We spent months testing, trying, and using many different calendar apps for the iPhone. We wanted to know which apps were the easiest to use for entering new events, viewing your current agenda, and more. Based on several different criteria, Fantastical was the clear choice for best calendar app for the iPhone.
In a nut, what makes Fantastical the best pick is its great design, superior natural language text entry, and its support for iCloud reminders.
Note (March 25, 2015): Fantastical for iPhone is 30% off (currently $2.99 instead of $4.99).
What defines a great calendar app?
We defined the following metrics to help us evaluate all the iPhone calendar apps objectively:
Easy and fast to read / understand: The best calendar app needs to make it quick and easy to view your calendar. This means it provides different calendar views that are easy to switch between so you can visualize your events in the way that is most helpful to you.
Easy and fast to use for adding new events and finding upcoming ones: The best calendar app needs to have fast and easy event entry. To us, this means great natural language parsing (but more on that in a bit).
Works with necessary services (Google, iCloud, Exchange): If the calendar app can’t interface with the calendar syncing service you’re using, it can’t be the best because the app would be silo’d to your iPhone only.
Fantastical 2 is the best calendar app for the iPhone
Fantastical meets all our criteria for a great calendar app, and we recommend it unreservedly for iPhone users of all ages, professions, and varying degrees of busy-ness.
It is the easiest to use (for adding/editing events) and the easiest to read (for checking schedules) for most people. Fantastical’s natural language parsing is second to none, making it fast and easy to add events, and it has a simple-yet-powerful design. The week ticker makes it easy to visualize your week ahead, a simple pull switches to a month calendar view, and it supports any calendar you can add to iOS.
Fantastical has two view options: list view in portrait mode with a week ticker or month calendar sitting on top, or switch to landscape mode for a week “block” view. The views can either just show events, or it can integrate events and iCloud Reminders.
The week ticker is a great way to get a general overview of how busy the upcoming week is and to quickly swipe ahead to a specific date. The ticker shows lines (color coded to your calendars) indicating when you have events throughout each day.
With a simple pull on the week ticker, you can swap out the week ticker for a monthly calendar view, making it easy to get an overview of any month and the day of the week a date lands on, etc. Each date on the calendar with events scheduled shows a dot (again, color coded to your calendars).
If you rotate your iPhone into landscape mode, then you get a week “block” view, similar to what you see in Calendar in OS X. This gives you a great visualization of how your time is blocked out over the next week while also seeing details for each day. From the block view, you can also drag and drop events to change the time and date.
Along with these three views, you also have the option to turn on a great dark theme for the vertical interface. It is clear that everything in Fantastical’s design was carefully considered and serves to improve the functionality of the app.
What makes Fantastical easy to use
Late last year, we took a little poll on Twitter regarding people’s calendar use on their iPhones. The results are not scientifically conclusive, but they do provide some interesting data points.
In the poll, we asked people how many events they enter into their iPhone on a weekly basis. Of 179 total responses:
- 73% enter 1 or fewer events per day (130 people)
- 21% enter an average of 2 events per day (38 people)
- 6% enter an average of 3 events per day (10)
- Less than 1% enter 4 or more events per day (1)
So, 94-percent of the total respondents use their iPhone calendar app two or fewer times per day to enter in a new event, while most of those people actually use it once or less per day.
Of the majority who do not enter multiple events per day on the iPhone, we think it’s safe to assume they never become deeply familiar with the user interface of their calendar app. This unfamiliarity leads to friction when entering events, whether you know it or not, because your brain has to process and re-learn the interface every time you enter a new event.
What is an “interface” we are extremely familiar with? Natural language.
We say things like “Meet Joe for lunch tomorrow at 12:30” all the time. It’s called “natural language” for a reason — we say these sentences in our conversations, emails, text messages, etc.
A calendar app that can accept and parse natural language is one we can use as infrequently as we want without suffering the consequences of an unfamiliar input interface.
Fantastical has the best natural language input mechanics of any other calendar app, far and away. Not only is it fast and intelligent at parsing just about any event- or reminder-based sentence, but Fantastical has easy-to-understand animations that let us know how the app is translating our words.
As Dr. Drang pointed out, Fantastical’s animations do more than dazzle:
The animations are providing instant feedback on how Fantastical is parsing your words and, more important, they’re teaching you Fantastical’s syntax.
Natural language parsing makes it easy to switch between entering an event or a reminder. For a reminder, you simply start by typing “task,” “todo,” or “reminder.” You can also toggle a switch (if you prefer) that tells Fantastical you’re entering a reminder and not an event.
Some examples of natural language expressions you can enter:
Shopping at Giant Eagle Saturday at 8am: Fantastical will create an event called “Shopping” with location “Giant Eagle” and schedule it for this upcoming Saturday at 8 am.
Vacation in Canada Aug 9-15th: Fantastical will create an event called “Vacation” with location “Canada” and schedule it as an all-day event August 9-15th.
task pick up milk at 4:30pm: Fantastical will create a reminder called “pick up milk” and alert you at 4:30pm.
Meeting every Wednesday at 1:30pm repeat weekly alert 10 min: Fantastical will create a repeating event called “Meeting” scheduled to repeat every Wednesday at 1:30pm with an alert 10 minutes before the start time (rather than the default reminder in the app).
iOS 8 Greatness
Fantastical got a really nice update for iOS 8 users.
The app now comes with a Today view widget that can be used to replace the stock iOS Calendar widget. This means tapping an event will open it in Fantastical, making it easer than ever to ignore Apple’s app entirely.
If the Calendar options is enabled for the Today widget, it’s easy to jump ahead or back in time right from the Today view, without going into the app:
The extension that comes as part of Fantastical is crazy powerful. Instead of a bare-bone UI, the extension packs the app’s entire event creation UI behind the Extension button.
The most common use case for the widget is probably Safari. Tapping the extension will create a new event with the URL saved, but if you have any text highlighted, the extension will place that text in the event’s title field.
This is where the magic of Fantastical’s text parsing comes into play. If you’ve highlighted the date and time of an event, the extension will take that and build out the event. It’s a little weird to explain, but in practice, it makes creating an event from almost anywhere in iOS super fast.
Tips and Tricks
- Gently pull down on the day ticker or calendar to reveal the search box.
- Tap the month and year header to go to today’s date.
- Tap and hold the month and year header to go to a specific date.
- Fantastical has some great URL schemes and supports x-callback-url for those of you who want to automate adding events.
- When using Fantastical to add Reminders, there is an option for custom repeat intervals (something the iOS Reminders app doesn’t offer).
- Fantastical offers notifications of events and reminders. If you don’t want to get duplicate reminders, remember to turn off either the Calendar/Reminders notifications or the Fantastical notifications. In version 2.1, Fantastical added the ability to snooze reminders, making the Calendar reminders unnecessary. We suggest you stick with the Fantastical notifications.
- For the power users, Fantastical has keyboard shortcuts for external keyboards baked into the app. Check out the complete list in the Settings → Help → Tips and Tricks section.
- If you want to add a specific location to an event, tap the arrow in the Location field to search for locations that are in your Contacts list or nearby on the map. This is helpful if you need to specify which Chipotle you want to meet your friends at.
Who else is recommending Fantastical
Not only did Fantastical 2 win a Macworld Eddy, but it is also a favorite around the internet…
Our friends over at MacStories call Fantastical 2 “…useful and dependable, intuitive and powerful.”
Shawn Blanc named it “…the best calendar app on the iPhone. It was great before, but now, it’s, well, fantastic.”
9to5Mac touts that it is “the calendar Apple should have built… again”.
AppAdvice says “If you’ve been searching for the perfect calendar companion for your iOS 7 device, then look no further.”
TUAW finds it so useful they would pay more than the list price: “Buy Fantastical 2 — it will make dealing with appointments, calendars and reminders so much easier it’s worth far more than what they are charging for it.”
One of the biggest selling point of Calendars 5 over Fantastical 2 is that the former is a universal app. If it’s important for you to work with the same interface across your iPhone and iPad, Calendars 5 is definitely worth your consideration. However, iCloud syncing allows you to easily use Fantastical 2 on your iPhone and Calendars 5 on your iPad (or just about any combination of calendar apps).
Calendars 5 has several great view options: List view, day view, week view, and month view. Getting to these different views, however, requires a few taps and can be tedious.
With its own integrated task manager (which can sync with iCloud Reminders) and the ability to sync with Google Calendar on its own, Calendars 5 can stand alone from the iOS native Calendar and Reminders if you want it to.
Calendars 5 also offers some nice gestures, including a horizontal swipe to change between the day/week/month/or year in view, as well as drag and drop to move events around. Drag and drop is a handy feature for easily changing the time or date of events — just tap, hold, and drag.
The list view offers a unique “timeline” type list with icons on the left-hand side illustrating what type of event or reminder each item is. On the iPad, this is accompanied by a block calendar view on the right, which is a unique view to Calendars 5. The week and month views also show your events in block view, which we find useful for visualizing time in the day. The year view provides a great overview, with color coding of each date for how busy you are.
For entering events, Calendars 5 also offers natural language parsing. However, it is missing the visual cues of Fantastical. While you do see an animation when parsing is happening, it doesn’t quite have the impact of the Fantastical animations.
A recent update to Calendars 5 makes it easier than ever to invite people or add locations to events. Using the same natural language parsing, the app suggests that you invite people that you mention and also looks up locations that you can add to the event. For example, if you type “Coffee with Joe at Starbucks at 2,” Calendars will suggest that you invite Joe to the event and will also show you a list of local Starbucks shops.
Though we’re focusing on iPhone here, we think Calendars 5 is one of, if not the, best iPad calendar app.
Agenda Calendar 4
The core of Agenda is its fast gesture-based navigation. This navigation style makes it easy to quickly get between the different calendar views.
Agenda’s “left-most” calendar view shows a traditional calendar view with visibility into 6 months at a time. The “center” view is a one-month calendar view with a list underneath showing today’s events. The right-most view is a running list of all your events in chronological order, with dividers separating each day.
Several of us here at The Sweet Setup all prefer the right-most pane in Agenda — the running list. At a glance, I can usually see a quick overview of what I’ve got going on today, tomorrow, and maybe even the next day. And I can quickly scroll down the list to see future events, or scroll up the list to see past events.
But, when setting up an appointment, my visual-thinking brain usually wants to see on a traditional calendar which day of the week a date lands. This is why I love that I can quickly swipe over to the month view and see a particular date, or range of dates, in context to the week and month they’re in.
Agenda gives you 4 options for creating new events:
- The “Agenda Mini” pane lets you type in the name of an event and then quickly select a start and stop time.
- The Agenda expanded pane lets you pick different alarm times, add notes, adjust which calendar the event belongs to, and more.
- The default iOS event entry card.
- And a text box in which you can type natural language and then send to Fantastical. Using URL-schemes, your text is opened in Fantastical where you can adjust it if needed. Once the event is added you’re sent back to Agenda.
The “Agenda Mini” pane for creating a new event is excellent. Since almost all of my events exist on just one calendar, and a default alarm of 15-minutes works well for me, this quick-entry pane is a breeze to use. However, for the majority of people who enter less than one new event a day, learning this interface can add friction to the workflow. While this can be solved by sending a natural language event to be parsed by Fantastical, this is a clunky solution.
Another type of calendar app altogether
Shifts makes managing an irregular work schedule easy by creating shift types that you can easily apply to your calendar. Once you create the shift types, inputing your schedule is quick and simple.
At first, it was tedious to add all the shift types, especially if you have a crazy schedule. For shifts that start in varying 30 min increments, we had to create individual types, each with a colored icon. It felt like a lot of taps.
Once the shift types were entered, however, inputing our schedule was quick and easy. You simply select the shift type and stamp it on the applicable days. It took a minute to get used to the input method, but we liked it in the end.
You can view your schedule in calendar or list mode and add notes to any day. Opening at Starbucks on Monday, class on Tuesday, and it’s all customized and color-coded. You can have multiple shift types in one day, you can even apply rotations for regular shift types like class.
Our favorite feature is importing existing calendars. Once you give Shifts permission, it will add calendars from Apple’s Calendar app so you can view the schedules side by side.
Keep in mind that Shifts will require some initial commitment before you start to see its genius. We love the customization and color-coding, and when we saw that it could display events from other calendars, we were sold.
Because of it’s extremely narrow scope, Shifts doesn’t really content with Fantastical as our favorite calendar app for the iPhone (but Shifts isn’t trying to take that spot). It’s an app that, as they say, does one thing very well.
Other apps we tried:
Native iOS Calendar also offers day, week (horizontal, or as a running list in vertical mode), and month views. The flat iOS 7 design makes it hard to read and the app lacks gestures and natural language processing.
Logacal offers a unique way of looking at your calendars. By displaying time in a logarithmic format, it displays your calendars in a list view, starting with “Today” and “Tomorrow” and then moving to “Upcoming Days,” “Upcoming Weeks,” and “Upcoming Months.”
Horizon displays the weather along with each of your calendar events. In the list view, you can see the high and low for the day along with a pictogram of the weather. In the day view, you can see the temperature and a pictogram for each of your events (based on time and location).
Mynd offers a unique dashboard interface to your calendar and also seems to be inspired by Google now. Mynd also has a cool feature where it will notify you in advance of an event that it’s time to leave (assuming Mynd knows where your event is located).
Popcal has a swipe-based interface and a unique event entry panel, but isn’t much better than the native Calendar app.
QuickCal offers good natural language processing but does not have an appealing user interface.
Fantastical 2 is our pick for the best iPhone calendar app. A great design, great views of your calendar events, and superior natural language parsing for event and reminder entry keeps this app on our home screens.