Write & Preview Markdown In Style With LightPaper [Android]
A text editor should not get in your face. The more you notice it, the worse it is. The best ones are nearly invisible, staying out of the way and letting you become one with your prose. For an application as simple as Notepad, that’s easy. But it becomes a trickier proposition if you’re trying for this level of simplicity while still offering advanced features like Dropbox sync and instant Markdown preview. LightPaper [No Longer Available] is a $2 text editor for Android that rises to the challenge, and does a pretty good job of it.
Fresh & New
I don’t like chasing after the latest hot apps, and I often wait until an app has established itself a reputation and earned at least 10,000 downloads before reviewing it. This is what I’ve done with NFC Task Launcher (over 100,000 downloads), SwitchApps, Notif , and the list goes on. But with LightPaper, I’m making an exception: At the time of this writing, LightPaper has less than 500 downloads, and a scant eleven ratings on Google Play. But you know what? It’s really, really good, especially for an app that’s so young. As you launch it, this is what you get:
The left sidebar takes up most of the screen, showing your list of notes. Naturally, the app ships with an extensive README file, which you can see above. Peeking from the right is the editing panel. Hold it and drag it into the screen to begin editing the current note:
Monospaced text is an acquired taste, but I happen to like it. If the document above seems odd at first, that’s because it’s formatted with Markdown (the same format Dillinger and TextDown use). Markdown syntax is meant to look simple and readable, and you can read all about it on developer John Gruber’s site, Daring Fireball. For now, what you should know is that it renders into HTML. In other words, swipe left yet again, and LightPaper shows you this:
What’s nice about this HTML preview is that it’s smart enough to automatically scroll to wherever you were in the source document. So if you’re editing a long document and want to make sure a key part of it renders correctly, just scroll down to it and swipe to the preview. Unfortunately, at this point, this is the only intelligent twist the preview pane has to offer. You can’t resize the font, and you can’t change the colors. If your document links to any images, those will be shown inline, which is nice.
Connecting To Dropbox
Documents confined to your phone can be useful, but they become far more useful when they’re accessible anywhere. LightPaper lets you get there by integrating with Dropbox:
Unlike less considerate apps, LightPaper doesn’t require access to your entire Dropbox folder: It merely wants to use a subfolder of its own. Once you allow the connection, it lets you save documents to that subfolder. Unfortunately, sync is one-way only: There is no way to load any changes you make on other devices back into LightPaper. This is a major shortcoming that I hope would be addressed in future versions.
Navigating text on Android can be a frustrating experience. Yes, you can a little gripper you can hold onto and move your cursor around. But it’s also quite easy to miss your target and end up futzing around trying to aim for a specific word. LightPaper introduces four buttons that let you accurately move the cursor:
The screenshot above was taken while I was pressing the “one character back” button (second from the left on the toolbar). The first button takes you back one whole word, and there are two buttons for moving forward, too. These simple buttons make a big difference: Now, when you want to get to a specific letter, you just have to tap the word (quite easy) and move the cursor using the buttons.
Entering Markdown Syntax
Markdown is simple, but it was created with full-fledged hardware keyboards in mind. Try typing a square bracket on your Android keyboard to see what I mean: This usually involves pressing and holding a key, and with some keyboards you actually have to flip to a different page on the keyboard such as a numeric layout. LightPaper addresses this by offering a simple Markdown toolbar:
You can see the toolbar at the top of the window. After selecting the word “best” and I tapped the first button, for surrounding it with asterisks, denoting bold text, and it worked as promised.
What LightPaper Can’t Do Yet
Still being wet behind the ears, there are a few things LightPaper can’t really do. First and foremost is automatic saving and versioning: The editor includes undo/redo features, but it would have been nice if it autosaved your text in intervals and let you browse older versions and revert as needed. Then there’s the aforementioned two-way Dropbox sync – being able to save to Dropbox is nice, but loading would make it truly useful.
Caveats aside, for a very recent arrival to Google Play, LightPaper delivers impressive features wrapped in a compelling and simple interface. Would you try it on as a text editor, or do you use a different one already? Let us know in the comments!
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