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Calendar never really grabbed me on the iPhone, and for whatever reason, neither have the non-Apple scheduling and day-planning options that I've tried. But when I heard Flexibits' Fantastical was making the jump to iPhone and iPod touch, even I was intrigued. I had read so much about its much-loved Mac app that I couldn't resist the urge to try a cheaper, mobile version of the popular utility.
It's easy to see why Fantastical is so revered. Right off the bat, it integrated with the scant entries I had in Calendar, so those with carefully crafted calendars won't be overwhelmed with a blank slate. The interface isn't all that different than Apple's -- a split screen shows the current month and the corresponding day's events -- but it's significantly more polished, with neat rows of floating numbers and the slightest of skeumorphic touches: today's date is circled in red marker, plus there are two barely visible staples at the very top of the screen.
Adding a new event to a Fantastical calendar can be done in one or two ways: you can either use a familiar set of fields, or you can talk to it. Saying (or typing) "Dinner with my wife on Saturday" will make an entry for "Dinner with my wife" at 6 p.m. on the upcoming Saturday. It's quite slick, with subtle animations that fly by as the natural language engine does its thing. Calendar's clunky input method always frustrated me; Fantastical's refined interface is practically effortless by comparison.
Fantastical uses a similar Calendar-style dot system to indicate events, but serious users won't be wasting their time with the default month view. Unique to the iPhone version is the DayTicker, which is essentially a beefed-up version of Apple's list view. Where Apple makes you scroll through a lengthy list of events, Fantastical presents a five-day mini calendar at the top of the screen that can be quickly navigated by swiping. As the days zip along, so do the events you have scheduled, giving you much greater control.
Fantastical may not have converted me into a calendar devotee, but it's earned a coveted spot on my home screen. It's a dramatic improvement over Apple's offering that all kinds of calendar users will appreciate, and since it syncs with iCloud, Apple's stubborn refusal to let users change from its default apps doesn't really hinder it too much. A second alert option would be nice, as would landscape mode, but these hardly detract from the experience and I expect they will be addressed as the app matures.
The bottom line. Fantastical is so great that even a one-time calendar hater can appreciate its sizable charms.
iPhone or iPod touch running iOS 5.0 or later
Fantastic interface. Fantastic natural language engine. Fantastic navigation. (Seeing a theme?)
No landscape mode or option for multiple alerts.