The new minimal text editor Writer Pro is a worthwhile upgrade over its predecessor, iA Writer. It’s a very polished product with useful features like multiple writing modes that each have their own custom font. There’s also Syntax Control, a tool that highlights select parts of your document for easier revisions and edits.
Admittedly I didn’t expect to have such a positive experience; Writer Pro launched in a crowded field of already well made, minimal text editors. There’s Information Architects’ own iA Writer, which already shares the core Writer Pro feature set. And Byword is an editor with exceptional Markdown support, keyboard shortcuts and exporting options.
Yet Writer Pro distinguishes itself over the competition with subtle yet important design details:
- The program fades out the standard Mac toolbar at the document’s top when you begin to type. It’s a small touch that removes another distraction from your writing.
- You can enable Syntax Control to highlight just the sentence you’re on. When you scroll through your document, the fade out effect is lifted for easier navigation.
- Most competing text editors only enable line or paragraph focus. Line focus feels too constrained on longer sentences while paragraph focus is too loose. Writer Pro’s Syntax Control set to sentence mode is a happy compromise; it highlights the sentence you’re on, regardless of length.
- Writer Pro’s formats select Markdown symbols so paragraphs, list items and headlines line up vertically. It makes scanning through and organizing a larger document much easier.
- Writer Pro’s font mix of Nitti, Nitti Grotesk and Tiempos is arguably better optimized for writing than options available on competing editors (more on this below.)
Writer Pro doubles down on its existing design strengths with its new writing modes: Note, Write, Edit and Read. You can jump between modes at any time; switching from one writing mode to another changes the font and cursor color to optimize for the task at hand. Content remains unchanged.
Because content is static, Writer Pro’s mode switching can feel superfluous at first; negative reviews on the Mac App Store harp on this a lot. However, after switching between modes for several weeks, the feature has a positive effect on my writing. Note mode utilizes a thin, ultra clean sans serif that pairs well, to quote iA, with the “clean and pristine” nature that notes tend to have. The typography here pushed me in the direction of shorter bullet points over long, rambling sentences.
Write mode retains the monospaced Nitti font from iA Writer. It’s blockier and inherently easier to flow from sentence to sentence, better for uninterrupted writing. Edit and Read modes use Tiempos, a higher contrast serif. This font corrects one of my complaints about the original iA Writer; Nitti was awesome for actual writing, but for editing long form pieces, Nitti’s fluid structure wasn’t ideal (there’s a reason you rarely see idiosyncratic sans-serifs like Nitti used for long reads.) Tiempos is a far better reading and editing choice.
Just to make sure I wasn’t buying into empty typographic fluff, I used Writer Pro’s modes against their suggested intentions for several days. To the program’s credit, writing was more difficult: long form pieces in Note node were written decidedly slower than average. And editing paragraphs in Write node felt awkward with too much space between characters.
Writer Pro’s other significant new feature is Syntax Control. With a click or keyboard shortcut, most of the document fades out, highlighting only the sentence you’re on or just a document’s adjectives, nouns, adverbs, verbs, prepositions or conjunctions. It’s effectively iA Writer’s “focus mode” on steroids.
Unlike writing modes that I use throughout the writing process, I only found Syntax Control useful for final edits and draft revisions on longer pieces. That slightly dulls this feature’s impact but it’s still useful to cut down on verbiage. Those who need absolute focus on what they are writing will likely appreciate Syntax Control on the current sentence (identical to iA Writer’s focus mode.) I rarely use Syntax Control this way but it’s helpful when you’re having trouble putting together a troublesome sentence.
While overall Writer Pro is impressive, there’s a few small issues that need work. The Markdown preview window has poor styling with a font size that’s too small and lines that stretch out as far as you resize the window; it feels like an afterthought feature. It’s also odd iA doesn’t automatically covert Markdown syntax (e.g. headlines, bold text, links) when you switch to Writer Pro’s Read mode. Given that iA already went far enough to make this the one mode with a change in functionality (you can’t edit, the cursor and misspelling highlights are removed) they should go all the way to maximize the reading experience. And, unfortunately, this lack of Markdown syntax conversion extends to PDF exports too. It makes PDF exports useless for Markdown writers; get a copy of Brett Terpstra’s excellent Marked 2 as a workaround for now. Additionally, as a writer who’s often typing away emails and blog posts late at night, Writer Pro could really use a “night mode” with light text on a dark background. It would violate Writer Pro’s general lack of customization, but adding the feature would enhance readability and lower eye strain in dark environments, two big wins.
I’m also seeing performance problems with Writer Pro every so often; the CPU usage suddenly spikes and you’re left with an unresponsive, sluggish program, usually after I have the program active for an extended period. It’s rare but annoying when it happens.
Over the past year I’ve written mostly in Byword on both on iOS and the Mac, with occasional forays into iA Writer when I’m in the right mood. Now, after weeks of heavy Writer Pro usage, it’s my main writing choice on the Mac going forward. That said, with its strict minimalism and higher cost, Writer Pro isn’t for everyone. If it’s your first look at a plain text writer, Byword is a more well rounded, cheaper alternative. Nonetheless, if Writer Pro’s visual mode changes and Syntax Control sound compelling, or if you’re a typographic geek like me, give Writer Pro a try.