it knows the Venetian is the venue for the Sony press conference. It will also pick out the time and date if you enter that, and is smart enough to pick out days, so if you type Wednesday, it picks the next Wednesday in your calendar.
Of course you can confuse it. If you’re “interviewing the Saturdays” it tries to set up a repeat event for every Saturday, called “interviewing the”; if your appointment is on the 3rd floor, it might pick out the 3rd of the next month.
But these are minor quirks in an otherwise slick system and once you’ve entered a few appointments, you’ll find the best way to plug in information to get the results you want.
Once you’ve got the appointments in your calendar they behave like any other iCal appointment, and if you open iCal you’ll find them in place. Also, if you sync iCal to another calendar, you’ll find your appointments rolling through to those in the normal way and we had no problem getting Fantastical events appearing on our Android phone via Google Calendars.
We also like the quick searching, although this is less useful as you can get search returns from Spotlight, although if you have Spotlight returning a lot of results, you might find that Fantastical is quicker and clearer.
The big downside to this app is the cost. At £13.99 there is no denying this is an expensive app – especially as it’s a modifier, rather than anything totally new. If you’re a heavy iCal user and never totally happy with the experience then it may be a cost you can justify.
We’ve found it really useful on a smaller MacBook, because you don’t have to mess around with so many windows.You can at least get a 2-week preview of the app to see if it works for you, before you part with your cash.
We’ve included the video from Flexibits below to give you a quick overview.