Among the minimalist writing apps for iPad, two have come out on top: Hog Bay Software’s PlainText and Information Architects’ simply named Writer (an app which Om clearly enjoys). Both do basically the same thing: create plaintext files that sync to Dropbox. Their approaches to the writing itself are very different, however.
Writer will cost you $5.00, while PlainText is free. If cost is important, then you should definitely go with PlainText. But if you’re not concerned about dropping a little cash, read on.
As mentioned above, both apps use Dropbox sync, so you don’t have to go through the horror of copying files over with iTunes. I do like PlainText’s implementation better, though. It gives you more options to tell it when to sync, and tells you whether Dropbox is down or not. It also gives you the option to rename the folder it syncs to on your Dropbox, but you have to unlink your Dropbox account first. Writer, on the other hand, offers only the option to link to Dropbox. Folder names can’t be changed, and there’s no behavior customization available.
With PlainText, you can also use TextExpander, a third-party app that lets you define short abbreviations to expand into longer snippets, i.e., expanding “TTYL” as “talk to you later.” Writer doesn’t offer any text expansion support.
As far as the writing environments go, Writer provides a more focused experience. It uses a large monospace font called Nitti Light, which was created by Bold Monday specifically for the iPad, and is easy to read. Writer also has a “focus mode” that fades out everything except the current three lines. This does make it easier to focus on your writing, but you can’t scroll in this mode. You have to manually hit the cursor button on the software keyboard in order to move around the document, which is annoying.
PlainText also has a full-screen mode, but this mode only hides the sidebar and does little to make it easier to concentrate. PlainText also wastes a lot space on both sides of your document in landscape view, even in the full-screen editing mode.
Writer has the edge when it comes to the virtual keyboard. The default iOS keyboard has been extended with an extra bar above it that holds some common functions and punctuation:
In PlainText, it takes longer to get to punctuation since you have to flip back and forth between symbols and letters.
One of the more noticeable differences is that PlainText has a sidebar to access folders and documents, but Writer doesn’t. PlainText’s sidebar makes it easier to navigate around chapters or sections without having to press a button a bunch of times (anyone who uses Mail in portrait mode knows what I’m talking about). This makes it much easier to take notes, and indeed I’ve found myself using PlainText more than Writer for taking notes during my college courses.
Both apps give you the word count of a document, though Writer displays the number of words in the top bar of the screen, and PlainText shows it as a contextual menu with select and paste:
Writer also has offers an extra feature: reading time. It calculates the time it would take the average person to read the entire text in the top bar, and adds marks on the side of the display showing you the reading time up to where the cursor is.
Honestly, I think both apps are great. PlainText has better organization and Dropbox integration, but Writer has a more focused environment and better typography.
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