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Best Text Editor for the iOS

by: Karl Johnson | Apr 28, 2011

 iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad allow users to create and edit files while on the go. These devices can be used to write down thoughts or make changes when the ideas hit as opposed to having to wait until back at the office or home.

A text editor must provide an easy way to to write down or edit thoughts as they happen. It must also have quick access to all the user's text files. Any barriers for the user and the editor could destroy the convenience of having it in the first place. These barriers could include a slow interface, buggy application, or too many buttons between the user and their text files. So lets look at the top four text editors for the iOS.

In order to build a successful text editor for the iOS, the developers must include a basic set of features, which include:

  • Syncing files between the device and a computer with Dropbox. Dropbox is simply the best way to keep files synced between multiple computers or devices. Without it, the barrier to access files becomes too large to make the application worth installing.
  • TextExpander support for automatic text entry. TextExpander replaces user defined key strokes with user created snippets or saved text. For text that is repeated regularly like name, address, time, or pieces of code, it is indispensable. TextExpander on the Mac can be used anywhere, but iOS developers must include it for their applications.
  • The application includes both an iPad version and an iPhone version. Without both versions, the developer eliminates not only users of one device but also users who use both. For those who have both an iPad and iPhone, using the same application is a must.
  • Other small features like email text, print text, and word counts.

 There are many text editors in the Apple App Store that include these features, but only four stand out as the best. They are Nebulous, Elements, SimpleNote, and Notesy. Let's look at each of these applications by comparing their strengths and weaknesses.

1. Nebulous Strengths:

  • The most distinctive feature for Nebulous is the macro bar. The macro bar places another line of user defined keys on top of the keyboard. This macro bar can include arrow keys, undo and redo keys, symbols, date, keystrokes, or any text the user frequently uses. This is the single biggest addition to the text editing interface and out of these four only Nebulous has it.
  • Markdown is used to turn plain text into HTML formatted text with a predefined set of text formats. These formats can be previewed in Markdown Preview. For example, a '**' before and after a group of text will bold the text in Markdown Preview or when converted in to HTML. Markdown allows users to create readable documents with formatting from plain text. You can read more about it here.
  • The interface can be customized with different fonts, font sizes, colors and background.
  • It can open any text file anywhere in the Dropbox folder. Most applications only look at one folder instead of the entire Dropbox directory.
  • While some applications sync automatically, Nebulous syncs manually. While this can sometimes be a negative, it eliminates errors in syncing and prevents unwanted data loss.

1. Nebulous Weaknesses:

  • While the other applications sync an entire text folder when the application opens, Nebulous can only sync one file at a time. This does create a small barrier in trying to find and open files the user wants.
  • Files can only be synced one at a time.
  • It does not include a search function for finding files like the other applications do.
  • It sorts files only by file name.

2. Elements Strengths:

  • Markdown Preview: Same as Nebulous
  • Elements can open text files from other applications like mail or GoodReader with the 'open with' command.
  • Search function for finding files
  • Files can be organized by name or modified date
  • Spell checking can be turned off or on
  • Folders and files can be created inside of the main elements folder.

2. Elements Weaknesses:

  • Elements automatic sync does not always sync new text files from Dropbox. Errors in syncing turn this feature from a strength to a major weakness.
  • Elements syncs with one folder inside Dropbox called Elements. This folder can not be moved or renamed.
  • No undo feature except through Dropbox history.

3. Simplenote Strengths:

  • Fast and reliable automatic syncing with their Simplenote servers
  • Text files can be tagged and sorted by tags.
  • Each text file has a history so the user can undo changes.
  • Files can be sorted by name, modified date, or created date.
  • Search function for finding files.
  • Files can be pinned to the top of the sort order.

3. Simplenote Weaknesses:

  • Simplenote requires an annual subscription of $20 for advanced features like Dropbox syncing.
  • No Markdown Preview
  • No Manual syncing

4. Notesy Strengths:

  • Reliable manual and automatic syncing.
  • Search function for finding files.
  • Files can be sorted by title, creation date, modified date, and reverse of all three.
  • Files can be previewed in list view.
  • Fix and variable width fonts with fast switching
  • Interface can be customized with different fonts, font sizes, colors and background.
  • Auto correction can be turned on or off
  • Text folder in Dropbox can be renamed
  • Can view any file that the iOS supports in Quick Look.
  • When Notesy becomes the active applications, it will update the current text file from Dropbox, which insures files stay in sync.
  • Best looking icon and that is everything.

4. Notesy Weaknesses:

  • No Markdown preview.
  • A macro bar would be a nice addition.

Simplenote was the first application to allow syncing between the iOS and Mac computers. Since then, it has been surpassed by other text editors that use Dropbox to sync files. While Simplenote can Sync with Dropbox, it requires a $20 subscription. Elements has several nice features, but it's syncing problems prevent it from being trust worthy, a deal breaker for a text editor. The two best Text Editors for the iOS are Nebulous ($1.99 in the App Store) and Notesy ($2.99 in the Ap Store) and each has it strengths and weaknesses. For users who usually only edit a few files, Nebulous is the best application with its awesome macro bar and markdown preview. When users start to collect a large number of text files, Nebulous' file finding and syncing weaknesses come forth. Notesy biggest strength is its finding and syncing features, which are the most important features for an iOS text editor. If the markdown preview and macro bar are not of interest, Notesy is the best text editor for the iOS.

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3 Comments

  1. James Katt ~ April 28, 2011 21:43

    The best text editor is Evernote, bar none. With it, you get automatic synching with all your iOS devices and Macs and PCs. #
  2. Karl Johnson ~ April 28, 2011 22:15

    I used Evernote for about a year. It was nice, but very slow at syncing. I also didn't like the export options as Everenote keeps everything as html documents with linked attachments. I switching back to pdfs and txts files in foldesr and I am now using Dropbox instead. The four text editors much better text editors and allow seamless editing with Textmate on the Mac, unlike Evernote. Dropbox does a better job of synching than Evernote too and three of the four editors provide much faster automatic synching than Evernote. So, no, Evernote is not the best text editor. #
  3. gloria alexander ~ October 17, 2012 16:37

    As a golden oldie who knows very little about computor technology i would like advice re buying an ipad 3. I want to use it mainly for emails and word processing. I do masses of writing and was considering the logitech keyboard you talk about. However, because I find the language of computors difficult I am having problems understanding what is best to edit/save and print on the pad. I need basic simple to use functions. I thought an ipad would do all that without having to add anything to it. Mmm! I thought it was simple but reading your research its all become a bit scary. (great info by the way even if its scared the bejeebers out of me!)clearly I need to be able to transfer material from my laptop and continue writing/edit/emails/search in the simple way I am used to. Can you help. Thanks Gloria #

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