capsule review

QuickCal makes it easy to add to and view your calendars

At a Glance
  • Smelly Puppy QuickCal 3.0.2

    Macworld Rating

Earlier this year, I reviewed Fantastical 1.0, an outstanding menu-bar-based calendaring program that for many people could take the place of a full-fledged app such as iCal. I followed that up earlier this week with a review of Fantastical 1.1, a significant update that added some key missing features.

Each of those reviews prompted a good number of Macworld readers to respond, via email and our forums, by praising Smelly Puppy’s $3 QuickCal (Mac App Store link). The gist of those comments can be summed up as, “QuickCal does the same thing and is cheaper!” While that claim isn’t quite accurate, as you’ll see shortly, QuickCal is nevertheless a nifty iCal add-on that I’d been planning to cover as a Mac Gem.

Like Fantastical, QuickCal lives in your menu bar, with its icon displaying the current date. Click that icon, and you see a list of upcoming events and their times, organized by date. You choose, in QuickCal’s preferences, which calendars (iCal or Google Calendar) appear in the menu, as well has how many days’ worth of events (up to seven); you can also choose to have each calendar’s color displayed, in the form of a small circle, next to each event. It’s a convenient way to get a quick look at your schedule for the next few days, although the menu is narrow enough that longer event names are often cut off.

To view more info about an event, hover the cursor over that event; after a second or two, a tooltip (a floating text box) appears to display the event’s location, notes, and the like. However, unlike with Fantastical, you can’t edit or delete events from within QuickCal—selecting an event in the menu opens the event for editing in your default calendar program (for iCal- or BusyCal-hosted calendars) or in Google Calendar in your browser (for Google Calendar calendars configured from within QuickCal).

QuickCal’s other Fantastical-like feature is that it lets you quickly create calendar events using natural language, similar to iCal in Lion (Mac OS X 10.7). Choose New Event from QuickCal’s menu (or press your preferred new-event keyboard shortcut), and an attractive new-event window appears on the screen. Type a description of the event, such as Macworld Staff Meeting Friday 10a in Rm500, and QuickCal parses that text to figure out the details of the event—in this case, an event called Macworld Staff Meeting that will take place next Friday at 10am in Rm500. You see QuickCal’s interpretation of your description right there in the event window, letting you make sure it's getting the details right.

In my testing, QuickCal’s natural-language interpretation is good, although it’s not quite as good as Fantastical’s. For example, if I type Rm500, Fantastical figures out that Rm500 is a location; with QuickCal, I must remember to type in Rm500. I also had trouble getting QuickCal to create events in calendars other than my default calendar. The developer claims you can simply type part of a calendar name in the event-entry box, but in my experience, QuickCal often instead uses that text as part of the event name, location, or other field.

Assuming QuickCal correctly interprets your event description, you just press Return to immediately create the event. Alternatively, press Command-Return to create the event and open it in your preferred calendar program. The latter option is nice if you want to perform another task in your full calendar program, but it’s also useful if you need to add a note to your event—you can’t add notes from within QuickCal.

Similarly, unless you use Google Calendar calendars—and sign in to your Google Calendar account from within QuickCal, not within iCal or BusyCal—QuickCal doesn’t sync your events directly with your Internet-hosted calendars. It instead uses iCal to perform this task, which means iCal must be running when you create new tasks (or at least must be launched sometime afterward to sync). I found this to be the case even if I set BusyCal as my preferred calendar program—I still had to keep iCal running for QuickCal-created events and tasks to appear in BusyCal.

QuickCal does have a few features you won’t find in Fantastical. My favorite is that when creating a new event, if that event would conflict (overlap) with an existing event in any of your calendars, QuickCal displays an alert in the event-creation box and turns the Create Event button from green to red. Another is that while both programs can automatically set alerts for new events, QuickCal can create additional reminders for events further into the future. For example, you can configure QuickCal so that all events get a one-hour-before reminder, but events more than a week away also get a day-before reminder, and events more than a month away also get a one-week-before reminder. (QuickCal’s alarms are simple notifications. It doesn’t support iCal's other types of alerts, such as sending an email, running an AppleScript, or opening a file.)

QuickCal’s biggest advantage, for some people, is that it supports viewing and creating tasks. Type todo at the beginning of an event description, and QuickCal creates a new task instead of a calendar event, complete with a due date if you specify one. Tasks you add to your calendar (either using QuickCal or within your normal calendar program) appear at the bottom of QuickCal’s menu.

That said, besides the Fantastical advantages I mentioned above, Fantastical displays a full, browsable calendar; lets you view events for any date; lets you search your calendars; lets you create notes for events and edit events directly; syncs directly to any CalDAV calendar; works with Entourage and Outlook calendars; can remain onscreen while you work in other programs; lets you invite people to events using your Address Book contacts; and supports AppleScript and OS X’s services.

In other words, while QuickCal and Fantastical share a few similar features, they’re different programs with different goals, and it’s probably not fair to either program to compare the two. Fantastical is a full-featured calendar program that for many people can take the place of iCal. QuickCal is an add-on to iCal for quickly creating events and for viewing a few days’ worth of your upcoming schedule.

And that’s not a criticism of QuickCal. If you’re satisfied with iCal overall—or if you simply aren’t dissatisfied with it enough to purchase another program to handle your schedule—QuickCal is a nice add-on that makes it easier to create events and to get an overview of your upcoming schedule.

(Though QuickCal is a $3 purchase from the Mac App Store, the developer offers a 14-day-trial version you can download directly.)

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At a Glance
  • Smelly Puppy QuickCal 3.0.2

    Macworld Rating
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