One of my biggest pet peeves with the Android ecosystem thus far has been a lack of great apps for writers. Maybe it’s because that’s what I do for a living and I can’t see past my own professional needs, but it’s been a thorn in my side since I started playing with Android in 2010. But over the past year, the ecosystem has made some remarkable progress, and writers haven’t been left as wanting as they were in the past.
I personally prefer Markdown as a writing method, which uses a simple syntax that makes typing HTML a lot easier. It’s been my preferred syntax for almost two years now, and I’ve been waiting for Android to catch up with iOS’s barrage of Markdown editors. At the same time as Android has been catching up, I’ve been asked if I could round up a few of my current favourite apps. Here are five of them.
MarkDrop is a cloud-based Markdown app for smartphones running Android 2.2 or higher, which makes it a decent app for anybody running a slightly older OS. It’s got a few limitations, though. It only syncs to a single Dropbox directory, instead of requesting access to every folder in your Dropbox. If you’re like me and you tend to store your writing in multiple folders or use multiple Dropbox-connected apps across many operating systems, you’ll find that a frustration.
The app also has some limits with file types. It doesn’t save or read .txt files, which is a shame because those are perfectly adequate for Markdown use. Of course, it works with Markdown file types and that’s exactly what it creates when you make a new file. It also lacks tablet support — not a surprise for an app capable of running on pre-Gingerbread devices, but a downside nonetheless.
MarkDrop is notable for two reasons, though. Firstly, it does work on older devices. Secondly, it’s simple and functional. While a lot of design is focused on uniting beauty and function, MarkDrop eliminates pretty much all excessive design cues. This is what allows it to work on older devices. As a result of that, this is “functional design” — it’s design that sees the interface as a means to an end, and not as the means itself. Not to mention that it’s free. For many of us, that’s all we need in a cloud-connected Markdown app: a cheap price tag and a little bit of functionality.
Draft replaces the now-defunct Epistle, which itself was a popular Markdown-enabled writing app. Draft hits up all the basics and then some, and was maybe the first truly worthwhile Markdown app to hit the Android ecosystem (I wasn’t much of a fan of Epistle).
Draft is made for smartphones and tablets, and features a lovely UI that’s both eminently usable and highly functional. The UI doesn’t shy away from some little extras, though: customizable colours and a full-screen writing mode make the app feel more feature-packed than a lot of its lacking competition. The app also allows you to work offline, save any file to any Dropbox folder, and work with plain text files.
In our review of Draft, my colleague Abhimanyu Ghoshal said Draft wasn’t overly expensive, “but there isn’t much of a value-add over free options like Denote and MarkDrop, save for a better interface.” I’d mostly agree, but then I’d have to add that I love the HTML export feature in Draft, which adds a lot of function for those of us trying to blog straight from our Android devices. If you want something simple, good-looking, and relatively functional, you could do much worse than Draft.
I’m a huge sucker for a beautiful app, especially when it comes to my writing. I find that a good-looking app really helps me get my groove on. I can’t properly explain why — it’s all in my mind, I know — but I think that’s the reason that JotterPad X is a personal favourite of mine (you can see me geek out a little more in my full review of the app).
Everything about JotterPad X has been built with design in mind. Even the file browser is almost a work of art. If you want to talk about luxury, the easiest comparison is to say that JotterPad X is a Porsche and an app like MarkDrop is a Honda. Hondas aren’t bad and they’ll get you where you need to go, but Porsches get you there in comfort and style.
Of course, the design isn’t all there is to it. JotterPad X also has very customizable typography and interface options, and the in-app purchase to unlock the Creative Version turns it into a real powerhouse. It’s got a popup dictionary and thesaurus, shortcut keys built-in for Bluetooth keyboards, Version support, a great Night Mode, and full Dropbox integration. Personally, this is where it’s at.
If I had to recommend the most powerful Markdown editor on the Google Play Store, Lightpaper Pro would probably be my solution. My exhaustive review barely found space to dig into all of its features. The app has a design that’s highly functional — although not as visually pleasing as JotterPad — but where it excels are its publishing features.
Most Markdown editors are made to write in, but don’t act as complete workstations. Lightpaper Pro takes this a little further and allows you to publish directly to your WordPress, Tumblr, or Scriptogram account straight from the app. It’s a little touch that separates it from the pack. It features Markdown preview as you write, which is a great perk that makes it a lot easier to know your formatting is working properly (especially for beginners), and has integrated spellcheck and Multimarkdown support. Multimarkdown is just like Markdown, but also adds supports for additional tools like footnotes that many of us need (myself often included).
I also really like the fact that Lightpaper Pro is an app you’ll pay for upfront. As silly as that sounds, JotterPad’s in-app purchase is something I’m not a big fan of. Lightpaper Pro is completely honest about what it is, and is likely the best Markdown editor for feature completists and those of us with slightly older devices.
We always take Markdown so seriously as writers — after all, for many of us, we use it to make a living. But Markdown is a multifunctional tool. I find myself taking notes in Markdown using pen and paper now, and even when I’m writing in simple note-taking apps I tend to use the shorthand to quickly illustrate my ideas.
This is where I think the strength of Writer lies (see our review for more about the app). It’s an extremely simple app that anybody running a modern Android phone could use with no problem. It’s barebones enough that its slightly-antiquated ornamentation isn’t really out of style. In other words, the app doesn’t look great, but it doesn’t look bad either.
The thing is, the app doesn’t offer Dropbox support, so you’ll need to plug it in to your computer to transfer everything from your phone. But I don’t think the app really needs it. This is the sort of app that you get to keep little notes or ideas in. It’s perfect for grocery lists or jotting down a little reminder, and it’s a great way for people like me to use Markdown everywhere. I wouldn’t recommend it for serious writing, but I would recommend it as a pocketable Field Notes.
This list certainly isn’t every writing app available in the Play Store, but these are the ones I always like to recommend to writers for varying purposes. Let us know in the comments what writing apps you love!