I consider myself a discerning note-taker. If a note-taking application isn’t just so, it can drive me crazy. Getting my thoughts down in writing is difficult enough as it is (I tend to write them at the oddest of hours), so having to deal with a distracting or unattractive interface, unfamiliar syntax, clunky buttons, or anything other than near-perfection quickly becomes counterproductive for me. This is where I’m supposed to tell you I’m on a never-ending quest to find a great note-taking app so I can finally jot down my thoughts in peace. But really, I’m not: for months now, I’ve had a duo of note-taking apps on my homescreen. The first of these apps is one I’ve reviewed a while back, LightPaper. Since I reviewed it, it has made great strides, and is now superbly polished and powerful. The other one is the wonderful Draft, which is worth every cent of the $2.57 it costs. If you’re looking for a great way to write on your phone, read on.
Doesn’t Hold Your Notes Hostage
Let me start out with the most important two features: Dropbox sync, and a widely-used format.
Draft can plug into Dropbox, and lets you pick whatever folder you wish to keep your notes in. Sync is two-way: Start jotting down ideas in Draft, flesh them out on your computer, then back to Draft again for a final read when you’re away from the computer (for example). This works because unlike Diaro, Draft plain text files, which you can read on any computer, any operating system, and any text editor. For formatting, it uses the common and simple Markdown format, which is used by WriteMonkey, TextDown, and numerous other apps. So your notes are backed up, and you’re not locked in. First things first.
A Clean, Uncluttered Writing Experience
When it comes down to it, a writing app doesn’t need to offer a laundry-list of features. It should sweat the details and come up with a writing experience that gives you the power you need, and stays out of your way:
This is what writing looks like. Swiftkey takes up half the screen, and some text is selected so I can quickly apply Markdown formatting to it. The toolbar above the keyboard has the basic elements you need for Markdown. Here’s what happens when you tap the link button (the rightmost one):
The word “trying” has now been made into a link, in Markdown syntax, and you can just write the URL within the parentheses. Bolding text is just as easy. The fact that this is not WYSIWYG but Markdown helps reduce the amount of distraction, too: You’re just dealing with text.
Instant Markdown Preview
Let’s say you’re done writing, and want to take a moment to read your thoughts. If it’s text you’re going to be publishing, you’re also going to make sure text you wanted bold is indeed bold, for example. This is where the instant preview mode comes in:
This is a read-only mode. Tap the pencil when you want to make changes to your text. Not as slick as LightPaper’s slide-driven instant Markdown preview, but it works just as well.
Generous Formatting Options and Color Schemes
In the screenshots above you’ve seen two different looks for the app: Different font size, different colors, and so on. Draft makes it easy to customize these settings:
The fact that it ships with both Solarized Light and Solarized Dark is the cherry on top. Best color schemes ever, really.
You may want to have quick access to your notes from your homescreen (Not something I personally use, but I can see why it can come in handy). To let you do this, Draft comes with three different widget types. The first one is a note list, and Draft lets you pick which folder you want shown on the list, and how you want the notes sorted:
The other two are a “quick access” toolbar for creating new notes (plain text, Markdown, or folders), and a single-note widget for displaying the the complete text of any note right on your homescreen. It’s scrollable, too. Here’s what all three widgets look like:
Final Thoughts: It Just Works
Draft’s developer seems to understand one key truth: Developing a high-quality app is not about having the most features, but about getting the details right. Draft is polished, fun to use, and immensely practical. I won’t say it’s the one app you should use if you want to keep text-only notes, but you should definitely take it for a spin alongside LightPaper and decide which one you like best (or end up keeping both, as I did).
Do you use your phone for any sort of “serious” writing? Which apps do you keep your writing in?