WriteRight Review: A writer's text editor

I love writing with the iPad. In fact, right now I'm in the balcony with my iPad, bluetooth keyboard, and a cup of coffee writing this in WriteRight, an iOS text editor I've been using a great deal for a couple of months.

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The App Store has no shortage of writing apps. I should know. I have a bit of an obsession with them and have tried way too many over the years. I don't even want to think about how much I've spent on them.

To my mind, there are 2 types of text editors. First are notes apps, where I keep a lot of small notes like quick thoughts, reference material, lists, and other things I want to have easy access to. I don't do any "real" writing on these. The most important features are quick entry and robust search. Apple's Notes and Simplenote/NVAlt are good examples.

Second, and more important to me, are writing apps. These are where I do long form writing (as opposed to jotting down short notes). For these, the writing experience is key. Things like good organisation features, word count, markdown support, preview, and full-screen mode are crucial. And because I spend so much time in these, the user interface is a big factor. Of course, sync is essential for both types.

WriteRight is unmistakably a writing app.

It has all the features I expect from a writing app, and then some. It's a universal app that looks beautiful in both iPad and iPhone.

WriteRight Features

In using WriteRight, it became clear the developers thought about every feature from the point of view of a long form writer.

Many of the features in WriteRight give you a little bit more, or are slightly different than typical, in a way that favours your writing flow. For example:

  • Easily move through your document: Tap on the margins to move the cursor one character at a time. Long tap to move by word. Swipe up or down with two fingers to instantly go to the start or end of the document. And if it's a long piece, moving your finger along the margins activates fast scrolling.
  • Undo/Redo: Select the arrow icons next to the keyboard or just swipe with one finger. No more shaking the iPad like a caveman.
  • Change font size: You don't actually pick a size, you pinch in or out (like with a photo) to make the text larger or smaller. And it remembers your choice in the previews.
  • Search and Replace: I recently changed the name of a character in a short story and this was a huge time saver. Without it, I would've had to wait until I was back at the desktop or do it manually. Again, like a caveman. You can choose to make search/replace case sensitive, use whole words or even ignore accents.
  • iCloud and Dropbox: iCloud syncs files and folders between iPhone and iPad. With Dropbox, you can import a file and save back to Dropbox, but you can't choose a folder (or series of files) in Dropbox and keep them in sync (see "what's missing" below).
  • Markdown Support: WriteRight is built for Markdown. Like many writing apps, it includes an additional keyboard row with often used Markdown symbols for easy access. But they take it one step further with additional options via clever popups that make fast typing easy and enjoyable with the device's keyboard.

These are fine features that once you get used to them, they're difficult to live without.

However, the biggest value in WriteRight is in the following:

English and Spanish dictionaries

WriteRight includes a vast dictionary in both English and Spanish. The developers are the guys that do Word Magic dictionaries and translation software, so you know they're serious about this.

According to the help file in WriteRight, the dictionary includes:

  • In English: 345,000+ meanings, 275,000+ unique words and phrases, 1,708,000+ synonyms, 358,000+ antonyms, 165,000+ phrasals (verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs)

  • In Spanish: 282,000+ meanings, 242,000+ unique words and phrases, 1,280,000+ synonyms, 441,000+ antonyms, 148,000+ phrasals (verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs)

And they keep adding more. The latest update added 68,000+ new English words, 560,000+ new English synonyms, 29,000+ new Spanish words and 320,000+ new Spanish synonyms.

Linguistic Tools: Synonyms, Antonyms and Phraseology

Selecting a single word gives you synonyms, antonyms and of course, definitions. I don't know about you, but when I write on the Mac I keep the Dictionary open and I often command-tab back and forth to use the thesarous. With WriteRight, I have it right there in the iPad as well.

The best feature though, is phrase or expression change recommendations. Tapping on the cog icon activates it and little blue cogs appear throughout your text to indicate WriteRight has an alternative available. Tapping on these shows you the suggestions.

You can just tap on one and it'll replace your word or phrase with the selected one. What I found even more impressive is that WriteRight will recognise conjugated words, tense, person, and gender, and replace accordingly.

Previews

When you want to see your document in it's final stage, you can preview it with Markdown rendered. But WriteRight has three different preview options:

  • Continuous: Shows you your document in one long continuous page formatted with Helvetica Neue. This is what most other text editors do.
  • US Letter and A4: Shows you your document in actual pages (either the standard US Letter or the European A4) with page numbers using Georgia in size 12.
  • Manuscript L and A4: Shows you your document in pages using Times New Roman in size 12 with a spacing of 1.5 and margins studied to contain between 1800 and 2000 characters per page.

Export

The export options are comprehensive:

  • Copy: Text, Text with format, HTML Code, link to share documents in iCloud or Dropbox.
  • Send by mail: Text, Text with format, Attach Text, Attach HTML, Attach PDF, link to share (iCloud or Dropbox).
  • Printing document: Text, Text with format, selection of number of pages to print.
  • Open with: Any text editor that accepts .TXT and .MD formats.

What's missing

I really like WriteRight. However, there are a few things that are missing:

  • Dropbox sync: WriteRight can access your Dropbox account and import a file. It'll create a local copy which it'll save back to Dropbox when it has Internet connection. However, it doesn't really sync. You can't, for example, choose a folder to sync where WriteRight keeps a copy of all files locally. It's only one file at a time.
  • Font options: I'm a typography nerd. I'd like to be able to pick a different font for writing. Menlo is good, but it would be awesome if I could import my own like Daedalus Touch.
  • Text Expander support: Personally, I don't mind this one. I use Text Expander in notes apps, but not for creative writing. But I know many people need it.
  • Mac App: Full sync via iCloud with a WriteRight for Mac would be awesome. Currently, I use Ulysses III on the Mac for almost everything. The files I want to edit in WriteRight are saved in Dropbox and pulled from there.

For me, Dropbox sync is the big one. I'd love to keep a folder in sync between Ulysses III (or Scrivener) and WriteRight without relying on an Internet connection. I write a lot in coffee shops and when travelling and having access to all my text files is necessary.

The good news is the developer is aware of this and has told me they're working on it and should have full Dropbox sync in an update soon.

Conclusion

WriteRight is, as I said, a writer's app. The linguistics features are impressive and the fact that it's built for both English and Spanish is big for me since I write in both languages a lot. I'm a fan and it's earned a spot in my iPad home screen.

If you do a lot of creative writing you should check WriteRight out (website/App Store). It's available for iPhone and iPad and only US$2.99.

It might be the text editor you're looking for.

On keeping a "scratch file" for temporary stuff

Gabe at Macdrifter:

I keep a scratch file in my NVAlt library. I use it to keep random bits of information that I want to out live the clipboard. It’s not meant to be permanent just a stop-over to some other destination.

This is a great idea. I keep a TextEdit text file open throughout the day for this that I never save, but having a dedicated file in NVAlt sounds like a much better option.

In the post, he explains how to build a macro using Keyboard Maestro and a LaunchBar action for pasting info back and forth.

Byword Review - My favourite text editor

I'll start my Byword review by stating that Byword is a beautiful app and has become one of my favourite apps overall. It's awesome.

Why Byword?

But why go for Byword when TextEdit comes bundled with every Mac and it's a very capable application?

Well, Markdown is why. Ever since I started writing in Markdown I’ve been looking for a simple text editor that supports it.

All I really wanted was an app that:

  1. Converted Markdown to HTML.
  2. Looked good.

I went to the Mac App Store and found several that met my two requirements. After reading up on the most interesting ones, I narrowed it down to two options: iA Writer and Byword. Both very similar.

Byword vs. iA Writer

iA Writer looks amazing, and I really like the font it uses: Nitti Light. I wrote a comment about iA Writer after an excellent review by Ben Brooks, and came very close to buying it. I actually use and love iA Writer for iPad, so it seemed like an obvious choice.

However, it turns out the font looks huge on a big screen and there’s no way of customising it. iA Writer has no preference pane. And although I think minimal options are a great idea, the fact that font size is set means it looks different on different screen sizes, which makes writing on a big monitor a aweful experience.

Byword prefrerences pane

Byword, on the other hand, has the perfect preferences pane. As you can see in the screenshot, Byword lets you customise:

  • Colour scheme: Dark text on light background or light text on dark background
  • Column size: Narrow, medium, wide. Perfect for different screen sizes
  • Font: Again, solves the screen size problem
  • Text Format: Plain text, rich text, or markdown

Byword has exactly what I want. No more, no less. Did I mention Byword is awesome?

Byword feels extremely simple in use, but has a good combination of features that get out of the way when you don’t need them. Like:

  • Full Screen, which removes everything but the text
  • Paragraph Focus, which fades everything except the paragraph you’re typing
  • Typewriter Mode: which centres the line of text you’re writing so it’s always in the middle of the screen (my favourite)
  • Word and character count
  • Export to different formats: It can convert Markdown to HTML, RTF, Word, PDF, Latex

I use Byword with the black text on white background as I find it easier on the eyes. It’s really a light grey background and dark grey text, which looks so much better than just black and white.

I use a “medium” column size on my MacBook as it’s easier to read. It makes the column size similar to a pocket book.

Even though Byword comes with a few good font/size combinations built in, I chose to use the open source Inconsolata XL. It’s a version of Inconsolata that adds a bold version. It’s a monospaced font that reminds me of writing on an old typewriter.

I also set the deafult text format to Markdown. Byword does a great job with it. It gives you a visual representation of what you’re writing. For example, bold and italics actually turn into bold and italic font. And Byword turns links into a very light grey that almost disappears into the background. It’s difficult to describe, but it’s a great way to write in Markdown.

Hopefully this Byword review is useful. I highly recommend it.

You can get Byword from the Mac App Store.