Review: Fantastical 2 for Mac

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The sequel to the popular language-parsing calendar utility for the Mac has arrived and it’s everything you’ve been hoping for! Much more than a major new update, Fantastical 2 for Mac is a whole new app that feels instantly familiar while offering productivity-boosting improvements.

In addition to the revamped appearance optimized for OS X Yosemite’s look and feel, Fantastical 2 is now a proper replacement for Apple’s stock Calendar and Reminders apps.

Fantastical 2 has its own full-blown window and gorgeous full-screen mode while its menu bar thing can now be detached and dragged anywhere on the screen. The software is packed to the gills with a bevy of new features like iCloud Reminders and time zone support, light/dark theme, birthday reminders, a more powerful and friendlier natural language parser and more.

As a whole, the app feels tighter and more streamlined. Developer Flexibits was kind enough to put me on its limited list of beta testers, this is what I was able to gather from my weeklong hands-on time with the software.

Setting up Fantastical

Upon first launch, Fantastical will take you through a simple setup process during which you’ll add calendar services and authorize it to access calendars, reminders, contacts and locations on your Mac.

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Don’t worry, you can change this later in the Privacy section of System Preferences.

The app needs access to your contacts to manage event invitations and show your birthdays and anniversaries, should you choose so. As for location access, Fantastical 2 uses your geographical coordinates to search for locations when creating events and reminders and to send you alerts on geofenced reminders.

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And thanks to its entirely new sync engine with full native CalDAV support, you can now connect your Mac directly to calendar services like iCloud, Google and Yahoo.

Design: light and dark

Fantastical 2 has been designed exclusively for OS X Yosemite and it shows in every pixel and interaction. I can’t describe how user friendlier the app is now that it’s been windowed (previously, Fantastical was basically a menu bar app).

Here’s Fantastical 2’s dark theme.

Fantastical 2 for OS X Day View Mac screenshot

And here’s the light theme.

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I prefer the more subdued dark look so I’ll be using a dark-themed Fantastical for all my screenshots going forward. Not only does Fantastical have its own window, you can also enjoy it in OS X’s native full screen mode by hitting the green dot in the window’s upper left corner.

Here’s what Fantastical 2 looks like in full screen.

Fantastical 2 for Mac full screen

As you can see for yourself, the two-pane window dedicates the left column to your event and reminder list which scrolls infinitely as you drag two fingers across your Mac’s trackpad. This column is fixed width and cannot be resized.

The remainder of the window’s real estate is dedicated to the Day, Week, Month and Year view of your calendar. The nice thing about Fantastical 2’s windowed appearance is how your main calendar view gets automatically resized as you drag window corners around.

Fantastical 2 for OS X Month View Mac screenshot

Your search field always sits in the top right corner, right where it should be. In the left corner is the Today button that takes you to the current day. On its sides are left and right arrow icons which can be clicked to advance or get back one day at a time.

To go to a specific day, choose Go To Date in the View menu.

Overall, the app’s reimagined interface does an impressive job decluttering what’s always been a mess: dozens of reminders that need responding to, calendar events that need managing, alerts that need to be snoozed and what not.

Fantastical 2 for OS X Week View Mac screenshot

Those who have doubts regarding Fantastical’s facelift needn’t worry: its revamped interface is a prime example of how focused apps should be designed. The interface in Fantastical 2 is inviting and self-explanatory, meaning you’ll be creating, viewing and searching your events and reminders like there’s no tomorrow.

Better natural language parser

One of Fantastical’s headline features has got to be its powerful and flexible natural language parsing. Now updated in Fantastical 2 to be even more friendly and flexible, it lets you enter event or reminder details in your own style.

Although the parsing engine in the previous version was capable of analyzing complex sentences, it’s been improved in Fantastical 2 allowing it to understand expressive repeating events, like third Monday of every month, every weekend, last weekday of the month and more.

It’s smart enough to detect the entered language regardless of your choices set under the Language & Region section of the Mac’s System Preferences app.

Like before, Fantastical 2 uses OS X’s Dictation feature so you can create events or reminders by speaking a sentence. Just hit the plus sign in the left column or the text entry field in the mini window and the press the Fn key on the keyboard twice.

Up comes the Dictation icon. Now simply say something like “remind me to pick up laundry at 2pm”.

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Speaking of reminders, you could also create them by typing or speaking aloud sentences like “todo Pick up dry cleaning on Friday”. Fantastical’s natural language processing determines what you want and creates a dated reminder in your list, ready to check off when the time is right. You can alternatively start your sentences with words such as “reminder,” “task“ or “remind me to”.

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Next, Fantastical 2 allows you to create alerts by suffixing your natural language input with phrases like “remind me tomorrow at 3pm”, ”alert one hour before”, “alarm 7am” and so forth. Case in point: create an alert quickly by saying something along the lines of “meeting 3PM alert 1 hour”.

Sentences like “Lunch with Sebastien at 123 Main Street on Friday” also pose no problem for Fantastical: the app will understand what you want, create an event based on your input and add it to your calendar.

Introducing calendar sets

Fantastical 2 includes a plethora of new features and improvements.

Among them are calendar sets. Now, if you’ve ever found the information overload in your calendar a bit overwhelming, calendar sets are here to take the pain out of managing multiple calendars and reminder lists.

Your calendar sets are available in a drop-down menu accessible upon clicking the  “My Calendar Set” option at the bottom of Fantastical’s window.

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Here you can quickly switch between your previously created calendar sets with a click of a mouse. Each set consists of visible calendars that show up in the main view and hidden ones which remain invisible.

Automating things further, devs have implemented the ability to automatically activate specific calendar sets when you arrive or leave a specified location. Having multiple sets is a great way to bring order to your messy calendars.

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You could, for instance, create sets which exclude personal calendars and automatically kick into action when you arrive at work. Another set might hide business calendars when you arrive home. To define your own sets, choose Manage Calendars in the menu or hit the Calendars tab in Fantastical’s Preferences.

Enhanced events and reminders

Next, the app improves upon iCloud Reminders by bringing both your events and dated reminders in the main list. This is a lot nicer and way more organized approach to handling dated reminders and events than before.

As mentioned before, you can create reminders quickly by typing (or speaking) sentences beginning with ”todo,” “remind me to” or some such. The app supports dated or non-dated reminders, location based reminders and recurring events.

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Like before, creating a reminder involves choosing a headline and adding dates, times and optional location-based geofences (the “when I arrive” and “when I leave” options).

There are lots of little touches in Fantastical 2 that cannot be listed here. Repeating details can now be viewed and edited on existing events and reminders. Or, attendees and invite status can now be viewed and edited on existing events.

The more you use the app, the more little gems like these you’ll discover.

Detachable mini window

The app’s menu bar icon can finally be repositioned inside your Mac’s menu bar: just Command-click Fantastical 2’s menu bar icon to drag it around and position it between other icons sitting in your Mac’s menu bar.

Fantastical 2 for OS X Mini window Mac screenshot

Thankfully, you can now detach the app’s mini window from the menu bar by way of dragging. To dock the free-floating window to the menu bar again, just drag it close to your Mac’s menu bar area and it’ll automatically snap in place.

Today widget

Fantastical 2 now delivers native alerts straight to your Mac’s Notification Center via a handy Today widget. In order to activate it, first bring up the Notification Center by clicking the top right icon in the menu bar or swiping from the trackpad’s right edge to the left.

Now hit Today tab at the top and choose Edit at the bottom.

Fantastical 2 for OS X Today widget Mac screenshot

Finally, click the plus sign next to “Fantastical 2” from the list of available Today widgets and you’re good to go. As shown here, the widget displays upcoming events and reminders that can be checked off right in the Notification Center. The widget cannot display these items unless Fantastical 2 is running.

Share and Action extensions

For the first time, content can be sent to Fantastical without leaving the context of the app you’re in. Fantastical 2 supports Share sheet extensions and Actions, allowing you to accomplish more with less jumping back and forth between apps.

Say I’m on a webpage which advertises a wrestling event scheduled to continue tomorrow. I don’t want to miss this one so I’m going to create a reminder for it. All I have to do is select a text excerpt on the page, like “Class 3A action will pick up tomorrow at 9 a.m.” and choose “Add to Fantastical” from Safari’s Share menu.

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And just like that, up pops Fantastical’s mini window pre-populated with event data based on the selected text. I can edit my event further if I like, or hit the Add Event button and be done with it.

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And if you stumble upon an interesting story online, choosing “Add to Fantastical” from Safari’s Share menu will automatically create a new event in Fantastical with the event URL set to the article URL.

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To manage Share and Action extensions and Today widgets on your Mac, open the Extensions pane in System Preferences. You’d typically want to enable Fantastical under the Actions, Share Menu and Today sections, as show above.

Final thoughts

Fantastical came out four years ago.

Since then, it’s seen several major updates that have greatly expanded its functionality, making it the best-selling calendar app on both iOS and OS X.

With its full window, native full screen mode, powerful natural language event and reminder creation, calendar sets and other features, Fantastical 2 has without a doubt raised the ladder of both professional and consumer calendaring.

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“When Fantastical came out four years ago, our goal was to reinvent the calendar app to ease the frustrations of using calendars,” said Michael Simmons, CEO and President of Flexibits. “With Fantastical 2, we challenged ourselves to reinvent Fantastical itself.”

And they certainly did reinvent it.

“So far so good, but the app’s overpriced,” I hear you say.

Well, as the saying goes, price is what you pay, value is what you get. I understand that paying forty bucks for a Mac app may not resonate well with the iPhone generation raised in the 99-cent economy.

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But if you do use calendars, reminders and to-do lists to stay organized and find Apple’s stock apps lacking, Fantastical 2 will improve your productivity vastly by bringing all these things together into a unified, highly functional view.

Fantastical 2 for Mac highlights:

  • Beautiful, all-new design exclusively for OS X Yosemite.
  • Entirely new sync engine with full CalDAV account support.
  • Full screen calendar window with many customization options.
  • Calendar sets: We’re very excited about this feature which lets you quickly toggle multiple calendars on or off.
  • OS X Yosemite Today Widget, Action Extension, and Share Extension.
  • OS X Yosemite Handoff support between Fantastical 2 for Mac, Fantastical 2 for iPhone, and Fantastical 2 for iPad.
  • The famous Fantastical infinite scrolling event and reminder list.
  • Japanese natural language parser support.
  • Multiple parser improvements including improved repeating event and reminder support, the ability to add alerts (like “Meeting 3PM alert 1 hour”), full time zone support, and many other improvements.
  • Repeating details can now be viewed and edited on existing events and reminders.
  • Attendees and invite status can now be viewed and edited on existing events.
  • Improved iCloud reminders support including a focused reminders list and support for location-based reminders.
  • The mini window (formerly known as the menu bar window) can now be detached/dragged away from the menu bar icon.
  • Go to date.
  • Highlighted weekends.
  • Fantastical 2 notifications (with snooze) for events and reminders when the app is open.
  • The current date is shown on the app icon in the Dock when the app is open.
  • Full time zone support including floating time zone support.

The app is fully localized in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and for the first time in Japanese. For those wondering, Apple’s Handoff technology is fully supported to provide continuity between Fantastical 2 for Mac, Fantastical 2 for iPhone and Fantastical 2 for iPad.

Fantastical 2 for OS X Year View Mac screenshot

Fantastical 2 is a completely separate app from Fantastical 1 so those of you who already own a previous version will need to buy Fantastical 2.

For new users, Fantatical 2 is available at a limited-time launch sale price of $39.99 in the Mac App Store (the standard price will be $49.99).

The app requires OS X Yosemite 10.10 or later.

Buy Fantastical 2 for $39.99 in the Mac App Store.