Issue: 9.1 (November/December 2010)
Author: Marc Zeedar
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Article Length (in bytes): 4,749
Starting Page Number: 14
RBD Number: 9103
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IN BRIEF Product Eements Manufacturer Second Gear Price $4.99 Contact Info http://www.secondgearsoftware.com/elements/ Pros Simple and elegant; uses plain text files and Dropbox for syncing instead of proprietary system; supports TextExpander; offers word count and other statistics; developers seem responsive. Cons Extremely limited file management; somewhat expensive compared to similar apps; no frills. Rating (1.0-5.0): 4.4
There are tons of text editors and word processors for iPad and iPhone. Many of those are free, so why pay for another? While others, such as SimpleNote and Evernote, include their own cloud-syncing ability to back up your notes and allow you to access them from any computer with a web browser, they are still proprietary systems. What I love about Elements is that it uses plain text files and my favorite Dropbox service for its syncing. That way my notes are instantly synced between all my computers and devices. I don't have to remember passwords or account info: files created or edited within Elements just automatically show up everywhere I have Dropbox set up.
Elements is beautifully simple. There are a few options you can set for the editing font, text size, color, and background color, but that's it. In terms of editing, there's support for the iOS spelling checker and a word, character, and line count information window, but that's it. There's a little pop-up text window called the Scratchpad which is basically some temp space for storing snippets of text or whatever you'd like, but I haven't found that particularly useful.
Elements also supports TextExpander shortcut expansions which is really cool (think of it like REALbasic's auto-complete, except you have to set up TextExpander with your shortcuts in advance). TextExpander itself isn't as useful as on a Mac, since it can't run as a system-wide service (its shortcuts won't work in Apple's Mail, for instance), but with apps that support it, such as Elements, it really makes typing repetitive text fast.
The newest version of Elements gives you limited control over your Dropbox account: you can now rename and delete files. However, you still can only edit files within the Elements folder (and not within sub-folders of that), and there's no way to move files around. There is a new search feature to help you find files (or text within a file), and you can sort the file listing by name or modification date. Of course, you can just log into your Dropbox account on the web or use any computer you've enabled to manipulate your account, but that is an extra hassle.
One other potential problem is the way Elements syncs. As you edit, it saves your file to Dropbox every 60 seconds. However, if you leave the app suddenly by pressing the Home button, you could leave before the sync happens. It would be nice if the app had a separate sync button to force the back up to happen. However, I did find a simple workaround: exiting out of the current file and back to the app's file list seems to trigger a sync, so I just always close a file before leaving Elements and I never experienced a syncing problem. (Apparently this syncing issue is not a problem with iOS 4 as it multitasks and can finish the sync even after you exit the app.)
Is Elements worth the $5 fee? In the real world, that's barely a cup of coffee, but with so many iApps free or a buck, it does seem like a high price for such simplicity. However, the app is universal, so that one price gets you both the iPad and iPhone versions. For me it is well worth it. I'm already a Dropbox user, the BBEdit text editor is my primary word processor, and I have multiple computers and iDevices. I love plain text and the ability to automatically have all my documents show up on all my computers—I can begin a file on iPad and finish on any of my Macs or start the file on my laptop and open it on my iPad for a quick review or edit. In fact, I wrote this entire review in Elements on my iPad while in bed!
Figure 1: Editing on iPad.
Figure 2: Editing on iPhone.
Figure 3: File management on iPhone.
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