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In Search Of The Perfect iOS Text App – The ‘Book Mystique

No, I haven’t discovered the perfect iOS text app, but I’ve found some pretty good ones. I actually use about a half dozen different text tools on my iPad on a regular basis – all of them plain text editors or notepads. I haven’t had much need for full featured word processors for about a decade now on either Mac or iPad, and much prefer the lean feature set, speed, nimbleness, and solidity of plain text editors — or in the case of Tex Edit Plus, my longtime mainstay text cruncher on OS X — a styled text editor.

However, this column is about working with text on the iOS, version of TE+, or for that matter any version crossover at all between OS X and iOS text, editor apps. On the iOS no single app has proved to be the preemptive solution, but the one that comes closest as “anchor” text app for my purposes is Hog Bay Software’s PlainText.

PlainText – Basic Anchor Text App

iOS: PlainText is a free (ad-supported) Dropbox-synchronized text editor for iOS with a clean and attractive simple paper-like interface. It is intentionally minimalist, with no non-basic text editing tools or feature, but rather focuses on doing the basic things it does really well. PlainText is one of the slickest iOS apps in which to create new text documents, or subfolders, which is executed at the tap of a button. However its marquee feature besides simplicity is effortless and transparent DropBox backup and synchronization support.

Any document you create in PlainText once you configure DropBox linkage is automatically and instantly saved to your DropBox folder, from which it can be opened in the OS X Finder or any of a growing retinue of DropBox-savvy iOS apps. DropBox basic 2 GB capacity accounts are free, and it works the way iCloud should’ve but doesn’t, and does so cross-platform, supporting back to OS X 10.4 Tiger on the Mac, and iOS 4.0+ and up on iDevices.

As its name implies, PlainText supports only plain text files, and can only open documents saved in the plain text format with the .txt suffix appended to their file system filename. That limitation does inhibit PlainText’s versatility somewhat, but for working with plain text files on the iOS, it’s an indispensable solution.

PlainText supports a full screen viewing mode if that grabs you. I don’t care for full screen, and keep the lefthand file database window open all the time. If the streamed ads, which I don’t find obtrusive, offend you, paying a one-time $4.99 license fee will banish them. PlainText also offers direct TextExpander support.

You can watch a demo video here:
http://plaintext.ios.s3.amazonaws.com/PlainText-1.0.mov

App Store: PlainText

For more information, visit:
http://www.hogbaysoftware.com/products/plaintext

TextKraft – German Precision And Deep Feature Set (Also Schreibkraft And Easy Writer)

For actual full-featured creation and editing of text, the most comprehensive and full-featured solution in our pantheon of iOS text apps is German developer Infovole’s TextKraft. Infovole calls TextKraft a “text processor,” which is descriptively accurate, since its feature set brings it up to near word processor levels, but not quite, and that qualification is a good thing, because TexKraft remains light on its feet in true text editor style.

My favorite Textkraft features are a dedicated key with which Upper and lower case and word capitalization can be switched by keystroke, a Forward Delete key, and Dropbox support.

Textkraft’s deep feature set also includes:
• Work on up to 5 documents at once and switch among them with the touch of a button.
• work: Resume exactly where you let off
• correct: Built-in dictionary, all suggestions at a glance. With the Spell-Aid button you can jump to the next unknown word.
• get information: Similar words, synonyms, potential follow-ups.
• research: Wikipedia full text research and several online dictionaries included.
• Dynamic and sensitive spelling aid. No looking up and no interruption within the writing flow.
• Built-in full-text search with smart search/replace SASR. Case sensitivity retains when you replace a word.

• Print dialog with WYSIWYG preview: Customize font size, number of pages and print options before printing (as from iOS 5).
• The bracket button places quotation marks, brackets and other combinations around a sentence.
• Cursor keys better than on a real keyboard. 8 keys with 10 functions.
• Quick selection-markers for word, sentence and paragraph with much less finger-movement hassle.
• Undo/Redo- and history-function for testing various phrasings.
• Wide range of text information, such as page and word count, as well as file size.
• Standard iPad auto correction can be disabled.
• Reading mode prevents accidental keyboard entries.
• All missing special characters and symbols directly accessible
• A unique print dialog on the iPad including WYSIWYG preview that allows to customize font size, number of pages and print options before printing.
• Texts can be saved and shared as PDF
• In the font-size menu users can change the font size and line spacing. They can also choose between 6 color themes and 10 font faces.
• With the keyboard extension 36 special characters and symbols that are missing on the iPad are quickly accessible. The bracket button places quotation marks, brackets and other combinations around a sentence or text selection.
• Besides Twitter, email texts can be shared via iMessage.

The font menu is cool. At the top is a point size slider, with three line – spacing buttons immediately below.

There are also six color theme choices; normal (black on white), Sepia (my personal fave), “Night” (white on black), “Retro” (green DOS-style text on black), “Mint” (dark green on light green), and “Glamour” (two shades of magenta).
10 different fonts are supported, American Typewriter, Arial, Baskerville, Bradley Hand, Cochin, Courier, Helvetica, Palatino, Times New Roman, and Verdana.

The TextKraft search dialog supports regular search, find and replace, and you can specify case sensitive and entire word only search parameters.

In addition to Dropbox, Textkraft supports iCloud and iTunes file sharing, and it can be upgraded to open Microsoft Word-documents (DOCX/DOC) with Infovole’s $1.99 Word-2-Text, which converts Word documents into plain text. The converted text can be opened with Textkraft or any other text app for editing. (App Store: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/word-2-text-converter/id504814146?mt=8 )

In terms of word processing power and features, Textkraft remains pretty much the class of the field in text editors with word processor aspirations and it’s a a great value at $3.99. Like most German software, it has that precision and attention to detail that you find in Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW automobiles.

Textkraft24.jpg

System Requirements:
• Compatible with iPad
• Requires iOS 4.2 or later.

For more information, visit:
http://www.infovole.de/en/

App Store:
http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/textkraft/id470843464?mt=8

Schreibkraft And Easy Writer

Textkraft is actually the flagship of Infovole’s fleet of three word processors, that also includes the multilingual Schreibkraft which contains 14 dictionary languages and a mildly stripped-down version called Easy Writer. In terms of the core set of text editing tools, all three are quite similar. All three include the case/capitalization toggle and Forward Delete keys for example. However Textkraft has more advanced features and proofing capabilities that the other two don’t.

So why not just settle on Textkraft or one of its siblings for iOS text crunching? Well, excellent as they are, there are few reasons why the Infovole apps fall short of being a completely comprehensive do-all solution. The first is that their Dropbox synch. isn’t nearly as transparently automatic as it is with PlainText. You have to work with open and save dialogs in order to import or export to your Dropbox folder in the Cloud. That can be an advantage in some instances, such as when you want to edit or add to an existing document without altering the original draft. But it’s also a slowdown and added step both when opening from and and saving to Dropbox. In short, Textkraft, Schreibkraft, and Easy Writer are great once you’re working with a text document, but the in and out transitions are a bit cumbersome. Another shortcoming is stat like most iOS text editors, the Infovole apps can only recognize and open plain text documents with a .txt suffix appended to their file names.

Nebulous Notes iOS Text Editor – The Document Opener

Which brings me to yet another text editing program in my retinue of iOS production tools — Nebulous Notes. Available in both a free, ad-supported version and one with no ads for $4.99. The ad isn’t quite as unobtrusive as it is with, say, the free version of PlainText, but it’s not a big problem, and if you don’t like it, you can always pay the five bucks and banish it. Functionally, Nebulous Notes occupies middle ground between PlainText’s streamlined minimalism and Textkraft’s deep feature set.

Nebulous Notes is a reasonably richly-featured text editor, but its marquee attribute it that it can open text documents in Dropbox folders without that tedious .txt suffix, such as the thousands and thousands of Tex Edit Plus files I’ve created on my Macs over past nearly 20 years. For users like me who juggle work in progress between Macs and the iPad, that’s huge. A few Mac text apps (eg: TextWrangler) automatically add the suffix for you, but most don’t, and I often forget. Which makes Nebulous Notes’ happy capability to open such files anyway priceless.

Nebulous Notes also features an enhanced virtual keyboard with what the developers call a “Utility Bar” — a row of extra keys that help with input efficiency. Unfortunately, there’s no n-dash key, Forward Delete key, or capitalization/lower case keys, which I miss compared with the Infovole apps.

What Nebulous Notes’ attractive interface does include are a brightness slider, a WYSIWYG font menu and font size preferences (you can also adjust font size quickly with two-finger gestures), and a choice of text colors and background themes. There are also preferences for line-spacing, word-wrap cut-off, TextExpander integration if you have the TextExpander app installed, Notepad CRLF lines, automatic encoding, and Auto-sync.

As noted above, Nebulous Notes supports Dropbox integration, with a slick and flexible implementation. As noted above, I agree with Nebulous Notes’ developers that Dropbox is the the best back-up and Cloud sync. service in the world. A convenient file selection drawer on the left of the Nebulous Notes interface allows you to switch back and forth between locally-stored and Dropbox-stored lists with a tap. Nice.

Also very cool are a markup preview and HTML export features. The latter are not up to my AppleScript-enhanced Tex-Edit Plus in OS X, or BBEdit, but still nice to have. Email export is also supported, as is a simple word count monitor, and there is a search engine for searching local files.

If you like a full screen text field, that is supported as well (with the ad if you’re using the ad-supported version). Fullscreen is not my cup of tea. I prefer immediate access to the toolbar and documents menu, and don’t find a relatively busy screen ‘distracting,’ but you have a choice.

Nebulous Notes Features:
• Open and edit all plain-text files (.txt, .md, .c, etc.)
• Preview files in HTML, MarkDown
• Supports saving and opening in all file encodings (useful for international users)
• VoiceOver hints
• Print documents using AirPrint
• Supports TextExpander touch snippet expansion

Features Lacking In Competing Apps:
• Open files from ANY Dropbox folder
• Customizable themes
• Macro system lets you add frequently used keys to a toolbar (like { } [ ] = %, etc.).
• Macro system also has basic text-substitutions for convenient HTML tags
• Protect the app with a PIN
• Search for text with a document
• Customizable themes
• Full-screen support for “Writeroom” style editing
• ‚”Insert Tab” key (multi-line tabbing and un-tabbing supported)
• Turn off word-wrapping

System Requirements:
• Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad
• Requires iOS 4.3 or later.

Nebulous Notes sells for $3.99. An ad-supported‚ “Lite” version is also available here:
http://bit.ly/z2jIC1

Click here to download Nebulous Notes:
http://nebulousapps.net/

Something Different – scriptus

Up until recently Ii had been getting along reasonably successfully on the iPad using a tag team of PlainText, the Infovole apps, and Nebulous Notes, but I’ve discovered yet another text app that I’ve added to the mix, whose interface and feature set have won me over. A interesting thing is that Paulo Freitas’s scriptus is advertised as a notebook app rather than as a text editor, but actually is a a contender for one of the best iOS writing tools I’ve yet encountered overall, with an array of cool and innovative unmatched by many nominally full-featured iOS text editors.

scriptus lets you write both text notes and audio notes and features an extraordinarily attractive, simple and easy to use interface. Its functionality is largely controlled using gestures, but happily most of them are intuitively obvious.

scriptus also offers 22 appearance themes, with different background and text ColorSync. I’m partial to dark blue text with the default background theme, which pleasantly reminds me of lined binder paper. You can also Choose among all available iOS fonts.

However, scriptus’s biggest attraction for me is its row of hidable extra shortcut keys for text input, which function superbly. Each key contains five characters — either numbers or punctuation and markup symbols, , and are a vastly superior solution to the kludgy summoning an alternate keyboard layout to enter characters like numerics, n-dashes and parentheses. There is also a button to enter emoticons, if that appeals to you. Just tap for the button’s center character or swipe toward the desired peripheral one.

There’s also a handy Undo/Redo system, and you can Increase/Decrease text point size using your fingers (pinch gesture), and tap with two fingers to select blocks of text.

scriptus can also save audio notes even with the application in background, and its Autosave feature means you never need to manually save your notes;

scriptus supports note-synching with Dropbox, which I consider a non-negotiably essential feature for any serious text-crunching app these days. No iCloud, but I don’t use iCloud (too proprietary and locked down for my taste — so I don’t miss it. There are multiple ways to export your notes ( print , copy , email, text, TXT, PDF, Facebook, Twitter, Weibo, ‘open in’, Wi-Fi,iTunes), And you can also copy your scriptus notes to your computer via iTunes. or share notes over a local Wi-Fi HTTP server. scriptus supports all iPad screen orientations, and you can control the screen brightness without leaving the application There is word and character count at the tap of a toolbar icon.

Like the other iOS text crunchers profiled here, scriptus falls short of perfection, but its shortcomings are relatively minor on nature. Missing are case/capitalization and forward delete keys, and there’s a bug that inserts an extra first character when you hyphenate a word. scriptus is also an extreme fullscreen app that conceals even the iOS’s vestigial menu bar. I don’t like fullscreen app views, and I really mis being able to monitor what time it is, from the menubar clock, as wellas how much battery charge Is left, and the strength of my wireless signal.

However, scriptus sells for a very reasonable $0.99 on the App Store, and is worth every penny.

System requirements:
- Compatible with iPad
- Requires iOS 5.1 or later.

For more information, visit:
http://goo.gl/wyssc

In summary, if one could somehow combine scriptus’s appearance and slick extra key buttons, the Infovole trio’s case/capitalization and forward delete keys, Nebulous Notes’ happy facility of opening document files with no .txt name suffixes, and PlainText’s ease of note creation, retaining Dropbox synch. Across the board, and you might not yet have the perfect iOS text app., but you’d be a lot closer to that objective. For now, I’ll keep using them all as a complimentary suite of text tools.

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