Essay – Finally, a Stylish and Powerful Rich Text Editor for iPhone

Granted, the app store is flooded with text editing applications. But now and then a gem comes along that makes you rethink your current workflow. Essay for iPhone is such a gem.

Plain text notes are easy enough to accomplish. For that, the Notes app from Apple suffices. But what if you want structure and emphasis to your document? Maybe a heading? Some italics or even a list? That’s what’s called rich text editing and that’s where Essay rocks. The universal app takes rich text editing to a new level, paired with accessible file formats and easy synchronization. We’ll take an in-depth look at Essay and how it compares to other popular apps.

Getting to know Essay

On the limited screen estate of the iPhone it’s not easy to implement a usable interface of typing space and formatting options, but Essay solves this challenge gracefully.

The interface of Essay

The interface of Essay

In the top area you’ll have your writing space; beneath it is a band with formatting options. This is where the magic happens and I’ll talk about it in depth further down in this article.

In the reading mode of your document (without the keyboard present) you can see your file’s title at the very top (and also change it by tapping on it). All your files are saved within the app, presented to you in an alphabetical order.

Reading your texts & list view

Reading your texts & list view

Dropbox Sync – access texts everywhere

Of course I wouldn’t be as excited about Essay as I am if there wouldn’t be an easy sync option. Writing on three devices – iPhone, iPad, Mac – I need access to the most current versions of my texts from everywhere. Essay utilizes one of the most popular online services for synchronization: Dropbox.

Sync your content to Dropbox

Sync your content to Dropbox

Setting up sync is as easy as entering your credentials into Essay. By default, the app will create a folder called Essay on your Dropbox and save your files within. You can specify any other folder if you want to, though.

The powerful formatting bar

As I mentioned in the beginning, Essay’s true power lies in it’s multitude of formatting capabilities, which by far surpass simple bold or italics. The magic all happens in the options bar, but there’s more than meets the eye. First of all, you can swipe the bar right and left to reveal even more buttons.

All the formatting options available

All the formatting options available

The first four formats should be self explanatory. It gets interesting with the exclamation mark, which changes the background color of selected text to orange (like using a highlighter). For professional users there is the possibility of linking Essay text to each other, similar to the Wiki principle. Of course, you can also link to external websites.

Highlight text or insert links

Highlight text or insert links

The most exciting features a hidden behind the paragraph symbol (reversed P). By tapping it you reveal 6 formatting choices. Sections and subsections are headings, which will help structure longer texts. Paragraph of course turns text into a normal paragraph text; it’s the default setting when you write. Quotes indent a paragraph and turn the text to italics. Lists should be self explanatory as well.

The rest of the buttons don’t really transform text as much as help you manage it. The four arrow sign allows you to move your cursor around, the wide right and left arrows are for Undo and Redo.

Make use of powerful formatting & controls

Make use of powerful formatting & controls

The next button allows to increase or decrease text size and at the very end of the options bar you can see your current word and character count.

Three different text sizes

Three different text sizes

The Snipbox

As you may have noticed, I left one icon out – the box. It’s a feature which has been introduced with the latest update of Essay. It’s essentially a storage space for text and links which you’ve copied to the clipboard.

Awesome feature: Snipbox stores your copied content

Awesome feature: Snipbox stores your copied content

As of right now, it works with text selected within Essay or within the build in web browser, which you can access from the very top of your text. To insert your text anywhere, just select the appropriate snippet from the Snipbox.

Your Essay texts are saved to one of the most accessible file formats – HTML. It can be read by virtual any text editor and its code is so clean you can, for example, just copy and paste it into your WordPress editor and have the correct formatting retained. For the knowledgable, headings, for example, are written correctly as H1 and H2 tags, lists are wrapped nicely in <ul> or <ol> elements.

Stacking up against the competition

As I said before, there’re a lot of text editors out there, which makes a comprehensive comparison impossible. Let’s focus on some of the most popular ones.

Plaintext by HogBay is a wonderful writing tool for both the iPad and the iPhone, just like Essay. It’s approach though is more geared towards pure writing. There are no formatting options available at all. That doesn’t have to be a shortcoming at all, depending on your writing purpose. Sometimes minimal is just what you might need.

Elements by Second Gear is a writing tool which also features Dropbox synchronization, but it focuses on plain text editing. You can open, edit and view .txt files on your computers and on the iPhone and iPad – Elements is a universal app, just as Essay is. But again, it lacks any formatting options which make Essay stand out.

Droptext by Invision Technical Arts is similar to the previous two apps – it allows Dropbox synchronization and it’s universal, but no more than plain text editing is possible.

Verdict

Essay offers some unique features for iPhone users: the rich text experience we know from a desktop computer/notebook pc or from the iPad, but in a usable fashion crafted for the iPhone’s smaller screen estate.

Due to an accessible file format and availability for the iPad, you are not limited to the iPhone as a working platform but can access your data from anywhere, read it with almost any app and have a seamless workflow, which is a very rewarding experience.

What is your text editor of choice on the iPhone? Do you have any need for rich text formatting or are you preferring plain text applications? Share your thoughts in the comments.


Summary

Essay is a rich text editor for iPhone and iPad which offers Dropbox synchronization and a rewarding work flow experience across devices and platforms.

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