Scrivener is known as the ‘writers’ word processor’ on Mac, so I was keen to see what the the app would be like on iPad. Apple’s Pages app feels curiously unsatisfying in that role – I use it sometimes on Mac and it’s fine, although not my preferred word processor, but on iPad it’s curiously unsatisfying. I’m not entirely sure if this is because typing a document out on iPad is what’s unsatisfying (I don’t have a keyboard to attach) or whether it’s the app at fault.
I started this review in Scrivener for iOS on my iPad mini, but since I don’t have an accessory keyboard for that, I must admit I couldn’t wait to get it onto my Mac to carry on. But hey, if you’re serious about being a scribe on iPad, you surely have a hardware keyboard, right? As typing on glass for any length of time is not going to be optimal and besides, the on-screen keyboard takes up valuable screen real estate.
To that end, Scrivener tries to improve the on-screen keyboard too, with some extra keys in a line above there usual. Arrow keys! Yes! But this area is actually are swipeable left and right to present different sets – even handier.
Once you get adept with these, your typing and word-smithing definitely speeds up, but see how little space above you have to see your actual work in progress, at least on an iPad mini? (above). A bigger iPad would be much better, and let’s face it, a larger iPad is a more serious tool anyway.
To aid yer actual writing, Scrivener offers handy tools, like dragging to zoom directly over the page actually makes the text bigger or smaller rather than just zooming the view. Good thinking. On an iPad mini, the extra line of characters above the on-screen keyboard gives you precious little space for your words to appear on — you can disappear this with a top right button, but they’re handy buttons so you miss them pretty quickly. An alternative is to change to portrait mode but then you get a smaller overall keyboard with smaller keys. The best method is to attach a decent real hardware keyboard, of course. (The Apple Bluetooth model for Mac works a treat, if you already have one, but Apple and other vendors sell all sorts of good examples which all connect via Bluetooth.)
This extra button bar is handy — drag it to the left to get more options like indents, and even highlighting tools, a colour palette and more. And this developer house is smart: don’t you hate it when your three options scroll all the way to the right and then boing! The bloody thing bounces and you have to swipe back the other way? I do — Scrivener is smart enough just to start over from the left when you go one too far.
Under that bar there are word suggestions and, another huge plus, a button you tap to instantly paste anything in memory (that you’ve copied). This is way better than holding your finger on the screen to then wait to then choose Paste from the options. That breaks the flow and it has always annoyed me. I like to write fast.
Portrait is actually is actually quite workable for me to type in, I discovered. I thought my fingers would be too bit but I got surprisingly good at it surprisingly quickly.
Scrivener is a ring-binder, a scrapbook, a corkboard, an outliner and a text editor all rolled into one.
Documents in and out — As usual, getting a document from an iDevice onto your Mac is no easy matter. Sure, in theory it is. In practice, not at all, despite iCloud Drive and AirDrop. iCloud Drive seems slow at syncing, at least from New Zealand, and AirDrop only works half of the time for me at best, in any combination of devices I try on my home network.
In the end, I resorted to Dropbox and then, sure, it was better. You need a Dropbox account (of course – you get 2GB of space for free when you sign up), but you’ll need to link Scrivener to it. Tap the Sync icon in the upper-right corner of the Projects screen, then tap Link Dropbox. Follow the prompts to sign into your account and choose a folder for Scrivener syncing. From then on, you’ll then see a dedicated Dropbox section in the Projects screen. Then it’s easy to move it there, and haul it out on your Mac (signed into the same Dropbox account, of course). I’d prefer to use iCloud Drive, so I hope Apple improves this in future, as with Dropbox there’s no automatic syncing. You must tap a sync button or type command-shift-Son a hardware keyboard, and while it’s syncing you can’t do anything until it’s finished. However, Scrivener auto-syncs every time you return to the main screen, or open an existing project. It only syncs on opening or closing a project, or when you manually tell it to
Organisation — One of the most important features is an organisational draw to the left of where you input text. This has a top-level view of your project, and lets you build folders for references and notes etcetera. Swipe left on any of these sections and you get an Expand option to drill into these folders, as you can on the Mac version. This all allows a level of document organisation unparalleled, to my knowledge, in any other iOS app. Meanwhile, swiping left on an individual document within the expanded categories shows a submenu which includes ‘Move to Trash’: that the document can be retrieved if you need.
Tap your Manuscript to work on that in the main page area. You even get a Chapter view within ‘Books’. These can even be colour-coded: labels and their associated colours are assigned by a long-hold on a document.
Conclusion — Is Scrivener a serious iPad writing tool? Yes, definitely. It’s the one we’ve been waiting for, and reflects a very careful and thoughtful development process. Scrivener feels more ‘serious’ than Pages for iPad and it certainly offers a lot more depth once you get into its gestures and advanced features (Scrivener for iOS rewards practice and use). But really, get a hardware keyboard.
What’s Great — Handy writerly features, additional keys, depth
What’s Not — Getting documents onto and from the iPad can be trying. It’s actually even usable on an iPhone, if you really really have to.
Needs — A serious writer with a standard or larger iPad and a good hardware keyboard.
Scrivener for iOS by Literature & Latte — NZ$29.99 (US$19.99) available in the App Store.
More info — Literature & Latte.