1Writer by Ngoc Luu icon

Even though my main writing app of choice is now Editorial, I had to check out 1Writer ($0.99) by Ngoc Luu on my iPhone, as the biggest drawback of Editorial is the fact that it is iPad-only.

I’ve settled on Byword for my iPhone in the past, but ever since Editorial came into play, I’ve now started the search for other text editors to use on my phone. I heard a bit on 1Writer by Federico Viticci on The Prompt podcast, so I had to check it out for myself.

If you’ve been wanting a Markdown text editor with the iOS 7 look and feel, then 1Writer is currently your best choice. This app has been made to fit hand-in-hand with the upcoming major revision of iOS, and it looks and feels natural enough that you may think it should have just come by default. The various views of the app all feature a flat design, even down to the buttons and side panels. Icons are simplistic, feature just lines and curves, and are color-coded for easy recognition. The only thing that may feel off are the toggle buttons in the app’s settings, which follow the traditional appearance before iOS 7 came along.

1Writer by Ngoc Luu screenshot

The default setting for 1Writer is that documents are saved locally. However, there is full support for Dropbox and iCloud syncing of documents, with Dropbox being linked from the settings first. The iCloud option will work just by adding a new folder on the main screen and then choosing the iCloud option.

What I like about 1Writer’s Dropbox integration, though, is the fact that you can actually pick select folders from your Dropbox account, rather than sticking with the default /Apps/1Writer or root /Dropbox folder. When you go to add a new folder on the main screen, and then pick Dropbox, you are able to peruse through your folders until you find the one you want, and then tap “Choose This Folder” at the bottom. If you select a folder that contains subfolders, then you automatically get those as well.

My only problem with 1Writer is the fact that it may take a very long time for it to load up a lot of files at once. I struggled with importing my main work folder, which contains over 1000 documents, and had to retry several times before it successfully imported everything. The loading process for this took a while on the successful attempt, and I believe I waited about 10 minutes or so (I kind of forgot about it as my phone sat idle with the screen off). I hope that the developer can optimize the app for folders with a lot of documents in the future, because I was getting a bit frustrated at this point.

When you have multiple folders in the main view, you can easily differentiate between them by the color of the folder icon. Local documents (1Writer only) will be red, iCloud is gray, and all Dropbox folders are blue. If you tap on the hamburger button in the top left, you will reveal a slim side panel, where you can access Settings, Documents (main view), Tags, and Recent.

The Tags is a nice feature, and tags are created whenever you use the # for Markdown syntax. All of my documents are tagged, since I always use # in the beginning, so I can easily see how many documents I have for certain keywords, like “AppAdvice.” The tag can be inserted at any point in your document, not just at the beginning, so when you search for tags, it will bring up any document that contains the keyword at some point in the file. The Recent view will do just that — reveal your most recently opened documents.

Whenever you want to start on a new document, just tap on that little “+” button in the bottom of the screen. You can create a document on the main Folders view, or navigate to your preferred folder of choice. The file can be renamed, and you can even change the extension, which is set to .txt by default. It can be changed to .md or whatever else you prefer, as long as it is for the text or Markdown format.

1Writer by Ngoc Luu screenshot

When you begin writing in 1Writer, you will first notice the keyboard extension that will make typing on your iOS device easier. This has become a requirement for any iOS text editor, really, and I found this one to be fairly decent. The extension features three pages, which you can scroll through like iOS home screens.

The first row features the hashtag for easy tagging, checklist option (it turns – or ++ into interactive checkboxes), undo/redo, cursor navigation, and a share button (multiple options for plain or formatted text, and even PDF). The second row has options for creating headers, bold or italicizing text, inserting links and images, lists, and a live Markdown preview. The third row contains shortcut buttons for commonly used characters, such as apostrophes, quotes, brackets, slashes, ampersands, and more. However, my problem with these are the fact that the app does not automatically close them for you, or change the button to close the current bracket. I found this kind of annoying, and kind of defeating the purpose of having these buttons as a shortcut.

Once you are done writing, and manually save your document (yes, manually), then you will be able to view it in full Markdown, which is pretty nice. I do wish that the app would just save automatically when a new document is created or edited, as manually saving is so passé. The app does not update the file list automatically either, and so you will need to do a pull-to-refresh gesture on it to bring it up to speed, and then wait while it updates. I’m not a big fan of this, as I’ve been spoiled with Editorial, so I hope that the developer can update so that changes are automatic and the list is refreshed on an interval basis.

For most people, the current file list may suit them, as it is is sorted alphabetically by name. However, for someone like me, who has a lot of documents, I really wish there was a way to change the sorting, perhaps by date, and the option of descending or ascending order.

For those of you who actually prefer landscape orientation for long-form writing, then you’ll be happy with 1Writer’s full landscape support. If you currently don’t have an Internet connection, but use 1Writer, then you can access files offline, and changes will be synced the next time you have data. To-do lists that are created in the app can also be quickly exported to Reminders.app as well. TextExpander Touch is also supported for quickly accessing your snippets. When viewing a Markdown preview of a document with links, you can quickly view the links with the app’s in-app browser.

Still, it’s not all bad with 1Writer. This little Markdown text editor has some fine options in the Settings that I don’t see very often in other apps of the genre. You can enable a passcode lock to protect your files, change the font (it includes my favorite, Avenir) and theme (Default Red, Dark Gray, Silver, or Blue), and even link it with Evernote and CloudApp for easy sharing.

Currently, 1Writer has only been out in the App Store for about a month. It has received two updates already since then, so I can only hope that the app continues to grow and become even more polished. I really want to use it as my main text editor on my iPhone, but at the moment, I can’t. While it looks fantastic and has some nice options, I found the syncing to be slow compared to other apps, and the lack of automatic saving is a deal-breaker. The fact that the brackets don’t close with the extension is also another big problem I have with it. However, I’ll be keeping this on my iPhone to watch out for updates that will perhaps fix the issues I’m having.

If you want to check out 1Writer for yourself, then you can find it in the App Store as a universal download for $0.99 for a limited time.