More than games or entertainment apps, apps focused on productivity are my bread and butter. I initially shied away from the iPad due to wondering if it “had what it takes” in an environment that moved beyond simple entertainment needs. My initial perception was that an iPad was a consumption device and not one to produce anything of worth. Thankfully, within hours of owning the iPad 2, its potential as a workhorse shone right through my initial perceptions. Not everything was perfect, and I still haven’t found all of my dream apps, but with the appearance of apps like MagicalPad I have become more confident that the iPad is a serious contender for use in the workplace on a day to day basis. There are even glimpses of its potential to replace laptops, and I think we’ll see elements of that in this review.
Where’s the Magic?
MagicalPad at its core is a productivity app that strives to be that one, singular app you need rather than having a folder labeled “Productivity” full of apps that perform single functions. MagicalPad takes notes. It keeps track of agendas. It easily mind-maps data for you. It easily allows you to create outlines, or flow processes. And in everything, if that wasn’t enough, it prepares your document for export in a variety of different formats (including most notably, OPML).
It’s in its ability to do all of this that the magic happens. Convert to MagicalPad and, if it succeeds in what it aims to do, you can drop a plethora of other apps that you might currently be using. The question becomes “Does it actually perform all of these tasks well, or am I still turning to this other app to do this or that other app to do that?”
Design & Interface
Usage starts with an app’s design and interface. This has the ability to make or break an app (in my book) and is extremely important when considering something to be used for productivity. I want something straight forward and intuitive, without much of a learning curve, whenever possible. If I’m in an intense meeting (or other real life situation) I don’t want to be stuck thinking, “Now how do I do that again?”
I also want something simple. If it has a highly complex interface, I’m likely to shy away as it means it is likely (a) really complicated to use and (b) operating under a paradigm of desktop apps that offer lots of menus and options. Touch necessitates a shift in paradigm in interface design, relying a lot more on gestures and other interactions.
For MagicalPad, the design and interface is understated in an attractive and simple way. It is orientation agnostic, and makes use of a toolbar at the bottom of the screen for specific menu interactions. Everything you would need to do can be found here. The advantage to this is that the majority of the screen real estate is directly available for creative purposes (your outlines, agendas, mindmaps and other creations). The primary disadvantage is that it can be quite confusing. The learning curve seems rather high because of this. I found myself on numerous occasions when first using the app stopping and asking myself, “Now what do I do? How do I get started? How do I add some elements and get the ball rolling?”
The canvas is worth considering as well in an app like this. If you are going to be doing mindmapping and similar outlining, you want something that can expand. You don’t want to be limited by a tiny window. Luckily MagicalPad’s canvas will expand to fit your needs. You aren’t stuck with what you immediately see (thankfully!). Pinching allows you to zoom in and out (as you’d expect).
One nifty trick here that’s definitely a plus: you don’t have to worry about losing yourself on the canvas as it will immediately snap back to your data if you find yourself in an area with nothing on it. This is automatic without the press of a button or special gesture (magic if you will). It’s definitely a feature that I consider handy.
Is It Actually Magical?
In spite of finding myself confused at times, and mildly daunted at the initial learning curve, I kept coming back to MagicalPad. A big reason for this is that it does work as advertised. I’ve found that it actually has replaced a plethora of productivity apps. No longer am I using a separate note taker, outliner, mind mapper (with one exception), nor alternative apps to keep track of meetings and their agendas and similar work. It can all be done here. Once you work through the interface quirks, it really seems to be a magical app.
The tools available to you work well. The creation tools are for mind mapping, list notes & text notes. The editing tools allow for font selection (including color and size), color selection (particularly for backgrounds), copying, deleting, undo/redo, zoom and sharing. The creation tools in particular take a bit of getting used to (the editing tools are mostly self explanatory) but once you have them down you can do a lot.
One aspect that needs to be mentioned, that I haven’t already but make quite a bit of use of, is its ability to create templates. I can have a basic agenda template for every meeting that I attend and then “clone” it and instantly I have a screen ready and organized for a new meeting. Action items and notes can easily be added in, and if I find myself needing additional elements, that’s not a problem as it is its own document. This works incredibly well for meeting agendas, as well as any document work that follows a similar format (I have used it quite extensibly in some personal studies and outlining).
MagicalPad’s mind mapping capabilities are also worth considering. It easily allows you to create list or text notes and connect them together to form a map. Mind maps can be awesome tools for visualizing text data and moving it around to see different connections. While it’s not as pretty of an app as some (Mindnode comes to mind) it’s a readily straight-forward process to mind map in MagicalPad.
Clicking connecting lines allows you to alter or delete them. Selecting a note, tapping “Connect selected” and then selecting the connecting note allows connections to easily be made. There are better apps for this process, but because of its ability to do more than just mind map, and because of its sharing options, the flaws can be readily overlooked, especially if you don’t currently have one of these alternatives.
I’ve mentioned sharing options several times already. That’s a piece of the puzzle that contributes to MagicalPad being, well, magical. By clicking the sharing button, you can export to Google Docs, Evernote, Dropbox or email (accounts must be connected for the former 3 to work). Once connected you have the option of exporting as a pdf, rich text, OPML file, jpeg or MagicalPad document. The latter is great for backup and syncing with MagicalPad on other devices. The others are great for getting your data out. My preferred are pdf (when the text doesn’t need any more manipulation and the document stands on its own) or OPML (when I want to do further data manipulation through desktop apps).
Performance has never been an issue in my usage. I’ve been using it since its debut in September of 2011 and there have been 8 updates since then; any performance issue I’ve seen has quickly been neutralized due to the diligence of the developer. Honestly this is one of the things that keeps me coming back. A developer diligently taking care of its app is magical in and of itself and reason to rejoice. There have been apps that I’ve initially really enjoyed that have some overlapping features but because of an apparent silence in updates, I’m wary to use them day to day. There is no reason to be wary here.
Throughout its history, I’ve had the most issues with exporting, but primarily through Google Docs and Evernote. I haven’t ever had an issue with Dropbox (and I haven’t bothered with the other two in quite some time since I don’t regularly use them).
Comparison to Other Apps
There are a number of apps that MagicalPad seeks to replace. For mindmapping, it goes up against Mindnode and iThoughts. Mindnode is still a rock solid mindmapping tool, and the one for pure mindmapping that I turn to. It has the advantage of syncing to a desktop client. Anytime I’m working on a mindmap on both my Macbook Air and iPad, Mindnode is what I use. For independent documents that start with outlines though, I find myself using MagicalPad more and more. I’ve never honestly used iThoughts but hear fantastic things. As it’s a dedicated mindmapping client I’m sure it would win in a head to head competition; the point here, however, is being able to mindmap alongside all of the other things that MagicalPad does.
For Note taking, there is a plethora of different text apps out there and there really isn’t a need to list them all. Two though that jump out, as they are designed with productivity in mind, are Thinkbook and ActionNotes. When Thinkbook first came out I was quite a fan of it, but with time and a lack of updates in the face of performance issues, I keep going back to MagicalPad. The same can be said of ActionNotes. I wanted to like each but MagicalPad’s feature set, and openness, one me over.
For outlining, OmniOutliner stands out as a competitor. I think in mindmaps more than outlines, and have never looked at purchasing a dedicated outliner. If I were though, from what I’ve read, OmniOutliner is the one to check out.
MagicalPad is competitively priced at $4.99. For an app with a plethora of productivity functions this is pleasantly cheap. Many single function apps cost a significant amount more.
MagicalPad is not yet perfect but it is quite magical. It will perform some amazing tasks for a very limited price. It’s reduced or alleviated the need for some dedicated apps on my iPad, and I’m sure it can do the same on yours if you are willing to give it a chance.