iOS Text Editors and Big Data

April 03, 2012 by Gabe | [mmd] |

This post is only going to be interesting to someone that lives in plain text. More specifically, someone that creates and maintains a large number of plain text files.

I killed Simplenote awhile ago. They're working on a fix for the problem, but in the meantime I had the "opportunity" to look for Dropbox-centric options. There were few apps that could handle a large collection of notes.

Requirements

I have some minimum requirements for an iOS text editor. Luckily, Brett made it easy to figure out what apps to focus on. I already owned all the apps that met my requirements, so it was easy to reinstall and test.

My core requirements for a new writing app are as follows.

  • Dropbox support (obviously)
  • Semi-automatic sync with Dropbox. I don't want to remember to tap a sync button.
  • Global search across all notes and text
  • TextExpander Support
  • iPhone and iPad version available
  • User defined notes folder in Dropbox
  • Optional: custom keyboard row

The Apps

Only a few apps passed the initial test of syncing my collection of notes. Here are the finalists.

Rather than call out apps that failed, I'll say that I tested every app from Brett's list that satisfied my core requirements. Only the above apps did not crash while using the app with a large collection of notes.

Recommendations

I was pretty happy with all three apps. I've used Nebulous Notes for awhile but both Notesy and WriteRoom could easily replace it. The search in WriteRoom is particularly good.

As Ryan on Twitter pointed out, WriteRoom supports TextExpander in the search field.

I'm not a fan of the grotesquely large margins in WriteRoom, but it's an overall great app that I had lost track of. I tried to use it many moons ago but it did not support Dropbox back then so I deleted it and moved on.

WriteRoom

WriteRoom also provides a customizable keyboard row. It's not as sophisticated as Nebulous Notes, but it it's a nice option, especially for the common Markdown characters.

Notesy is also superb and thankfully provides an option to use narrow margins. The global search in Notesy has an additional option to narrow result to only notes modified in the last week. This is a welcome option when dealing with hundreds of notes.

Notesy

Notesy does not provide the additional keyboard row for entering Markdown, but neither did Simplenote.

My faithful Nebulous Notes is showing some deficiencies when compared to Notesy and WriteRoom. In particular, Nebulous does not offer a global search function. It wins out for overall writing experience though.

Writing Modes

I use NVAlt on my Mac. It's my goto application for quick note creation and locating old notes. But when I sit down to write a long post, I generally work in BBEdit.

On iOS, I have a similar workflow. I've used Simplenote for quick note creation and locating previous notes. When I want to do long form writing I work in Nebulous Notes.

If I ever need to replace Simplenote, cough, I would likely choose either Notesy or WriteRoom. Both apps provide quick search and excellent tools for creating short notes. Importantly, neither app has crashed on my rather large collection of notes.

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