Sunrise vs Fantastical: Which Glorified Calendar App for iOS Reigns Supreme?

George Tinari

There are so many different calendar apps in the iOS App Store that it’s difficult to make a decision on one, and it’s definitely hard to agree on which one is the best. The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that Apple’s default Calendar app is far from it.

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Event calendar, via Shutterstock.

Here we have two of the best known Calendar apps – some of the most highly recommended in the App Store. Fantastical got its start on the Mac as a simple menu bar app with natural language input for events. Sunrise, meanwhile, nabbed the spotlight on iOS for being one of the first beautifully designed apps for Google Calendar – but has since expanded support to iCloud and Exchange as well, on par with Fantastical.

Which one is the better all-around calendar app on iOS?

Both Apps Make Design a Top Priority

Not only are Fantastical and Sunrise gorgeously designed, but they’re arguably two of the best designed calendar apps in the App Store. It makes sense, since apart from the different color schemes, they actually look very similar to each other.

Fantastical and Sunrise are primarily list-based in that they list your calendar events rather than display them on a monthly grid, at least on the iPhone. You can also switch to a 3-day view on Sunrise by tapping the toggle on the top right, or a 6-day view on Fantastical if you turn your iPhone horizontally. For both, you can access Settings on the top left and create a new event on the top right.

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The similarities with design fade when it comes to the iPad version. Fantastical is more of an enlarged version of its iPhone counterpart just separated into columns to fill the display, but Sunrise takes better advantage of the iPad screen space with a full monthly grid of events and full week views as well.

Whichever app you choose – Fantastical or Sunrise – you won’t need to worry about poor design or even poor functionality as the two of them are pretty equally designed with love.

They generally make the same decisions regarding layout, but if there’s one that does slightly outshine the other, it’s Sunrise due to its better iPad optimization. Sunrise also uses its logo as the top as a clever toggle for viewing notifications and event invitations.

Sunrise Brings the Heat with Customization Options

Comparing features between Fantastical and Sunrise is difficult, not because they have the same features or same amount of them. It’s clear which one has more – Sunrise – but it all depends on just how much value you personally place on each feature.

Sunrise, quite simply, is for people who put a lot of time and care into crafting their schedules. These people don’t just add important meetings or lunches to their calendar, they want their entire lives laid out in front of them. There’s nothing wrong with that and in fact, that’s really what Sunrise caters to.

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Of course it supports multiple calendars for the various corners of your life as does Fantastical, but it also has Interesting Calendars in the settings which automatically adds events to Sunrise for various purposes. Some might be religious or other holidays, some might be sports events and television shows. You can browse through to select whatever is relevant to your life and it will automatically populate your calendar accordingly.

Sunrise also heavily integrates with a large list of other apps and services like Facebook, Twitter, Wunderlist, Todoist, Evernote, Eventbrite, LinkedIn and Foursquare – just to name a few. For instance, if your friends send you an invite to an event through Facebook, Sunrise will notify you and even allow you to RSVP within the app. If you accept it, the event automatically appears on your calendar.

Sunrise’s list of capabilities doesn’t end there. It can show you the weather and temperature for the morning, afternoon, and evening to help you plan each day. It even comes with its own iOS 8 keyboard called Meet, which allows you to instantly create events and set plans while you’re chatting with someone on the fly.

Now you might be asking, why should you even be considering Fantastical if Sunrise boasts all of these incredible features? Well, as previously stated, Sunrise is clearly for people who want the very most out of a calendar app without being overly complicated.

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Fantastical, however, is an app for people who want to be quickly in and out of their calendar. They want to quickly add events, quickly get a glance at their day and move on with their lives. The one area where Fantastical truly shines over Sunrise is with its natural language input for creating events.

Type in “Lunch with a friend, 1 tomorrow at Chili’s” and you have your event, time, date and location set instantly. No questions asked. It’s brilliant and saves huge amounts of time planning and setting everything up. Fantastical, for what its worth, generally integrates iOS Reminders ideally as well.

Cool Tip: There are even tricks that extend far beyond that, like typing in “Marketing class every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 12 to 2 until December 15th.” This sets up a repeating event based on the days and times you entered and will even end the event on December 15th, just as you typed. If you have multiple calendars, type a forward slash and the first letter of the name of that calendar to automatically place a new event there, e.g. “/c” for Classes.

For some, the fact that Sunrise doesn’t have quick, natural language input is a huge deal breaker because it truly does make adding events so much less complicated. From an objective point of view though, Sunrise gets the edge on overall features, power, and performance.

Fantastical Costs Money, Sunrise Does Not

Here we arrive at value. Which of these two apps delivers the absolute best bang for your buck? This is a pretty easy one. Fantastical costs $4.99 for the iPhone app and it’s not universal. If you want Fantastical for iPad, it’s another $9.99. That’s $15 total for both iOS apps.

Sunrise is free on the iPhone and iPad. That’s savings of 100 percent. It’s all the bang without the buck. Sunrise does occasionally display a small ad here and there, but they’re extremely unobtrusive and always involve something about Sunrise itself. It’s negligible.

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Just to widen the gap a bit further, let’s move to the desktop computer. Fantastical sells its Mac app for an astounding $39.99. Sunrise is still free.

Obviously Sunrise is the better value, but again it comes down to your priorities. You might be willing to spend money if it means quickly entering events and checking them at a glance. You wouldn’t be the only one to do so. Otherwise, there is no denying that Sunrise packs value without a price.

Winner: Sunrise

The gorgeous designs of Fantastical and Sunrise tied them both initially, but between sheer number of features and total value, Sunrise comes out the victor in this battle. It’s one of the best calendar apps you can find on iOS and being free is just the icing on the cake.

Fantastical users tend to be very loyal to the app, especially due to how smart it is with adding events. Sunrise often gets praise as well for being simultaneously free and powerful, a combination that’s typically harder to come by. So the decision is ultimately yours, but of the two, Sunrise is a more convincing recommendation.

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George Tinari

Written By

George Tinari

George Tinari has written about technology for over seven years: guides, how-tos, news, reviews and more. He's usually sitting in front of his laptop, eating, listening to music or singing along loudly to said music. You can also follow him on Twitter @gtinari if you need more complaints and sarcasm in your timeline.