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How Smartphones and Tablets Can Help You Write More

If you’ve got a tablet or smartphone, you’re in business. Write on the go with the latest generation of apps.

If you’ve got a tablet or smartphone, you’re in business. Write on the go with the latest generation of apps.

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You’re on the bus. Or lunching in the park. Or flying to a writing conference. And suddenly, an idea—perhaps the opening of a chapter?—hits you. What do you do?

As a pocket-sized alternative to carrying around your notebook or firing up the laptop, some of the latest writing applications for mobile devices take away the hassle of writing and researching on the go. They’re designed for smartphones and tablet computers like the Apple iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab, which runs on the Android operating system (as do scores of smartphones), and many of these apps cost less than $15 or have a price tag of $0. Here are six solid options, and the results of a WD-approved test drive of each.

FOR ANY AND ALL WRITERS: Pages (iPad)

BEST FEATURES: This word processor features font sizing, page formatting, templates (newsletters, etc.), photo importing, a “find and replace” option—all the features you’re accustomed to using on your works-in-progress. Need to send your writing to an editor or critiquer? Works can be exported as a PDF, Microsoft Word document or e-doc on iwork.com.

COULD BE BETTER: Rich Text Format (RTF) and Open Document Format (ODF) are not among the file formats supported, so the limited export options might hamstring those who don’t have Pages, Word or PDF readers.

FOR THE OLD-SCHOOL SCRIBE: DroidRoom (Android)

BEST FEATURES: Lacking unnecessary bells and whistles, this writing app harks back to the antiquated green text on computer terminals, allowing you to just write and save your text files on a mobile device’s memory card. Simple—that’s the keyword here.

COULD BE BETTER: Apps like Pages automatically scroll down when you’re writing a new paragraph. DroidRoom does not, which becomes an issue when the text on the screen disappears behind the virtual keyboard. Resizing the font helps.

FOR THE REPORTER: Notes Plus (iPad)

BEST FEATURES: This iPad app has an audio recording option and recognizes notes handwritten with a touch screen–friendly pen or your finger. Notes Plus also has a “palm pad,” an area where you can rest your hand and write naturally without your iPad mistaking your palm for your pen.

COULD BE BETTER: Would you rather type? You can create text boxes anywhere on the screen; however, resizing or moving them isn’t a seamless task. Stick with handwriting.

FOR THE FIELD RESEARCHER: Evernote (Android, iPad/iPhone)

BEST FEATURES: A treat for travel journalists, music critics and the like, Evernote is best suited for those whose research goes beyond mere note taking. Its features include video capturing and photo attaching and labeling, which makes for better organization of your “notebooks” stored in the app’s online database.

COULD BE BETTER: A photo might first look oversized and fuzzy because the app doesn’t downsize it for a note. E-mailing the image gives it a better appearance, though, as does using large-screen devices.

FOR THE ORDERLY AUTHOR: Manuscript (iPad/iPhone)

BEST FEATURES: This author-friendly app includes index card, chapter, synopsis and pitch options, allowing a writer to organize all of her manuscript’s supporting documents in one portable place. The content can also be exported to a website.

COULD BE BETTER: The app lacks some page formatting options (e.g., margins, font sizes), so it resembles a prewriting, idea-organizing product rather than a word processor.

FOR THE VISUAL WRITER: Thinking Space (Android)

BEST FEATURES: Reviewing a plot or story arc as a visual element can be refreshing, and Thinking Space allows you to do just that. You can connect “nodes”—text notes, really—to each other and make sub-nodes, great for developing subplots. When your story map is complete, you can export it as a photo, easily readable on a desktop computer.

COULD BE BETTER: Text formatting is a bit strange, requiring you to draw symbols in order to make changes. For example, drawing a rainbow will alter the text color. So you’ll need to learn some new shortcuts to really put the app to use.

This article was written by Rich Shivener.


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