iPad Writing Apps, A Follow Up

iPad Writing Apps, A Follow Up 3

My last iPad writing entry focused on Scrivener 2.0 and it’s ability to use Dropbox syncing, something that many iPad apps are starting to support as well (the apps need to support nested folders, at least one level’s worth for it to work with Scrivener easily). We as users are getting a number of options, and I’ve tried out a few: PlainText, Notebooks, and Elements. The other day I had decided to stick with Notebooks for the time being, but as so often is the case, I’ve changed my mind.

Notebooks

Notebooks has a lot of good features – accessible word and character counts (and other file info), easy navigation, the ability to move files around (I’m not sure I’d do that when syncing with Scrivener), font sizing and different fonts for displaying, a good search, a few other things. All good stuff. I think it’s a solid app. In it’s current form, it requires a manual syncing to have your edits write back to Dropbox, and it’s a slow process; from what I can tell, it goes through each file to decide what needs to be updated, and if you have dozens of files in Notebooks, you could easily take 30 seconds or more to perform a sync. As I like to do this occasionally to make sure my changes are recorded, this becomes a tad annoying. This behavior made me start looking at other apps again.

One other quick thing about Notebooks – if you want it on your iPad AND iPhone, you have to buy two different apps. At $8.99 for the iPad and $5.99 for the iPhone, it’s not the cheapest option around. I won’t complain about the price – it’s well worth the money – but the other apps below give you iPad and iPhone specific features in a single app.

Elements

I bought Elements today and it certainly has less features than Notebooks, but what it does, it does well – clean, easy writing, with Dropbox syncing. It gives you word, character, and line counts, the ability to email what you’ve been working on (Notebooks does this as well), a scratchpad (for notes on the file you’re working on), and sorting of your files either alphabetically or by modification date. It’s a slightly cleaner interface to me than Notebooks, though only by a matter of degrees; both apps are relatively clean and present the text well. What it does do well is syncing – if you modify a file, it gets synced back to Dropbox as you do it. There’s no slow delays, it just takes care of it, and you don’t have to think about it. This makes it stronger for me and how I’m working with these apps. And at $4.99 with both an iPhone and iPad version in one app, the price is good.

PlainText

I’ve had PlainText and I really enjoy the interface – it’s clean, spartan, and gets out of your way. It also does the Dropbox syncing (which is why I’m talking about it in the first place). It didn’t do word counts, which was a deal breaker for me, but that just changed. It’s word count feature is nice in one way: it doesn’t take up interface space because you don’t invoke it through a button but by clicking on text, and then it’s one option next to select, select all, etc. This does make it a two-click system (slower) but that’s minor. On the iPad, you can also toggle off the side panel (the file listing), but otherwise that’s about it. It’s clean, simple, and it’s interface really gets out of your way allowing you to focus on the task at hand. This is it’s biggest feature. It also does auto-syncing like Elements, and it happens quickly, without though (there’s settings for how and when it syncs).

Technically it’s a free app, but the iPhone version comes with small ads at the bottom. Considering that it’s biggest feature is it’s spartan interface, the ads are a bit of a slap, so I consider the app $.99, not free. What’s even more odd is that the ads only show up on the iPhone, not the iPad (though that could be because it requires iOS4, which the iPad doesn’t run yet). Either way, it is free, but if you use it on the iPhone, plan on paying $.99 – and I’d expect to see these ads show up on the iPad in the future.

Summary

Right now, I think I’ll be sticking with PlainText, though I’ll keep an eye on Elements and Notebooks. If Notebooks addresses the syncing speed issue, it’ll be a great option if you’re looking for more features, though I still wish it would come in a combo-app (iPhone+iPad in one). iA Writer is also looking interesting, though for now it doesn’t support subfolders or auto-sync, so it won’t work (at least easily) with Scrivener – a deal breaker right now.

One other thing to point out is that all of these apps create their own directories within your Dropbox folder; it’s a minor issue, but I’d like to be able to customize where my files go. Does it really matter? No, not really.

Writing on the iPad and iPhone gives us users another option for when inspiration hits; I find myself writing, editing, or compiling notes over lunch, while in bed, when I wake up in the middle of the night, or other times when I may not have my laptop nearby. I don’t write nearly as fast on either of these devices, but it’s really not too slow. And having the ability to sync to Scrivener just makes writing a seamless process, one that requires little thought to keep it all organized.

3 comments click to show
  • Thanks for the great review and follow-up. This gives me a good picture where to invest my coins and time and what to watch out for. Much appreciated!

  • Erin Hoffman says:

    Hi Jacob. Thanks very much for this. Just got an ipad2 and am looking for a partner app to connect to Scrivener. Very helpful.

    • Jacob Ruby says:

      I’m sure the landscape of apps has changed somewhat, but I will say I’m still very happy with PlainText. It’s just clean and gets out of your way. The nice thing is that most of these text apps are cheap enough to explore if you feel you want other features.

      Should you need help at all setting up the folder syncing, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll help you however I can.

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