Hands On: Textkraft Professional 4.1 (iOS)

Powerful writing studio with new e-book features

We're late to another party: previously we've spoken of note-taking apps, text editors, and word processors. Now, though, we have to recognise that there is a fourth class of apps that you type into: the writing studio. Once you come up with a name for something, you realize it has been applied to apps for ages: Scrivener and Ulysses, amongst others, are like this. They are software apps intended to be a complete writing environment. Add to that list the newly-updated Textkraft Professional 4.1.

It's not as if we can claim this is a new entry to the class, not when it's got a version number like 4.1. Yet curiously, the first thing we said about the last Textkraft product we reviewed was that we didn't know how we'd missed it for so long. Part of the problem may be that there aren awful lot of Textkraft apps that are supremely similar: there are around eight with the same or similar name, plus a couple of associated others, like Easy Writer+. It looks to us as if the developer has worked up one writing engine, so to speak, and put different paints on it.

So there's an English version, a French one, and so on. There's also a Lite, an Editor, and a Pocket, plus a Pocket Lite one. We're no better at marketing than we are at making our own apps, but we'd like to see Textkraft make one product that comes with localized keyboards and dictionaries, as most developers do.

Appearance is important in text editors, especially if we're right about the core of all of these being the same. Writing may be all sorts of things, but it's always slow and intense -- so you're spending a lot of time concentrating on one screen with one keyboard, and thus appearance matters. Design matters: how the app works as well as how it looks.

As far as how this version works, Textkraft Professional comes with a strong set of tools. If it has one distinguishing feature, then it's that the regular onscreen keyboard comes topped with myriad extra options that give you fine and fast movement around the document. Tap to jump back or forth a word, a sentence. Tap to jump to the start or end of the document. It's really bringing features that we're used to on desktop computers to the iPad, and they're welcome.

So is the ability to just swipe your entire document to the side and read or write another one, then swipe back. If instead of swiping, you can tap a grid icon you pull up out of the document to see all you've got spread out in front of you, and then you can tap to compare two. A new document is created, with all the differences highlighted.

As far as appearance works, though, this feels oddly old. We're talking differences of a few pixels here but, for instance, Ulysses looks modern, where Textkraft Professional doesn't. Icons are too big, and despite their size they're not clear: you do have to keep tapping away to try things out.

When you do, though, you hit a particularly good feature. Highlight a word -- just highlight it, don't even copy it -- and then with a tap or two you can be in Wolfram Alpha's site reading a definition of that word: all without leaving the app. Then, when you're doing searches, you can do far more than you might in most apps: Textkraft Professional supports regular expressions and grep searches. One day we'll get around to seeing what those are.

The latest versions of Textkraft Professional also claims to have options for producing e-books in the ePub format. It does, but they don't come with anything approaching the complete and visual approach of, say, Vellum. And while it has many features, it doesn't come close to something like Scrivener for Mac in customization for ePub files. It's really just the same Save As that you'd use to save files in Microsoft Word format. So it's potentially useful, but this isn't going to replace Adobe InDesign for you.

You're not sensing a rave here, nor are we sensing the developer thinking of quoting us on billboards. Yet that's not fair. When we use this against other apps, then we happen to prefer Ulysses. So very much of writing is personal preference, though, and you can't measure that, you can only find it out for yourself. We could've said that right at the start and saved you some time, but the thing to take away is that if you bought Textkraft Professional for your iPad, you'd be happy with it.

Textkraft Professional 4.1 requires iOS 7.1 or higher, and costs $19 on the App Store.

Who is Textkraft Professional 4.1 for:
Writers who need to collate research materials, or refer to different documents, and to do so on their iPad.

Who is Textkraft Professional 4.1 not for:
It isn't as slick as Ulysses, and there isn't a Mac version, so it's not right for everyone.

-- William Gallagher (@WGallagher)

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