PlainText: Simple, Synchronised, Distraction-Free Writing

PlainText is a plain text editor, one of many in the App Store, but due to its simplicity, ease of use, and feature set, it stands out among the crowd.

The app allows you to write in a clean, distraction free environment and comes with TextExpander and Dropbox support, which means it can easily become a key part of your workflow.

Getting Started

When you open the app, you’ll be greeted with a two pane layout. The left side contains your files and folders, the right side is the text editor. Getting started is as easy as creating a new document and typing away, and perhaps using the hotspot at the bottom right of the editor to hide the left pane for distraction free writing.

Once you’re done, you can click the title in the editor pane to print your work, or send it via email.

Plaintext Main Interface

It doesn't get much cleaner than this!

Setting Up Dropbox

The real power of PlainText is its ability to sync with Dropbox. You can create a documents folder in your Dropbox and set the app to sync with it.

Whatever you type will be transferred to Dropbox behind the scenes so you are always synced and saved.

This makes writing articles in PlainText (as I am doing now) a joy, since you can type up a draft on your iPad, and just move onto your Mac to finalize it. No emails, no manual syncing required, it just works.

To set up syncing, you will of course need a Dropbox account. If you already have one, simply click the gear icon in the left pane, select a folder in your Dropbox account to sync with, select the file types you want to include and finish up by logging in using the link to Dropbox button. Once done, you’ll be able to create files and folders from inside PlainText which will be reflected in your Dropbox as well.

In case you’re wondering, if you already have folders and files set up before you link your Dropbox account, these will be synced when the link is complete. If you unlink your Dropbox all synced files will disappear from your iPad, but they will be available again if you link your Dropbox account again (or if you go to your Dropbox folder).

Setting Up TextExpander

Another powerful feature in the app is TextExpander support. TextExpander is an application available for the iPad, iPhone, and Mac, which lets you type in a string, or snippet, which is automatically replaced by anything you like. For example, you can set it up to insert your signature when you type mysig. Similarly, it’s great for inserting your address, telephone number, a greeting, or anything else you can think of in a few keystrokes.

TextExpander also supports dynamic replacement like inserting the current date and so on.

To get started with TextExpander you’ll need to purchase it first. This will set you back $4.99, but if you’re one of those people who utilizes its features, it’s well worth the money. Once installed, make sure to go into the TextExpander settings (icon in the top right) and turn snippet sharing on.

If you’ve completed these tasks, all you need to do is open the options in PlainText, click on the TextExpander button and turn the option on. Whatever snippets you have set up in TextExpander will now work in PlainText.

Design

Since PlainText is such a minimalistic app, there is not a lot of design to talk about. Apart from the settings menu (standard iPad UI), the only interface element is the left pane. I particularly like how this has been implemented. Subtle coloring only, a nice and clear serif font, and well designed icons make for a good job all-round.

Usability

While a lot of text editors exist, the biggest asset of PlainText is the painless nature of using it. Have no clue what Dropbox or TextExpander are? No problem, just start writing. In fact, once you’ve set up the services the workflow is exactly the same as without them, so you don’t have to worry about anything but the writing.

Plaintext Keyboard Interface

The left pane can be hidden for a more focused experience.

Features

As I have mentioned earlier, PlainText integrates very well with Dropbox and TextExpander. Apart from this there are only a handful of features. You can search your documents using the search icon in the left pane (it only searches the title), you can choose folder and file sorting options, and auto detect links.

There is also a very easily accessible help section, which thankfully does not open a browser, it shows everything inside the app.

While there aren’t many features here, I believe PlainText is not meant to be a full blown word processor, it is a text editor, and does its job very well. It might be nice to be able to choose a different font, and to have the search tool search inside file contents as well, but apart from that, this is a perfect application in my opinion.

Plaintext Options Mashup

Most of the options available in PlainText.

Conclusion

My assessment of this app has to be taken with a pinch if salt. I think this is a wonderful app for writing drafts, jotting down notes, managing plain text todo lists, etc, but it doesn’t have any rich text editing built in. For me this is a plus, but if you’re looking for a word processor you will find that it falls short. PlainText does what it does extremely well, and deserves praise for both function, form, and execution.

You can grab the free version in the App Store, but it is ad supported. However, the developers very kindly don’t show any ads while you are writing. They only show up if the keyboard is hidden, so if you need a free app, the ads will not be too bothersome. Nonetheless, if you like the PlainText as much as I do then definitely consider upgrading, at $1.99 it’s not a lot to ask for, and it’s great to support the developers.


Summary

PlainText is a minimalistic, but powerful text editor which gives you the ability to focus on writing. It syncs with Dropbox and also supports TextExpander, for super easy text snippet usage.

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