Ulysses 2.5 really is a very, very impressive writing environment. This latest version does enough new stuff, and fixed one of the most irritating bugs I was experiencing, that I think it warrants a fresh look since my last review of Ulysses in June 2015.
Ulysses isn’t a notes app, it’s a writing app. As such, it’s meant for longer form writing and has special features to help you structure larger bodies of text, as well as keep your eyes on the prize as you write.
Each of my documents is called a Sheet, and all of these Sheets sync up over iCloud. The Sheets are in plain text but do support in-line Markdown formatting, which is great if you write for the web like I do. Ulysses also supports the addition of extra metadata, like pictures, notes, and goals in the sidebar.
What’s fun about Ulysses is that it embraces choice. There are choices of themes, fonts, layouts, and multiple export options (including some solid DOCX support). There are a lot of different ways you can use Ulysses, and it’s not one of those apps that tries to shoehorn you into a specific way of thinking.
One of the features I’ve really taken to recently has been to set Goals for each post. Word counts are fairly standard features in writing apps, but Ulysses can actually help you identify when you’ve passed a particular threshold. I like to set a goal using a minimum number of words, but this could also be set for sentences, characters counts, or paragraphs if you so desire. I like to keep the goal window open alongside my writing window in Ulysses, so that I can glance at the right side of the screen and see how far I’ve made it over the past few minutes.
Notes in the Margins
One of the other reasons I’ve been really loving Ulysses these past few months on the beta is my discovery of the excellent Note feature in the sidebar. Just as I can watch my progress towards my word count goal, Ulysses also supports quick plain text notes that I can scribble in the margins. I use this for storing the basic outlines of my articles, and it has been working wonderfully so far.
I used to do this in iA Writer by storing the outline right within the body of my article, always at the bottom. As I wrote, I would delete the portions of my outline that I had already written out in full. However, this meant a lot of extra scrolling up and down in order to reference my outline. With Ulysses, I can preserve my entire outline while writing, and never skip a beat.
Universal App & Improved iPad Support
One of the reasons that Ulysses is once again a viable candidate for my main writing app is because of the added universal support in v2.5. Ulysses is now a single iOS app that works on both the iPad and the iPhone, so my writing comes with me wherever I go. They did take a while to do this, but the iPhone app is great right out of the gate, so it was worth the wait.
I’ve found that writing within Ulysses on the iPhone 6S Plus is a roomy enough experience to still be really enjoyable, and I’ve finished off many iPad Insight posts from my iPhone thanks to the reliable iCloud sync between my two iOS devices.
Ulysses has also become a much better iPad citizen as of v2.5. It now supports Split View beautifully, and the shortcut bar now has special Ulysses-specific shortcuts for searching, article statistics, Markdown formatting, and inserting special characters. I really love that I can keep the sidebar open on the iPad Pro at all times, and it really makes me feel like I’m getting to take full advantage of this larger screen because of it.
No More Period Bug
One of the little bugs that drove me crazy before v2.5 had to do with having any kind of period (.) in the first line of my file. This would somehow prevent Ulysses from rendering my article, written in Markdown, as the HTML that WordPress requires. As you can imagine, writing about different dot releases of apps (ex. Ulysses 2.5) and iOS versions (ex. iOS 9.3) was made a lot harder because of this bug. However, I’m glad to report that the devs at the Soulmen really listened and tracked this issue down during the v2.5 beta, and it is no longer an issue as of the public release.
In fact, I’ve found Ulysses to be pretty bulletproof so far. It’s stable, fast, syncs reliably, and has introduced some new ways for me to work in the form of Goals and Notes. It’s well befitting of the premium price of $34.99 because the Soulmen really do take this app’s development seriously. Ulysses has been around for a while, and I think it’s priced at a very sustainable level.
The only thing I still really want from this app — which I also mentioned in my previous review — is what they call Typewriter scrolling. iA Writer has in its Focus Mode, and Ulysses on the Mac has been able to do this for quite a while. Typewriter scrolling would help me to keep all of my text centered vertically in the middle of the screen, and I genuinely believe this single feature provides a genuine ergonomic leg up on the competition. Ulysses already does this on the Mac and I know they’re working on it for iOS, and I can’t wait for it to get here.