When I reviewed plain-text editors in mid February I missed out a very worthy contender, Notesy for Dropbox, simply because I hadn’t come across it at the time. This is a pity because it’s right up there with the best of them. I’ve been giving it a good run during the past few months, both on the iPhone and on the new iPad 2, and I’m impressed enough to make it my new favourite.
The developer of Notesy is Dave Findlay, a Scot now living in the USA. He is extremely responsive and is constantly looking for ways to improve the user experience. Two enhancements, made this month in v2.0.1, correct hitherto annoying omissions: The ability to work with folders and to preview a note in Markdown. Otherwise, it’s business as usual with simple, clear text and the option to work uncluttered in full-screen mode.
One of the big benefits of Notesy is that you can switch rapidly from fixed-width to variable-width fonts, even while editing a document. Choice of font is made in Settings: There are ten fixed-width fonts, plus bold variations in most cases, and 20 variable-width plus bold in some cases.
Once you have chosen one fixed-width and one variable-width font they become the default for all notes. After that you can flip back and forth from fixed to variable at will. Personally I prefer using a fixed-width font for general writing; it is easier to see errors and to place the cursor accurately for corrections, especially on the small screen of the iPhone.
Appearance is fully customisable, with 16 background colours, including Solarized dark and light. In addition you get to choose from 10 pen colours, again including Solarized.
Working with notes
Notesy is a simple application and there’s a zero learning curve. Just choose your default settings and wade in with your first draft. Some notebook apps for iOS (not necessarily all plain-text) have a steep learning curve and even starting your first note is a challenge. Among these apps I would include WhiteNote, ThinkBook and Circus Ponies’ NoteBook. All require a level of dediction that I haven’t yet mustered. For most writers, a simple plain text editor such as Notesy is all that’s needed.
As an aid to writers, there is an information panel which is called up by pressing the (i) button: it includes word, paragraph, line and character count, plus creation and modification dates and the chosen save path in Dropbox.
You can create, rename or delete notes from within the application and there is a powerful search facility to find references within any of your notes. Text Expander support is built in and is essential for most regular note takers.
In common with most other note applications, Notesy synchronises with Dropbox. But with Notsey you get to choose any folder rather than being restricted to one fixed location (for instance, Elements insists on a folder called Elements, which is very restrictive). And unlike some other applications, synchronisation is automatic. You don’t have to remember to upload a file or worry about versions.
Working on the Mac
Notesy is a universal app for iPad and iPhone and keeps everything in sync between the two. You don’t have to buy two separate applications as is the case with some note products. There is no desktop version (but nor is there for the major of iOS note applications) but any text editor, such as TextEdit or WriteRoom, will work well.
As far as I know, there is only one iPad plain-text note app that has a Mac desktop version and that’s iA Writer. On the other hand, it doesn’t have an iPhone version. I have already downloaded the Mac app and will be checking it out over the next few weeks.
I love plain text editors and have tried most of them. For its simplicity I really like Hog Bay’s Plain Text which has remained true to the original goals. But there has been a gradual trend to add more facilities to many of the more popular apps, in particular the inclusion of a useful Markdown preview. Notesy succeeds in providing a simple, straightforward writing experience with all the adjustments well hidden under the hood. They are there if you need them, but, once set up, Notesy just works unobtrusively. I would argue that it is the best plain-text note app for the iOS platform.
Notesy costs $4.99 or £2.99 and works on the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. That’s what I call real value for money.