iPad & Android
by Gene Wilburn
TOOL REVIEW || updated 7/19/2014
When it comes to portability, it’s hard to beat a shiny new tablet PC whether it be an iPad, iPad Mini, Nexus 10, Nexus 7, Kindle Fire, or Galaxy Note, to name a few of the tablets on the market. Tote it in a bag, switch it on, and it’s ready to use, with up to ten hours of battery life. If you spend many writing sessions at a coffee shop or library, your tablet might be a better choice of writing instrument than a laptop.
The key to writing successfully with a tablet PC is to tailor it to your needs so it becomes part of your existing workflow, matching your personality and preferences. A good place to start is with the keyboard.
The best accessory you can add to any tablet PC is an external Bluetooth (BT) keyboard, such as those offered by Apple, Logitech, Verbatim, Kensington, and others. To be fair, there are writers who can sustain a productive writing session using an onscreen, virtual keyboard, but most of us are more comfortable with an external unit. Some keyboards have better typeability than others, so pay special attention to the key layout to make sure you purchase one that doesn’t slow you down. Folding Bluetooth keyboards offer convenience, though the keys often don’t respond as nicely as they do on a rigid unit. Any modern BT keyboard will work with any BT-enabled tablet PC, allowing you to mix brands if, say, you use a Nexus tablet but like typing on the Apple BT keyboard.
Do you prefer typing on your tablet PC in portrait or landscape mode? Portrait mode is more typewriter-like, with a vertical orientation to the page; landscape, or horizontal mode, is similar to a laptop. In either case you’ll need something to prop the tablet at a comfortable angle for viewing. Many tablet covers fold in such a way as to prop up the tablet for viewing in landscape mode. If you don’t mind carrying an extra bit of gear, you can purchase an inexpensive metal or plastic tablet stand with folding legs that, like a miniature artist’s easel, holds the tablet in portrait or landscape orientation.
Choosing a Writing App
When you write on your main computer, do you use a word processor, a minimalist text editor, or a specialty application such as Scrivener? Does your writing require a lot of attributes, such as italics, footnotes, or special formatting, or, like most novelists, does your writing consist mostly of plain words on a page?
The majority of writing tools available for tablets are plain-text editors or simple text editors that support Markdown notation (see “What is Markdown?”). There are also a few full-featured word processors available and a few organizing tools that might prove useful. Most of the text and Markdown editors are either free or inexpensive, while the word processors tend to cost more, but are still reasonable compared to the price of software for a Mac or PC.
Plain Text & Markdown Editors
Many writers, myself included, like a minimalist writing environment with few, if any, menus showing—essentially just words typed to a blank screen, reminiscent of typing on a blank sheet of paper. The advantage of a plain-text editor is that any files it produces can be imported into any other text editor or word processor on any operating system. Plain text is the universal file format of the computer world.
The app stores for tablets are loaded with plain-text and Markdown editors. Ones that writers have rated highly for the iPad include IA Writer, Elements, Daedalus Touch, WriteRoom, and Byword. Good editors for Android devices include Write, Jota, LightPaper, and DroidEdit. You might want to try more than one to see which editor most closely matches your expectations.
If you prefer a more traditional word-processing app, there are several available in the app stores. At this time, there are more offerings for the iPad than for Android tablets. Notables for the iPad include Documents to Go, which offers both a Word-compatible word-processing app and an Excel-compatible spreadsheet, Doc2 HD, a Word-compatible word processor, Textilus, an RTF-based Markdown editor for the iPad, or Apple’s own Pages. Pages docs can be exported directly to another app on the iPad as well as sent by email in Pages, Word, or plain-text format. If you own Pages on a Mac, you can set up direct iCloud sync.
Leading the list of Android word processors is Kingsoft Office, a word processor that is both Google Drive and Dropbox friendly. Best of all, it’s free. Documents to Go, already mentioned for the iPad, is also available for Android tablets. Smart Office 2 is a word processor available for Android as well as iPad tablets. It can create and edit Word-, Excel-, and PowerPoint-compatible files that you can sync back to your main computer. Another Word and Excel compatible contender is OfficeSuite Pro 7. It offers a free trial version.
Lest the obvious be overlooked, any tablet can also use the built-in word processor in Google Drive as long as you have an Internet connection. It’s a simple matter to paste from a text editor into Google Drive and then use Google Drive to set things like italics, underscore, indented text, and other word-processing attributes. Google Drive is also a useful platform for collaboration if you’re working with another writer.
Despite persistent rumors that it might happen, Scrivener has not yet been ported to the iPad, but for fans who love the Scrivener corkboard for creating and rearranging scenes and sections, there’s an iPad app called Index Card that is very Scrivener-like. There’s a workable, though less flashy, index card app called Cardboard Index Cards available for Android.
A specialty app that might appeal to Android users is SwiftKey, an alternative virtual keyboard that turbocharges the onscreen typing experience, making working with a virtual keyboard a decidedly more attractive option. There are alternative virtual keyboards for the iPad as well, but they require you to jailbreak your iPad in order to use them.
Printing from a Tablet
Android tablets can print to any Wi-Fi-enabled printer whereas iPads can print wirelessly only to AirPrint-compatible printers, or a printer that has been disguised to look like one. Current printers from HP and Epson offer AirPrint. If you have an older, non-Wi-Fi printer, as I do, there are utilities available that can trick your printer into looking like an AirPrint printer. HandyPrint for the Mac does an excellent job of making my shared HP Laserjet 1300 available to my iPad. Windows users can use a utility such as FingerPrint to enable Airport printing from older printers.
There are, of course, more apps available than are highlighted here, but this should be enough to set you on your path to turning your tablet into a formidable writing tool. Now, break out your tablet and get cracking on that word count! ■
Gene Wilburn is a writer/photographer residing in Port Credit, Ontario, Canada. Gene serves as an advisor and nonfiction editor for Small Print Magazine.