Syml v. Editorial — iOS Text Editor Review

Screenshot 2015-12-15 22.14.51I was looking at Brett Terpstra’s iTextEditors list and came across a new entry: “Syml – Minimalist Text Editor for Dropbox.” It bills itself as a Markdown editor, specifically for Dropbox (my cloud service of choice.) It also claims a wonderful new UI. So naturally I dropped a few bucks to check this thing out.

I can’t say it’s a bad editor. The interface is as innovative as it claims — it reminds me of good drawing apps I’ve used. There’s a lot of choices in appearance, including my current crush, Ethan Schoonover’s Solarized color palette. But I filter all iOS text editors through my primary use case, Scrivener external folder sync. And for that, Syml (pronounced “simple” without the “p”) doesn’t hold up.

Syml allows you to sync with an arbitrary Dropbox folder. One folder. No subfolders. And once you set it up, you can’t change folders. So if you start working on a different Scrivener project, the only way you can tell Syml to look at the different sync folder is to unlink from Dropbox, and re-link with the new folder.

Even Textilus and Matcha are more flexible. And as for Editorial, you can link to the parent folder of both your draft and your notes sync folders, or even one level higher, to the parent folder that, say, contains all the sync folders for all your projects, and Editorial will scan your Dropbox for multiple projects, with notes, and download recently used folders with all their files to your iPad while you’re still waiting for Syml to list the contents of one lousy directory.

Yeah, it’s that slow.

For working on projects that essentially are created and maintained elsewhere, like a Scrivener project, the developer’s text editor Editorial, wins hands-down. That’s because almost all development follows that paradigm. If you’d like to take notes in Markdown and have them automatically backed up to Dropbox, Syml may be your thing. It’s just not what I do.

Path of Least Resistance, or Distracted by the Shiny Software. Again.

20140114-191607.jpg
mailbox-logo-big
product_introI am angry with myself. Last week I fully expected to have made substantial progress in making GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict) charts for my main characters by now.

Instead, I managed to insert a table to contain the GMC chart into each character’s note sheet. At this point, I was frustrated by workflow difficulties. The app I’d used to edit this sort of thing on my iPad, which will automatically sync with Scrivener in DropBox via Scrivener’s Folder Sync function, Textilus, well — the developers have fallen ill with creeping feature-itis. New features are introduced before the old ones’ bugs are fixed. Further, it won’t handle tables.

I found a new way to edit the character notes on my iPad and have my changes automatically synchronized with Scrivener on my Mac, one which handles everything that Microsoft Word does, because it’s real Microsoft Office. Since Scrivener’s note files are in RTF, an MS Word format, it works perfectly. It’s called CloudOn. It’s a cloud-hosted MS Office installation, free to use as long as you don’t need “pro” features, and I don’t to do character notes. Pros: It’s easier to work with than a LogMeIn connection to my Mac (so I can use Scrivener thereon.) The CloudOn interface is optimized for touch devices, while LogMeIn has to work with the Mac interface, which is awkward for long work sessions. As well, CloudOn takes less bandwidth than a LogMeIn connection. Cons: It needs an internet connection, so I can’t work on the subway. Those “pro” features that must be paid for include such things as printing and clip art. I don’t really need that stuff for Scrivener notes editing, but might become a problem if I need to use it for my volunteer work.

This got me to the weekend, when even workflow progress stopped…

And has not resumed. I got distracted by obsessed with a new email client for my iPad, Mailbox, and have spent two long days revamping my philosophy with regards to email, and also clearing out my backlog of saved email, some of which dated back to 1998…

The philosophy of the Mailbox app is this: Email has three primary purposes: casual communication, a task list (tasks arrive via email), and reference material. Most email clients are set up to deal well with casual communication and with reference material. What they don’t do well is the task list. Mailbox is primarily a task list-oriented email client.

Even though I’m not formally employed, I am a co-organizer of a new year-round NaNoWriMo write-in (the Sherman Oaks Panera Bread NaNoWrimo Write-in.) Also, I am on the Board of Trustees for an international non-profit organization. As a result, tasks are arriving in my inbox. Lots of them. These don’t necessarily take up a lot of time, but I have vast amounts of non-profit reference material stored in my email, and it’s often hard to see what I’m supposed to be doing. Yet, I must be able to tap into that stuff easily during board meetings, which often dredge up issues we dealt with a year ago (or so we thought.)

The main concept behind Mailbox is to keep your inbox clear. The inbox should only contain mails that are actionable RIGHT NOW. Everything else is either deferred (tasks you can’t do right now but want/need to do), deleted (junk, casual conversation), or archived (reference material). The “lists” in Mailbox are not intended to be filing cabinets (found this out the hard way…) but “to-do” lists for specific projects. It also lets you defer emails until a specific time, so that you can schedule tasks.

Unfortunately, Mailbox, while great in some ways, is still a work-in-progress in others. Specifically, it does not deal well with vast (>500) numbers of archived emails. So, I’ve spent the first part of the week here combing through sixteen years of saved emails, deleting many, reorganizing others. I’ve reorganized my Mac Mail folders to support easy search of archived material. Now Mac Mail, and the built-in iPad Mail, are now used only for research. Mac Mail handles semi-automatic classification of newly archived mail. As well, I’ve reorganized my accounts so that Mailbox can handle all my vast collection of email addresses. And I’ve suppressed the damned automatic notifications and red icon badges (I turned off sounds years ago) — I now refuse to be interrupted by tempting banners or red app dots on my iPad or Mac. I have a set time each day to deal with new mail and deferred tasks I’ve scheduled in Mailbox.

So now, with volunteer work relegated to its proper place, I’m looking forward today to actually filling out some of the character sheets I’ve stuck empty charts into…

Writers’ Tools

I may be a writer and actor by choice, but I was a techno geek for far too long for me to ignore the tools I use for writing.

20121212-131426.jpgIt’s been nearly a year since I gave up on the dear old DataChugger LD and asked for an iPad for Christmas. In the two years since I posted about the LifeDrive, the Internet (in particular electronic publishing) had been moving on, and the LifeDrive had stayed put. Software was no longer being updated. I couldn’t buy new books from my favorite authors to read on it any more.

My first thought was to get an iPod Touch (the monthly bills for an iPhone being in the “You gotta be kidding!” range), but the iPad won my heart in the Apple Store with its amazingly light weight and comparatively large screen area. Hubby generously gifted me with an iPad 2 for Christmas 2011.

I have not regretted my choice. My old books from the LifeDrive have moved over to Nook, new ones have been acquired on Kindle, both of which have iPad apps. The mobile hotspot I’d gotten to feed Internet to the LifeDrive works just as well with the WiFi-only iPad.

But then, in May 2012, I decided to take another whack at writing with Camp NaNoWriMo in June. I’d also replaced my ancient Mac with a new Mac Mini two years ago– which meant that I had NO tools to write with, as my Microsoft Word was too ancient to run on the newer Mac.

This resulted a great deal of flailing around, and acquisition of free and cheap software for the Mac and the iPad. (How happy is she? As happy as a geek on a software buying spree.) Here’s my current suite of tools.

Hardware:

  • Mac Mini with max memory available in 2010
  • 32Gb iPad 2 WiFi only
  • ZAGGkeys SOLO Bluetooth keyboard. (Can’t do serious writing without a keyboard. Sorry, Apple.)
  • Novatel 4260L mobile 4G LTE hotspot.

Software:

  • Scrivener. This Mac program is amazing. All the frustration of trying to build a REALLY LARGE document in Word, or any other word processor is gone. It even claims to remove distractions with its “composition mode.” (Ha. Might work for you. My brain creates its own distractions.)
  • Textilus. This IOS app (iPad side) lets me write on the iPad and sync with Scrivener without chewing up my data allowance. It is not the polished tool that Scrivener is, but it does what it does reasonably well.

Network services:

  • Dropbox. Without this free cloud service, using my iPad to write would be hard; iCloud isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. All my files are on their server AND on my Mac, AND available to my iPad. This is the substructure that enables Scrivener and Textilus to be in sync.
  • LogMeIn.This is a free (for what I want to do, at least) remote desktop service. If what I want to do absolutely cannot be done on the iPad, I fire up LogMeIn, connect the iPad client to the server installed on my Mac, and do it from my Mac. Wherever. (Note: it only works well if a 4G connection is available. It will work over 3G, but is ssslllooowww, and drops a lot.) While I can write without this on the iPad (and had to, while I was in the Sierras), it makes life easier. In fact, with this and a bluetooth keyboard, why bother with a laptop? Your tablet or smartphone will happily pretend it’s your desktop computer for those things that a tablet/smartphone can’t do. Yet. The only drawback: it tends to use a lot of data on my data plan.

Things I tried that didn’t really work for me:

  • Open Office. This free Mac Microsloth Office replacement is awkward, and even slower than the original. It is usable for small projects. I use it for spreadsheets, mostly.
  • QuickOffice Pro HD. Nothing wrong with it, as MS Office tools for the iPad go, and I use it for spreadsheets, letters, etc. But– it won’t edit files from Scrivener without losing formatting.
  • Index Card. This iPad app syncs with Scrivener and allows you to structure (outline) stuff in much the same way as Scrivener, but while the ordering part of the structure is transferred to and from Scrivener, the hierarchy is not. Also, no formatting available for main text you write in IndexCard, and it loses formatting from Scrivener. I spent too much time duplicating effort.

That’s the lot. Oh, there are all the usual wonderful widgets on my iPad, and on my Mac Mini, but these are the ones I use for writing. Other writers: What do you use?