WriteRoom: An iPhone Text Editor

As a student and sometimes writer, I have often tried to integrate my iPhone into my note-taking workflow.  I’ve tried several solutions – the default Notes app, for example, and no end of shoddily programmed Notes alternatives.  But they all feel too clunky to really rely on as a robust text editor, and each one is hinkier than the next when it comes time to try to sync mobile and laptop.  Instead, I have had to rely on my increasingly fragile Moleskine, which shares pocketspace with my mobile.

It was with great anticipation, then, that I installed WriteRoom for iPhone.  I use the Mac version of WriteRoom on occasion on my MacBook for word processing, and I’m quite a fan of its minimalist interface. If you’re already a fan of the WriteRoom software, then have no fear — WriteRoom for iPhone is a faithful mobile port of the writing environment that you know and love.  If you are unfamiliar with the software, there is really only one thing you need to know:  its all about simplicity.

The guiding concept behind WriteRoom is a no-frills, no-distraction interface that lets you focus on what you launched the app for in the first place — writing. The menus are clean and unobtrusive, with only three buttons on the app’s main screen. Two of these are for syncing your documents (more on this later), and the last is for creating new files. The app uses a black version of the familiar iPhone menu with white text to minimize eyestrain.  Included are a few documents with instructions on how to use the sync functions, and a coupon for $5 off any purchase from hogsbaysoftware.com.  Noticeably missing, however, is a settings button.

I have to wonder why the developers chose to omit any settings screen from the app itself, instead forcing you to quit the app and access its menu through the iPhone Settings anytime you want to change something. The app supports a myriad of colors and fonts, but changing them is so out of the way that you’ll probably rarely bother taking advantage of the variety.  Would it really have been so distraction to add a fourth button on the app’s main screen to do this without having to exit the app? The screen *does* have four corners, after all, and that lower right one is looking a little bare.

Once you have the settings the way you like them, working with your documents is a breeze.  From within the document, you can delete, email, or rename the file, as well as getting a paragraph, word, and character count.  Editing is as good as it gets; the interface is lightweight, and so runs smoothly and without lag on my iPhone 2g. The default keyboard has been replaced by a slightly darker one with a black background, and supports both landscape and portrait views.

There is also a searchbox hidden above the list of files on the main screen, in the same way the search box is hidden in Contacts or iPod mode. The search looks through both the title and content of your documents, so figuring out which document you jotted that shopping list in the middle of is a breeze.

As I mentioned before, the app sports two distinct ways to access your documents, as well as allowing you to email the contents of a document via your mail app. The first is a wi-fi sharing mode that you enable by tapping the upper left button on the main screen.  This allows you to access your phone’s documents via Bonjour.  In practice, this method was a little shaky; it ocassionally crashed the app when I tried to access the data through this method.  Once this happened, I needed to turn off and restart my phone before the wi-fi sharing would work again.  When it did work, it functioned exactly as you would expect. Editing the document in your browser applied those changes directly to the iPhone’s version of the document whenever it was saved. My only concern here is that if you close the app or lock the device while you are editing, your changes will not save to the phone until you relaunch the app and put it in Wi-Fi sharing mode again. This seems like a recipe for lost edits to me.

The second method is my personal favorite; it allows you to sync your phone’s documents with www.writeroom.ws, using a Google account as your login and password.  You can then access the files anywhere via the websites interface and make changes without worrying about losing your connection to your iPhone. When you are done, simply click “save.”  The next time you sync the app, the changes are downloaded and merged with your existing file.  This process gets a little sticky if both the iPhone and online versions have been changed, but otherwise works great. There is a conflicts manager in the web interface, but not one in the app itself.

Overall, the clean interface and easy-to-use design make WriteRoom a joy to use.  Despite a few flaws, it is the best text editor that I have had the pleasure of utilizing on the iPhone.  While the price is a little steep, you get a quality text editor with a bevy of syncing methods.  While I’m not quite ready to ditch my Moleskine, I know that I’ll be using this app to both jot down notes and work on longer pieces, such as short stories (and app reviews!) quite a bit in the future.  I can honestly say that WriteRoom is as good as it gets when it comes to iPhone text editors right now.

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