When it comes to software, five years between major releases can feel like an eternity. But that’s precisely how long it’s taken Flexibits to unleash a third version of popular macOS calendar app Fantastical, which is also available for iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch (and will be covered in a separate review).
Given there was already much to love about Fantastical 2, the logical question would be, “Is the third time a charm, or is this an unnecessary cash-grab sequel?” The answer ultimately depends on how you feel about paying a subscription for apps.
All together now
The big news with Fantastical 3 is that you no longer have to purchase separate versions for macOS, iPhone, and iPad. The previous business model was always frustrating and a little confusing, because how many people want to own a favorite app on only one platform?
Now there’s effectively a single app across four platforms, and basic features like adding or deleting events from accounts and receiving notifications are absolutely free. That includes Fantastical’s legendary natural language parser, which converts phrases like “Brunch with Aunt Marcia at 9:30AM next Tuesday at Scramblers” into new events with a single tap, and is now smarter with repeating events. Syncing data between devices requires signing up for a free Flexibits account, which helps eliminate issues like the occasional duplicate event from different services.
But unity comes at a price—in this case, $5 per month or $40 annually for a Premium subscription, required to unlock all features including full access to the mobile app. I think the cost is fair and totally worth it, but considering the previous standalone macOS app worked for five years on a one-time payment of $50, the cost of subscribing is sure to alienate some users.
The good news is that existing Fantastical 2 users won’t miss a beat. Simply install Fantastical 3 and the new app detects the previous version, unlocking everything you already own. For Mac users, that means having access to crucial features like full-screen view, but it’s also one heck of a bargain, because that initial investment will keep paying dividends like UI refinements and compatibility updates for years to come.
For those willing to hop aboard the Premium bandwagon, Fantastical includes plenty of new goodies worthy of the investment. A favorite is unlimited synced calendar sets. The ability to create calendars with only events and tasks from specific accounts and quickly switch between them has always been super convenient, but at long last, sets created on the Mac sync to mobile devices as well, and vice-versa. (Free users are limited to a single non-syncing calendar set.)
There’s a new way to subscribe to events called Interesting Calendars. Powered by SchedJoules, this feature makes it easy to search for items of interest across five categories: Holidays, Sports, Regular, TV, and Finance. Not being a fan of sports or the stock market, this feature wasn’t very handy in my case, but it’s a neat addition and hopefully more diverse content will be added over time.
Another new feature worthy of applause is AccuWeather forecast, which shows the expected high and low temperatures for the next 10 days (three in the free version), as well as an icon displaying any anticipated sun, clouds, rain, or snow. This is a feature competitors like BusyCal have had for a few years, but it’s great to see Fantastical finally catch up, even though the latter lacks niceties like moon phases.
From the beginning, Fantastical’s menubar app was a distinct advantage over rivals, so much so that one rarely needed to open the full user interface. In version 3.0, this mini-window is now entirely standalone. Tick the “run in background” option under Preferences > General and the menubar app will sync and show notifications in the background at all times, launching the main application only when using the full window.
Fantastical 3 also offers more comprehensive support for tasks and reminders, including those from iCloud, Todoist, and Google Tasks. Dated tasks appear grouped with events in the main lists, and you can create time-saving templates from existing tasks or events to quickly reuse in the future.
Last but certainly not least, Fantastical makes it easier than ever to collaborate with others. When scheduling a meeting, you can now propose multiple times so recipients can choose a date and time that fits their schedule—even if they don’t use the same app. Once everyone responds and is on the same page, an event will be added without the usual back and forth calls or emails. This alone makes it worth signing up for a free Flexibits account, which makes such forward-thinking features possible.
After embracing the subscription model, you won’t be able to live without Fantastical 3 for macOS, especially when the switch is a win-win for existing users.