Review: Drafts for iPhone and iPad

It's easy enough to cut and paste text between apps, but these days, much of my iOS-composed text starts out in the aptly named Drafts, a stellar app from Agile Tortoise. Available for both the iPad ($3) and the iPhone ($2), Drafts is a catch-all bucket for typing messages, jotting down ideas, storing templates, and--just as useful--doing things with that text when it and you are ready.

Launch Drafts, and you can start typing right away--there's no need to create a new document, think of a title, or leap any other hurdles to getting your thoughts out of your head and into the app. The iPhone version of Drafts offers a clean document view with just a few buttons and the onscreen keyboard; the iPad version adds a couple additional options (more on those in a moment), as well as an additional row of keys above the onscreen keyboard that are useful for formatting links and typing frequently used symbols (including common Markdown and MultiMarkdown notation characters). Unlike the special keys found in many other iOS text editors, Drafts's remain on the screen when you use an external Bluetooth keyboard.

To start a new draft, tap the the plus-sign (+) button; whatever draft you were previously working on is automatically saved. Tap the documents button (an icon of a piece of paper) to view a list of all your saved drafts. The first few words of each draft are displayed in the list to make it easier to find a particular one; you can also use the search feature by tapping the magnifying-glass button and typing a search query.

On the iPad version of Drafts, a nifty Link mode displays the current draft with all addresses, email addresses, URLs, and phone numbers formatted as tappable links that open the appropriate app--Maps, Mail, Safari, Phone, and so on. On either device, you can view live-updated word and character counts, and Drafts supports TextExpander for iOS for inserting frequently typed text snippets. If you have Agile Tortoise's Terminology dictionary app installed, you can look up--and insert--words right from within Drafts.

Your drafts sync between iOS devices using the Simperium service. I wish the app offered the alternative of storing drafts in Dropbox as plain-text files, so I could view and edit the drafts on my Mac, but Agile Tortoise says that Simperium is faster and more reliable than other sync methods. (If you really want to get your text into Dropbox, Drafts offers a couple Dropbox actions--see below.)

But what really makes Drafts useful, and much more than a simple text-notes app, are all the actions you can quickly and easily perform actions on your text. Just tap the familiar Share button, and the resulting popover offers a staggering list of options--over 50 in all--for using the text.

Those options include: posting the text to Twitter (using any iOS-configured Twitter account), App.net, or Facebook; sending the text as an email or Messages message (either of which brings up a screen, within Drafts, for addressing and sending the message); copying the text to the clipboard for use elsewhere; creating a new Calendar event or Reminder based on the text; or printing the text. For Markdown-formatted text, you can preview the rendered text, print it, email it as HTML, or copy the equivalent HTML to the Clipboard. (You can disable any action you don't use regularly so it doesn't appear in the Share popover.)

Other handy actions let you save your draft's text to an Evernote note or to a new text document in Dropbox--you can even append the text to an existing Dropbox-hosted text document.

Drafts also provides actions for sending your text to other iOS apps. These include an ever-expanding list of third-party text editors, task-management apps, email clients, calendar apps, web-search apps, and Twitter and App.net clients. There's also an Open In action for opening your text in apps that aren't explicitly supported by Drafts.

Finally, you can configure email actions, which are custom "email-to" tasks. For each email action, you define the recipients (To and CC), the subject (predefined or the first line of your draft text), and whether or not Drafts should convert Markdown text to HTML when sending. This feature is useful for quickly sending email to particular people (or to yourself), but it's also great for getting around iOS's lack of a group-address feature: When I want to email my family, I just type the text in Drafts and then use my Send To Family email action, which sends the message to all the members of my family. (You can also use email actions with services that support email commands, such as IFTTT.)

Speaking of email, Drafts is also useful for storing templates for new documents and frequently sent messages. You just type or paste each template into a new draft. When you need to create a new document, you just open the draft and then send it to your favorite text editor; to send a stock message or reply, you open the draft, tap the Email action or one of your configured email actions, add whatever additional text you need, and send. (Just be sure you don't have your email action configured to delete your draft after sending.)

You can rearrange the order in which actions appear in the Share popover, and for each action, you get a few configuration options. For example, most actions include an option to confirm the action before performing it--I use this option for things like sending an email or tweeting, but not for "safe" actions such viewing a Markdown preview. Every action also lets you choose what happens after you perform the action: Drafts can return you to the draft, save the draft and create a new draft, or delete the draft and create a new draft. Some actions, such as those for creating text files or events, can be configured to use the first line of your draft as the title.

Drafts also offers a number of appearance options, including three color themes, 17 fonts, and adjustable font size.

I do have a couple complaints about the app. For one, Drafts's settings are hidden at the bottom of the Share popover, which isn't where you'd expect settings to be found. And you have to configure each action individually--I'd like to be able to configure common options globally, and then tweak a particular action's settings when necessary. Related to this, I also wish Drafts would sync my action settings, mail actions, and other settings among devices so I wouldn't have to go through the (sometimes laborious) setup process multiple times.

But these complaints are minor compared to the overwhelming utility of Drafts. As someone who does a lot of text-oriented work on my iPad and iPhone, Drafts has found a permanent place on my first Home screen. It takes much of the pain out of iOS's textual limitations, and it lets me focus on my text, rather than what I'll eventually do with it.

This story, "Review: Drafts for iPhone and iPad" was originally published by MacCentral .

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