When it comes to Markdown editors, iPad users are pretty much spoilt for choice. From Byword to iA Writer, there’s something for almost everyone and each app boasts a myriad of features that makes choosing one a pretty lacklustre affair. I personally use Drafts when I’m working on my iPad, as I can use it for both scribbling down a quick note and typing a longer document and I’ve been a four-month relationship with Ulysses III on my Mac, which is simply awesome — I do pretty much all my writing on there.
So, you’d probably guess that when a new Markdown editor comes along, I don’t get that excited, right? Yes, that’s right, but there was a certain amount of mystery surrounding the release of Editorial. Federico Viticci got his hands on the beta a month or so back, and the developer Ole Zorn released a few pretty awesome-looking screenshots as well, which really started the wheel turning. Now, the final version is out — and it’s mighty impressive. Editorial has now become the Markdown editor on the iPad — and here’s why.
It’s probably worth noting first off that Editorial is developed by the same genius as Pythonista — an app we’ve covered extensively through Zach’s excellent weekly tutorials. And what’s great is that he’s married these two great applications into one — you can think of Editorial as a Markdown editor with some Pythonista automation thrown in for good measure. Don’t worry if you don’t know anything about Pythonista, though, as the app is incredibly simple to use (and if you don’t, now’s a great time to start learning!)
The introduction guide to Editorial.
Editorial‘s interface is really nice and simple. Upon launching the application for the first time, you are greeted with a helpful tutorial on how to get to grips with the app, which is well-worth a quick read through. Editorial won’t cause you any nasty surprises in terms of functionality or layout, but there are a few handy features included that are certainly worth pointing out.
Running along the top are icons to access your recent documents, Editorial‘s settings, a handy search feature, a button to bring up the sidebar (more on this in a minute) and your Python workflows. The interface is clean and minimalist, which is just what I look for in a great Markdown editor. I don’t want to be bombarded by a cluttered interface or unnecessary features, and Editorial has, in my opinion, got this fine balance just right.
Editorial features Dropbox integration, so you can upload all your creations (either in plain text or Markdown format) straight into the cloud, where you can freely edit them in other applications or on other devices (though thanks to the app’s massive feature set, you probably won’t need to).
Writing Within Editorial
Now this is where we start to get down to business — writing a document in Editorial. I was relieved to see that the developer has included an extended keyboard with quick and easy access to the most commonly used symbols in Markdown, such as the hashtag, asterisk and left and right round and square brackets. It still amazes me that some Markdown editors don’t include this keyboard as standard, and having to tap on the .?123 then the #+= buttons several times to access the symbol you want can get pretty irritating after a while.
Writing my first document.
As you’re typing, Editorial renders exactly what you’re writing, so anything in bold or italics, or any headers you’ve created in your document, show up so you can clearly see them. If you want to preview your full Markdown document, tap on the Sidebar icon (the second from the right to the left of the little wrench icon) then select Preview. You can also access Editorial‘s built-in help guide and browser through the sidebar as well. The browser is especially useful if you want to look something up without having to flick back and forth between applications.
The built-in browser is a little lacking in features, but it’s fine if you just want to look up something quickly.
Another fantastic feature which I really liked was the Snippets button, which is accessible from the extended keyboard and tapping on the little lightning icon on the extended keyboard brings them up straight away. In short, snippets are little pieces of text that you can quickly insert by typing a quick abbreviation. There are several already built-in though you can define your own as well.
The Snippets feature within Editorial.
As you can see in the screenshot above, I can type wbr to quickly insert the sample sentence, “With best regards”. This is really useful if you end up typing the same old sentence over and over again, and as far as I know, Editorial is the only Markdown editor to feature these little text snippets. Sure, it’s not a massive feature, but as I continued to use Editorial I found myself coming back to them more and more. And it’s not just sample sentences you can add using the Snippets feature. Editorial will also allow you to work with file names and extensions, browser titles, URLs and selected text as well.
For a Markdown editor, therefore, Editorial really does pack a powerful punch — and what’s even better is that you don’t have to be an absolute whiz at computers to use all these great features. As I mentioned before, the app’s interface is simple enough without overwhelming the user and although it would be a terrible waste of all those amazing extra features, you can just use it to write away — as I did with this review, as you’ve probably noticed from the screenshots (though I did use an external keyboard as typing on my iPad can get a bit tedious after a while — at no fault of Editorial, of course!).
I mentioned earlier that Editorial was a healthy marriage between a Markdown editor and a fully-blown Python editor — and the Console section, accessible by tapping on the sidebar button, proves this point exactly. The Console shows any output from any Python scripts that are embedded into your Editorial document and it can also be used to enter any Pythonista commands manually.
You can play around with the Python programming language right from within the app.
There’s also a very useful Scratchpad feature which allows you to play around with any Python scripts freely — without screwing anything up of course! There’s a built-in scripting guide to help you become accustomed to all the different commands or (and this is the last time I’ll mention it — promise!) you could read Zach’s excellent set of Pythonista tutorials!
Settings and Customisation Possibilities
One of the features I most admired about Editorial was a healthy-looking settings box. I like the ability to tinker around with the applications I work with, and I’m glad to say that the customisation possibilities in this app will keep me occupied for quite some time!
The Settings pane, with the dark theme selected.
Dropbox integration aside, you can switch between a light and a dark theme (à la Byword) and define the line spacing. I personally prefer the default setting of 1.2, however if you’re used to a wider one in other applications then you can define it here.
There’s also an option to choose the default browser (I’m an avid Chrome user, so any application that lets me do this goes up in my estimations instantly) and you can also change the default font. Personally, I think the default settings look just fine (a mixture between Source Sans Pro and Dejavu Sans Mono) however if these don’t tickle your fancy, you can choose between 10 different fonts from within the Settings pane.
Well, it’s pretty clear to say that Editorial blew me away. Not only because it is a fantastic and easy-to-use Markdown editor (sorry Byword, you’ve been cast aside) but it’s simply packed full of features that makes it well worth that $4.99 price tag. Normally I would say $5 for an app is a little too expensive, unless the app was truly awesome, but then I am a bit of a cheapskate and I would happily shell out this amount of money for a great app.
But what’s lurking under the surface is what really makes Editorial tick. Automation is the key to the game in this app — and if you take a bit of time to learn some simple Python, then Editorial will work wonders for you. I personally have never really taken the time to learn it — I have enough on my plate with HTML — but given the ease of automation within Editorial it really seems a waste.
That’s not to say that you have to learn Python for Editorial to work for you. It’ll help you draft down a few things just fine (as I mentioned before, this review was written completely in it) but using Editorial and not using Python is really like owning an Aston Martin and only driving 20 mph around it — the app will still serve its purpose, but not to its full ability.
Editorial therefore earns our highly commended 10 out of 10 score, because for $4.99, you aren’t going to find a better Markdown editor with so many features out there on the App Store. Perhaps in a few months time, when developers have had the chance to admire this great little app in all its beauty, but for now Editorial really does rule the roost, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone.