Review: Ulysses for iPad

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I’ve been an iA Writer and Writer Pro user for a few years now, but recently took a break from those apps to give Ulysses a fair shake. The devs at The Soulmen have put together a very powerful combo of Mac and iPad apps with a very clean approach to empowering plain text. If you write for the web on a regular basis and prefer to use Markdown for formatting, Ulysses could be your new best friend.

First off, Ulysses is spry. This app is fast, light on its feet, and smooth to navigate. Both the Mac and iPad versions have a three-pane interface of Nav bar -> Files -> Sheet. The nav bar hosts things like iCloud folders, local folders, and sheets tagged as favourites. The files pane shows you all files within the selected folder. The sheet view shows a single file so that you can view and edit it. This interface feels so much better to me than the more traditional save and open dialogs in other apps like Writer Pro, and it’s lightning fast to jump from one document to another.

Ulysses is also quite customizable, with options available for the font type, size, and even the margins. There are themes available for changing the app colours, and an excellent Dark Mode that’s more comfortable for nighttime writing sessions.


The writing experience in Ulysses for iPad is clean, and optimized for both software and hardware keyboards. Creating headers and adding links shows live previews of your changes, right in-line. Headers get larger, lists automatically indent, and links appear as a box of text that you can double tap to add a URL to. This method of adding links adds an extra step if you’re a hardware keyboard user because you need to take your hands off the keys to add a link, but I think it’s a worthwhile compromise to keep the screen cleaner. Ulysses’ process for linking is much easier for software keyboard users, and that use case has always been the more cumbersome one.

The text niceties don’t stop there, though. There’s a set of keyboard shortcuts embedded right above the software keyboard, as well as an innovative way to scrub through text, provided you use Apple’s software keyboard (and not a third-party one). Swiping across the keys of the keyboard will move the caret along at a steady clip; it took me a few tries to get used to this gesture, but after a day it stuck fast.

Hardware keyboard users also have a lot to delight in here, for there are quite a lot of keyboard shortcuts hidden under the hood. It’s easy to bold or italicize text using keyboard shortcuts, and the resulting formatted text is colour-coded for easy identification during editing. It’s also very easy to use the Find command to search large documents for text, without ever taking my fingers off of the keys.


The one thing I really miss on Ulysses for iPad that’s present in the desktop app is the typewriter scrolling that keeps text centered in the middle of the page as I type. Looking down at the very bottom of the screen can get tiring, and I think it’s more ergonomically sound to view the text a little higher on the page at all times. However, I do have faith that the Soulmen will bring this feature to the iPad eventually.

However, one of Ulysses’ greatest accomplishments is how well it handles actual files. Ulysses uses iCloud for file syncing, and the changes usually sync between my devices within a minute. I tend to keep active drafts in the Inbox and transfer completed ones to dedicated groups (one for iPad Insight and another for my personal blog). Exporting text from Markdown to HTML is also quite easy through the built-in share sheet, but I did catch one bug: I need to make sure a file has its own title that’s separated from the rest of my article by one line break. If that line break is missing, the ability to export my text as HTML simply disappears.

Tight Race

iA Writer Pro (and iA Writer before it) has been my go-to app for writing on my iPad for a while now, and I’m grateful to Ulysses for disrupting that work cycle with some real competition. Ulysses has a killer set of customizable features and a great companion app on the Mac to sync with, and this app really gets how to do a file system on the iPad. When it comes to managing large bodies of texts and several file libraries, Ulysses is definitely the current king in the writing world, and that’s why I’ll continue using it.

Ulysses was provided by The Soulmen for review on iPad Insight. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the “About” page.

 


Thomas

My name is probably Thomas (yes, it is). I'll be able to help you figure out why Evernote isn't syncing, or recommend your favourite new RSS reader to you. That's partly because I am enamoured with the iOS ecosystem and hardware, but mostly because I'm Canadian.

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