Review: Four Text Editors For iOS

I just started to write a few words about Byword for iOS and realised that I’ve got a bunch of editors on my iPad and they all deserve a few words. So here you have them all in the one post.

Before I start if you are already running one or two editors and you’re just looking for a good comparison list of iOS editors to find your perfect one (or you want to check all the features of the four I’ve reviewed below) Brett Terpstra recently crowd sourced the definitive list.


On the Mac Byword is my go to editor for writing, so how does it stack up on the iPad?

Quite well. Of course it supports Markdown well, including a good preview. Like all good editors on the iPad it has an extra row of keys above the standard keyboard. The extra keys are optimised for typing Markdown syntax including a key for headings, inserting hyperlinks and creating lists. One neat trick I haven’t seen elsewhere are that the extra row keys include ‘(‘ and ‘[‘ but not the matching close, when you type the opening character the key changes to the matching close.

For file storage it supports both iCloud and Dropbox.

It has a good range of export possibilities including the ability to copy a HTML conversion to the clipboard and email a number of formats.

I don’t really use it that much, I’m much more likely to use either Nebulous or Textastic.

Byword • A Simple Text Editor for Mac and iOS


Elements is the first editor for writers I tried and at first I liked it’s clean look but it lacks a number of features I need. The export options are limited, the font is fixed, there is no extra keyboard row.

It does have a good, clean look. It supports MarkDown syntax with a single button preview. It supports TextExpander. It does export the HTL of your MarkDown to the clipboard, though it takes a moment to find it – preview the MarkDown and at the bottom of the screen is a “Copy HTML” button.

The one good feature not commonly seen is a small scratchpad for taking a quick note while you are editing a document.

I don’t think I could recommend Elements unless you want a really simple editor, even then the lack of the extra keyboard row is a drawback.

Elements — A Markdown Text Editor For iOS


Nebulous is neat, really neat. It has some great features.

The look is highly customizable with four themes and from there you can change colours, fonts and sizes.

Even the extra keyboard row is customizable with full macro support, these are real macros with support for cursor positioning not just text substitutions. This is the killer feature that keeps it on my home row. My only request would be the ability to easily switch between a couple of custom rows — I’d like one for writing and one for coding.

If you want to get really geeky then Nebulous’ latest update supports URLs in the iOS URL scheme so you can have Launch Center or bookmarklets do such things as open a file or add a line of text to the end of one.

As well as Dropbox support it’s the only iPad editor I know that will save your document as a note in Evernote, extremely handy since I don’t really like the editor in the iPad Evernote app.

The one weakness in Nebulous is that it doesn’t automatically sync with Dropbox or iCloud, it keeps a local copy of your file and I’ve been unable to figure out exactly when it decides to sync with the online file.

Nebulous Notes


This is the code cutters editor of choice in my view. It has code completion, syntax highlighting, symbol navigation, TextMate snippets and auto indentation. The extra keyboard row is ideal for coding. It even supports TextMate themes.

For the writer it also has a few tricks. It has MarkDown preview and export to HTML, the two basics for MarkDown and the symbol navigation system recognises MarkDown headers for navigation round large documents.

Textastic also has a pop up cursor pad rather than arrows for moving the cursor and selecting text. Given that it uses more of the valuable screen space I’m not sure if I prefer it over arrow keys but it can be dismissed with a tap and brought back with a double tap.

As well as Dropbox it also supports FTP, SFTP, SCP and WebDAV for those that want to edit files on, for example, a web server rather than just their Dropbox.

Finally it also has the best regular expression search and replace I’ve seen on iOS.

Textastic – Text, Code and Markup Editor with Syntax Highlighting – FTP, SFTP, Dropbox – for iPad

Productivity on the iPad

Recently I found myself in hospital and once again my iPad was a godsend. Yes, it allowed me to watch some TV and movies and read a book or two but it also allowed me some pretty good productivity.

So what tools do I need? What tools are useful and what tools are nice little frills?

The Essentials

The two essentials were Dropbox and Evernote. I have a huge Dropbox folder and an Evernote database full of useful files and information. (So the Specialist wants to know exactly what medication I take, when was my last hospital admission, what’s my GP’s address and how have my peak flows been for the past month? Guess where that information’s stored? I even had a copy of my last discharge summary.)

I’m a coding junkie, I just can’t help myself. Never a week goes by when I don’t find some excuse to write something, an AppleScript, a shell script or a bit of Python. I’ve even been known to play around with HTML, CSS and JavaScript to write little web apps. So bored in hospital was the perfect time to play with those. How? I’ve found a great little text editor that deserves a big wrap. Textastic is almost perfect as an iPad editor. It will sync files between itself and Dropbox or an FTP site and even comes with a built in WebDAV server so you can easily get your files to and fro. It even remembers the path to the file and will sync it back with a single touch. To help with your coding you get syntax colouring for more than eighty languages, including all I ever use with the exception of Logo (nothing seems to offer syntax highlighting for Logo). You get next line auto-indent and adjustable tab stops. Even more useful when you don’t have your Bluetooth keyboard along you can set it to add an extra row of keys along the top of the iPad built-in keyboard that include quotes, brackets, parentheses and a tab key. The feature list goes on further.

I could use Textastic for writing my prose and journalling, it does support Markdown syntax  and offer a soft wrap but Pages is not that expensive and is, of course a fully featured word processor so I’ve got a copy of that.

The other thing I like to do is diagram. Well, like might not be the right word, I do find myself doing it a lot and doing it by hand looks atrocious so I do it on the computer. On my Mac I have Eazydraw, a fairly well featured piece of software. On the iPad I use TouchPad, which cost me less than ten dollars and has more features than you can poke a stick at. It has layers, libraries, figures, bezier curves, freehand tools, alignment tools and more. It is  more than I’ll ever need – I couldn’t recommend it more. I actually find myself doing diagrams on the iPad rather than my Mac as shifting things with my finger seems easier than the mouse.

The Useful

The first of these is TextExpander Touch. Cheaper than the Mac version, which I also own, it allows for quick entry of text snippets in supported applications or in its own little note pad. It is supported by Textastic and Plain Text at least. From its little notepad you can Send By Email or send the note to Twitterific. I don’t use  it a lot on the iPad since the snippets don’t work everywhere as they do on the Mac but it is still handy.

Then we get to lists. It doesn’t matter if it is a task list or just an item list, I like to have them. I also like them as an outline so that items can have sub-items. For this I have CarbonFin Outliner – this excellent outliner even syncs to a website so that you can edit the outlines on your computer. It supports outline items as checkboxes so that you can make a to do list and if an item has a number of children the dot turns into a circle filled in according to the amount of the tasks completed.

On the “keeping up with the world” front there are the three essentials. Reeder, my favourite RSS reader, the new Zite news application and Instapaper for all those long form articles I come across while browsing and want to get back to.

I like the interface for Reeder, it is clean and simple, and the ability to sync with my Google Reader account is nice so that’s my RSS reader of choice.

Zite is amazing. A news aggregator that seems to find a good selection of interesting articles every time I open it. When it was first installed it asked to have a look at my twitter feed and Google Reader settings. from that it made some intelligent guesses as to the categories of news i might be interested in. I then added a few others. Since then I have made a point of marking the articles I liked and now it does a good job of finding things I want to read.

Instapaper is another great idea. As  I browse the incoming news stream from both Zite and Reeder I can quickly mark the longer articles for later reading. Instapaper also looks good, often making the articles easier to read.

The Others

Then I need a calculator. A spreadsheet would be overkill but a calculator with a tape is fine for almost everything. since I like to have hex and binary on my calculator you just can’t go past P2. Not that dear and it has every function you might ever want and a nice list of constants.

I also use iSSH, a nice SSH terminal client. Not everyone needs a terminal client but if you do want one then this is inexpensive and fully featured.

I would also like to recommend Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard. I carry mine around in the box it came in and it doesn’t weigh much or take much room. When travelling it can go in your check-in bag easily. I find it can even slip into a corner of my briefcase.

All those apps taken together turn my iPad into an incredibly useful and productive platform. What are the apps that allow you to be productive on your iPad? Drop me a note and tell me.