A minimalist writing app seems like it should be a pretty straightforward concept to execute on, and yet all too frequently they tip over into either a stripped down and feature-poor app or something too complicated for this simple task. While the ultimate goal of such an app should be to isolate you with your writing, that doesn’t mean that the user interface should be lacking or that the text itself can’t be visually appealing. I was intrigued by the Google Play Store listing and promotional video for JotterPad X, but I’ve been bitten that way before. So after a couple weeks of using JotterPad X, did it manage to live up to my initial expectations or is my search for a dedicated writing app still going?
As I said at the outset, a minimalist writing app shouldn’t distract you with lots of bells and whistles, but that’s no reason for the app to be poorly designed. JotterPad X has done an excellent job in this regard. The app is very clean-looking with all-white backgrounds and limited touch targets on each screen. Animations are smooth and simple, with just the slide in from the left for the main navigation bar and zooming into a document when selected. The app mostly uses light colors and takes a page from the Gmail interface for your documents, with a brightly-colored square with the first letter of your document’s title to help you quickly identify your work in folders. You also see the full title below and a preview of the first 50 words or so. Overall there’s very little cruft to the app, and that’s exactly what I like about it. The developers also achieved a very native Android look that makes you feel at home in the app if you are a frequent user of the core Android apps ( presumably most of you are).
There are 7 default options in the “Styles” menu that automatically switch the title and body font, alignment, margins and line spacing. The first four are “Essay,” “Magazine,” “Newspaper” and “Novel” which, despite the names, don’t really dictate your content at all. The last three, which are more purpose-built, and are “Poem,” “Lyrics” and “Screenplay.” As you can see, they do lend themselves specifically to those tasks. Finally, users are able to create a custom template that offers a choice between 11 different fonts for the title and text, 4 alignments, 3 margins and 4 line spacings. The one thing I would like to see here is the ability to save a custom template, but other than that these options cover my needs and avoid endless scrolling lists and getting paralyzed by choice. As you will see throughout the app, the developers view it as a tool for creatives, but regardless of what you are writing you can find a fit.
Auto-Save and Dropbox Integration
These are both critical for me. Users can choose from a variety of auto-save intervals which, as someone that has lost more than a few articles and papers due to software crashes, makes for excellent peace of mind. Dropbox integration gives further reassurance that your work won’t be lost. If you’re like me and bounce between a number of devices, this makes continuing working when jumping from hardware to hardware a simple matter.
Markdown and Fountain Support
While the basic format in JotterPad X is just .txt, support for Markdown and Fountain is also included. Users can open and edit in either format, but the Markdown viewer is part of the Creative Version, which is an in-app purchase for $4.57. With the fairly wide adoption these formats have seen over the last couple years, particularly with those that might be interested in such an app, this is an excellent addition.
With the free version of JotterPad X, you are able to access a pop-up dictionary. The Creative Version adds a thesaurus as well. Switching apps quickly to do this kind of thing isn’t too arduous, but it is a bit of a distraction when compared to just popping up a box right over your text, and that distraction-free writing experience is one of the main points of using this app.
If you want to go truly distraction-free, this option hides everything on-screen save for your writing and the clock in the notification tray. This is truly designed for just reading over your work without any chance of being distracted, as you cannot edit text when in this mode. I would like to see the developers add that ability somewhere down the line, but for now it is a nice option for that last read through.
Share Options and PDF Export
A long-press on a document in the folder menu will present the option to export it as a PDF. Other than the benefit of passing on a version that you know won’t be edited, another nice feature here is that you can tweak the style settings at this stage. Once you have done that you have the option to export the PDF and send it on with the app of your choice.
JotterPad X worked well with my Bluetooth keyboard and supports a number of standard shortcuts. If you are going to get the most out of this app, you’re likely going to want to pull out a full keyboard, so I was very glad to see this work as well as it did.
The Not So Good
Select UI Elements
I like most of what they did with the UI, but there are a couple departures that stand out as ripe for improvement.
Accessing the sharing options to get your document to its destination is a little puzzling at first. It can’t be done from the document itself and is instead achieved by long-pressing on the document in the folders. Once you figure this out it works perfectly well, but it would be nice to have that option within the document. This is also something that should appear in the brief tutorial when you first install the app.
Having the option to make word count display persistently would be nice, as it is you simply tap the small menu button in the upper-right corner of the writing screen. I understand why they haven’t done it as part of the goal is a pristine writing screen, but word count is something that I check often, so I’d like to have that option.
Dropbox Folder Management
As I stated previously, the Dropbox integration is an excellent feature, but one downside is that you can’t set it to open directly in a JotterPad X or writing-specific folder in your Dropbox. Instead you have to scroll a bit to find the relevant folder and then find your document. The solution is to name the folder appropriately so that it is the first option in your Dropbox, but it would be convenient to save that step.
I came away very impressed with JotterPad X and ended up using it to write the majority of this review. The free version will probably be fully-featured enough for most casual users, but I would encourage you to consider unlocking the Creative Version ($4.57) after you have spent some time with the app. It offers a number of additional features that make the app more versatile, such as versioning, a night mode that uses white text on a black background and several other features. I’ll definitely continue using JotterPad X as my tool for writing when I’m on the go, because while writing directly in Google Drive has its advantages, I prefer the writing experience in JotterPad X enough that having the extra step of sharing the finished product out is well worth it.