The On-The-Go Writer

So you have a smart phone, or a tablet thingy and you want to work on something while you are on the go. As writers the further we are away from our computer, the more likely we are to get an idea or have time to write. While I do suggest always having paper and pen nearby, here are some tools for those who want to be a bit more geeky in their art.

With What I Have

Email: this one is easy, open up a new message in email and write all you want. When you are done, send it to yourself and you’ll have it when you return to a computer. Simple, easy.

Notes: most of these thigns have a ‘notes’ program. Start a few with ideas or scenes. Hell, you could write a whole story in one if you really wanted. The bonus of notes over email is that they live on your phone, so you can go back and look at them later. Again, simply email the note to yourself to sent it to your computer.

Da Webz: More and more web apps are becoming mobile friendly. Things like Google Docs and wordpress have mobile editions to make access to them easy. Downside, you have to be connected while you are using them. (So not an option when on a plane)

Dropbox (http://dropbox.com)

First and formost, this is what you want. If you don’t have it, go get it, go get it now. (here, use this link which gives us both some extra space)  You get 2 gigs for free and can pay for 50.

What is Dropbox? It is a cloud syncing program. Basically it works like this: you have a folder on your computer and whatever you put in there is saved on the cloud. If you have more than one computer, everything in that folder is synced between them. And it saves versions of your files online, so you can pull up an old version if you want. You can even share folders with other dropbox users. There is a quick video on their site to explain more.

There is a mobile app, and quite a few mobile programs can directly access your Dropbox account. For the mobile writer, Dropbox is an essential tool.

(Note, i’ll be focusing on word processors for this. maybe later i’ll compare spreadsheets and presentation tools)

QuickOffice (http://quickoffice.com)

QuickOffice is a mobile office suite which includes a word processor (Word), spreadsheet program (Excel) and presentation program (Power Point).

While the word processor part of Quickoffice can open lots of files, it can only create and edit Doc/Docx files. So, if you are like me and save everything to RTF,

As for file creation, the word processor offers a very basic set up. There are options for fonts, bold, italics. Paragraph settings for alignment and lists. It will give you a word count and do a basic “find”.

Cloud access is at a premium, unfortuatly. The cloud supported version is $15 for iPhone (Android only has this option). I would suggest that this $5 is worth it, as it gives you access to your cloud account. Otherwise you will only be able to email files back to your computer.

For you phone / tablet users out there: quickoffice has two programs, one for iPhone / Android, one for iPad / Android Tablet. So if you have both, it is going to cost you more. ($15 for phone, $20 for tablet)

  • Operating Systems: Android, iOS
  • File Types for creation / Editing: DOC, DOCX, TXT
  • File Types for Opening / Reading only: RTF
  • Cloud Support: MobileMe, Dropbox, Google Docs, Box.net, Huddle and SugarSync (Quickoffice Pro only)

Documents to Go (http://dataviz.com)

Disclaimer, I haven’t used iOS Docs to Go, but have used it on Blackberry and Palm Pilots

Documents to Go has been around since the Palm Pilot days. This means it has many years of refinement built into it, and thankfully a much lower price than it did back then ($16 now, $70 back then). Still it was one of the first to let you view, edit and even create Word, Excel and Powerpoint files on your handheld.

A solid app with history behind it. The features it contains are similar to Quickoffice with the addition of find & replace, and viewing comments. It also includes a desktop app for Mac and PC which will let you sync your files to your phone. While cloud support makes this an older option, it is still a nice one.

Docs to go is a universal app on both Android and iOS. This means you buy it once, and it works on your phone and tablet (of the same OS, that is…) But as with Quickoffice, the cloud comes as a premium, $16 for the cloud infused version.

  • Operating Systems: Android, iOS, Blackberry
  • File Types for creation / Editing: DOC, DOCX, TXT
  • File Types for Opening / Reading only: RTF
  • Cloud Support: MobileMe, Dropbox, Google Docs, Box.net, and SugarSync (Premium version only)

Pages (http://www.apple.com/pages)

Pages is part of the iWork for iOS. If you want the full suite, like the previous two, it will be $30 for all three (Pages, Keynote and Numbers). It is also an iOS only application. Pages by itself is just $10.

Pages is, in my opinion, also the most capable. In Pages you have the ability to add pictures, tables, charts and shapes. It even has styles for formatting. You can edit your header and footer, even change the paper type. Pages is, more than the other two, a full fledged word processor.

Pages’s major flaw lies in its cloud execution. First there is only iCloud support, no dropbox*. Files that you have in Pages will sync to other iOS devices, but not with Pages on the Mac. This makes for awkward transition from your phone back to your computer using either email or the iCloud website, neither is optimal. And for the mobile writer, this is a major hurdle. Hopefully this is cleaned up with future releases. (and like magic, seems there is an update to OS X coming)

*you can download from Dropbox and send it to Pages, but Pages will not let you send it back.

  • Operating Systems: iOS
  • File Types for creation / Editing: Pages, DOC (export only), PDF (export)
  • File Types for Opening / Reading only: Doc (open as .doc, saved as .pages)
  • Cloud Support: iCloud

Conclusions

But wait! I didn’t tell you which one was the best! No, I didn’t. The reason for that is that we each have our own needs for these things. All of these programs are capible, yes. Hopefully I have given you enough information that you can decide which is the best for you. Are there other programs out there? Sure. Maybe Macjournal for note taking is all you really want on the go. Maybe you prefer to use voice notes on the go and write them down later. Maybe you prefer to not do anything when you are out.

 

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