OmniOutliner for Mac and iOS, Reviewed

OmniOutliner-for-Mac-1024The rise of the brilliant app 2Do notwithstanding, I continue to utilize OmniFocus as my task management hub. I was eager, then, to try out The Omni Group’s outlining app, OmniOutliner.

Think of OmniOutliner as a thought structuring app, suitable for both creating and organizing content. You can use it for any of the following scenarios:

  • making a grocery list
  • taking notes in class
  • writing a paper (and re-arranging sections easily)
  • planning and following through with a project
  • tracking and categorizing expenses
  • writing and editing your podcast script

There are multiple other uses for the app–I’ve made good use of it in sermon preparation, as you’ll see below. Right away the Mac and iOS apps take you to a templates screen so you can get started without delay:

 

Templates
On this and all images in the post, click or tap to enlarge

 

What’s Awesome About OmniOutliner

 

Getting content into OmniOutliner is fairly easy. It’s not as intuitive as just opening a blank Word document and typing, but it’s simple enough to open an outline and start writing.

Once you’ve gotten your outline going, being able to fold and unfold (collapse and expand) entire parts of the outline is a huge asset. If I’ve broken a book review down into parts, for example, I can just collapse the sections I don’t want to see at the moment:

 

Book Reviews Two Columns

 

Then there is the organizing power of OmniOutliner: you can take any node and indent or outdent it. You can drag sections of the outline around to quickly re-order them. And you can make batch edits when selecting multiple parts of your outline.

Perhaps the most helpful feature to me has been the ability to add notes to content, which you can then either hide or show. In this simple outline, I’ve set the note at the top to display (in grey), while the one toward the bottom remains hidden.

 

OmniOutliner Simple

 

You can show the sidebar, which allows you to move back and forth between a lot of content in one outline. When preaching on David’s odious sin against Bathsheba and her husband, I utilized an outline that included both my sermon structure and accompanying research. You can see that reflected in the sidebar, at left, even while my Topic column could remain focused on a smaller portion.

 

Outline in OmniOutliner

 

You can add media (audio recordings and video) to your outline. Your files would be huge, but if you wanted to use OmniOutliner for classroom notes, you could also add a live recording of the session, straight into your outline.

And then there is the styling. My goodness. You can tweak every aspect imaginable of your outline.

OmniOutliner Style PaneI found this feature set to be impressive but overwhelming. For my purposes, I didn’t need to do a whole lot by way of formatting, but the options are there should you need them.

To that end, the help files for OmniOutliner are incredible. So is their support team! There are user manuals you can download in multiple formats, and they are outstanding. In a couple of sittings, I read some 100 pages of the iBook version of the OmniOutliner for iOS manual. Yes, it was that interesting! Other app developers should take notes.

OmniOutliner is also available as a universal iOS app, working on both iPhone and iPad. You can sync across devices using Omni’s own server or your own.

The keyboard shortcuts available for iPad make OmniOutliner a serious contender for best writing app for those who are trying to make a serious go of it on iPad instead of computer. Omni Group’s Ken Case announced the shortcuts last November.

This means that the iOS OmniOutliner app is close to parity with the Mac app. This rarely seems to be the case with other apps, where iOS versions tend to lag behind their desktop counterparts.

OmniOutliner has had Split View and Slide Over in iOS for just about as long as iOS 9 has been released.

One other really cool thing: you can import the OPML file format from a mind map to move from mind mapping straight into OmniOutliner.

 

MN and OO with note

 

If that workflow interests you, read more about it here.
 

What’s Lacking

 

A few things are lacking in OmniOutliner:

  • I’ve experienced a couple of crashes when exporting my outline to other formats
  • The precision and plethora of styling options makes the app feel wooden and clunky at times, especially when you want to just sit down and write
  • If I want constant access to, say, a section of text in the second half of my outline, while I work on the first half, there is no way to split the screen or freeze a section so I can see easily disparate parts of my outline at once
  • There is no word count feature (!). Omni has indicated this could come in 2016, but not having it has kept me from making OmniOutliner my go-to writing app
     
    (Note: if you have OmniOutliner Pro for Mac (twice the price of the regular OO), you can go to the forums for an AppleScript that will help you with word count, but this is more than the average user should be expected to do.)

 

More Info

 

Byte for byte, OmniOutliner is worth your considering as your primary writing app. If you don’t need to be as structured with your writing, it may not be your top choice. Its integration across iOS and OS X, though, make it a possible go-to repository for collecting and organizing information.

You can find out more about OmniOutliner here and here.

OmniOutliner for iOS (Universal) is $29.99.

OmniOutliner for OS X is $49.99. OmniOutliner Pro includes a few more features and is $99.99.

You can get a free trial of Mac app here.

 


 

Thanks to the fine folks at The Omni Group, the makers of OmniOutliner, for giving me downloads for the Mac (OmniOutliner Pro) and iOS apps for this review. See my other AppTastic Tuesday reviews here.

App Review: Day One (Day One 2 Coming Soon)

Day One is easily the best app for keeping a journal or life log–if you’re going to do it in a 1s and 0s environment, rather than on paper.

In this post I briefly review Day One. I’ll leave for another time the question of whether journaling by hand or by phone/tablet/computer is preferable. Okay, actually… I’ll answer that now: better to do it by hand, because… reasons. But Day One has photo capability, so it has served as a nice digital repository for me to chronicle my kids’ growing up, without having to post it on Facebook, etc.

Day One offers sync via iCloud, Dropbox, or their own sync service, so you can keep everything together on iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

I really like the layout, which allows you (much like in this blog, for example), to combine headings, text, and photos. Check out this sample entry on Day One for Mac:

 

Mac Sample Entry

You can even add an entry right from the menu bar, so that you can write down that brilliant insight before you forget it.

 

Mac Menu Bar Option

 

Your entries could be text, a (single) photo with text, location-based entries (that also pull in the weather automatically), meeting notes, day debriefs, etc. Each entry is automatically time-stamped. The possibilities are pretty robust, and folks use Day One in lots of different ways. The tags feature especially enables this, as you could use the built-in tagging system to sort by “journal,” “family,” “song lyrics,” “insights,” “questions,” and more.

My first question is–to the extent I use Day One as a sort of photo-journal (especially of the family), will having my info in a proprietary format some day cause issues? That’s always a possibility with software (score one for physical journals and photo albums), but Day One allows for PDF export, so you don’t really have to worry here.

 

Mac PDF Export

 

You can also set a reminder so that Day One reminds you each day to write:

 

Mac Reminders

 

It looks and works really well on iPhone and iPad too.

 

iPad Menu Landscape 2

 

If you want to try the app and really put it to use, Shawn Blanc has written a pretty thorough ebook: Day One in Depth.

You can find Day One for iOS here; the OS X app is here.

Also… if you want to wait a few days… Day One 2 releases this Thursday. I haven’t used the new app, but beta users seem to love it. You can check out what’s new in the FAQs here.

 


 

Thanks to the makers of Day One for the review copy of the app on Mac, given to me for this review but with no expectation as to its content.

Alto’s Adventure, Reviewed (and Currently $0.99)

I don’t know what your New Year’s Resolutions are, but if one of them is to play more video games (uh…), you should start with Alto’s Adventure.

Four traits especially stand out that make the game enjoyable:

    1. The graphics are gorgeous.
    2. The music is excellent–it evokes the old Final Fantasy scores, but sounds more like 2015.
    3. Playing it is really relaxing.
    4. Being a flipping snowboarder (especially if you can’t do it in real life) is fun.

It’s what reviewers call an “endless runner” game, which means you could go a gazillion meters on your run with Alto, which of course you never will, since you’ll hit a rock or get knocked down by an elder or fall into a ravine or ____ first.

But that won’t keep you from tapping “Play Again” multiple times.

The main stat to go for is “distance travelled.” But you can boost your trick store through a series of bunting grinds, flips, and the like. There are coins to collect (with magnets to help!), llamas to chase, and chasms to jump.

Here’s the score screen (for all images in this post, click to enlarge):

 

Score Screen

 

And a couple looks at the game:

 

Paz Daytime

 

The background changes from sunny and clear to dark and rainy, which adds a level of challenge (and fun) to the gameplay:

 

Raining at Night

 

In the Air

 

In the Air 2

 

If you accomplish three goals (smash three rocks, land two triple flips in one run, and so on), you move up a level. Move up enough levels and you unlock new characters:

 

New Player Paz

 

You can use your coins to buy workshop items:

 

Workshop Items

 

The gameplay is smooth and responsive. (Though flying with the wingsuit is tricky.) You only have to tap to jump, so the controls are easy enough to learn, but staying up for a long run is no easy feat.

Alto’s Adventure is currently $0.99 (on sale) at the App Store. It’s easily one of the best games for iOS.

 


 

Thanks to the makers of Alto’s Adventure for the review copy of the app, given to me for this review but with no expectation as to its content.

1Writer: The Best Text Editor (and Blogging App!) for iOS

1Writer Icon

 

1Writer has been living in both my iPhone and iPad docks for a number of months now. It’s high time I wrote a proper review! It’s easily my favorite text editing app for iOS.

 

About 1Writer

 

Here’s a paragraph description of the app from the 1Writer site:

1Writer provides a distraction free writing environment. You can create and edit plain text or Markdown files. It does have many features including inline Markdown preview, word count, dark theme, TextExpander support, insert photo, an extra keyboard row, and many more. The extra keyboard row is a convenient row of buttons for navigation, formatting, special characters and actions. See the formatted results with inline Markdown preview while you write and a full, rich-text preview when you’re done.

My favorite feature is its ability to insert images right from an iOS device, making it the first iOS app I’ve found that is actually suitable for blogging.

 

1Writer: The Pros

 

Sync

Whether you want to use Dropbox or iCloud, 1Writer has excellent syncing capabilities. I have a couple Dropbox folders I sync to 1Writer, which is now where I keep blog post drafts. I can update a document from iPhone or iPad–or even use a Mac to update a draft with an OS X Markdown app.

 

Images!!!

You can blog from 1Writer. It has been surprisingly difficult to find an iOS app that can do this well, including WordPress’s native blogging app. One downside is that you can’t resize the images once you insert them into the post, so it’s still not as flexible as blogging with images through the WordPress Web interface on OS X. The fastidious among us may want to double-check layout in WordPress itself before posting anyway, so this is not a deal-breaker, if not ideal.

 

Works Great with an External Keyboard

You can type CMD-B for bold and CMD-I for italics, and it both inserts the markdown markup and shows you the inline preview. Not even Editorial can do this. You can also insert links with a keyboard shortcut.

 

Built-in Web Browser

Because 1Writer has a built in Web browser, you can search for images without even leaving the app, and then insert them into your document. There is also a really nice hyperlinking functionality, and you don’t have to leave 1Writer to find a link you want to include in a document or Web post. One especially nice touch is once you’ve got a link copied, the hyperlink button gives you the pop-up option of just pasting the clipboard contents (your link), so you can save a tap there.

 

Built-in Web Browser

 

Great-Looking Interface

The interface is easy to look at for a long time when writing:

 

1Writer Text

 

Tagging System

1Writer has a built-in tagging system, so you can even more easily organize your documents.

 

Tags 1

 

Tags 2

 

Actions

Like Drafts 4, 1Writer has a number of actions you can perform on your text. Whether you want to use a pre-installed action to export your document as plain text or PDF, or install something from the 1Writer action directory, there’s not much missing here.

 

Actions

 

My personal favorite action is “Jump to Section,” which allows you to navigate by headings. This is especially useful for long documents where you quickly want to go between sections. The interface of this feature is not quite as smooth as Editorial’s similar function, but it still gets the job done.

 

iOS9-Ready

Speaking of Editorial… that’s a fine app, but it’s still not iOS9-ready. 1Writer is, so you can utilize Slide Over and Split View functions.

 

Customizable Keyboard Row

There’s an extra, customizable keyboard row–including the ability to assign a character or even action to a button.

 

Top-Notch Developer

The developer is amazingly responsive. He totally knows what he’s doing, and has built an excellent app already. Insofar as there are small, desired improvements, he takes feedback seriously.

 

1Writer: Just a Few Minor Drawbacks

 

The built-in Web browser does not allow for multi-tabbed browsing. I found this to be a limitation, though since iOS9, when I want to search the Web, I tend to do it via Safari in Split View with 1Writer open separately anyway.

Another drawback: you can’t sync actions between devices. You have to manually set this up in any iOS device you use. Documents themselves sync perfectly, of course, just not these custom actions.

 

Concluding Evaluation

 

There are people who swear by Drafts (I am one!) and Editorial (there’s a lot to like about that app). But 1Writer is exceedingly underrated. (Though that may change now that Viticci reviewed it!) If you’re a blogger, especially, this is the app that will finally allow you to blog from your iOS device.

It’s (no question) the best thing on iOS for bloggers. And maybe even the best note-taking app, too.

You can find it in the App Store here. And, yes, I did write much of this post in 1Writer, exported the Markdown to HTML (from 1Writer), and then published.

 


 

Thanks to 1Writer for the review copy of the app, given to me for this review but with no expectation as to its content.

Task Management via The Hit List

Viticci put it well: “There’s only one thing I like more than switching todo apps: writing about it.” My 2Do review is much shorter than his, but I resonate with his sentiment.

That might explain why today I give you a review of another worthy task management app: The Hit List.

 

What I Like About The Hit List

 

THL for iPhone icon 512@2xThe Hit List is much more robust than Apple’s native Reminders app. Its proprietary Sync Service is fast, and keeps your tasks and lists updated across Mac, iPad, iPhone, and Watch (depending on what you have).

Perhaps the most noteworthy feature is the extensive system of one-stroke keyboard shortcuts on the Mac app. You can do just about anything without having to move your hand to the mouse. And The Hit List (hereafter THL) comes with a nice built-in tutorial to get you going:

 

Learn THL
(click image to enlarge)

 

The Mac layout doesn’t totally match the rest of El Capitan, but I don’t mind that at all. I especially like that you can have multiple lists open at once–in one window–as various tabs. This mirrors how we browse the Web, yet out of all the task management apps I’ve tried, THL is the only one to incorporate it.

 

Mac_Multiple tabs
Tabbed task management! (click to enlarge)

 

It’s a really nice touch, especially if you are actually working on a few projects at once and want to be able to close tabs as you go. Or if you want to toggle between your time-sensitive “Today” tasks and other projects.

The tagging system on all platforms is neat. By typing “task /tag” you automatically can tag a task. It then shows up in a different color on the task entry line and puts itself into the right tag.

You can give sub-tasks to tasks, which is often what happens in real life! Our tasks turn into a series of sub-tasks, too. Of course you could just separate a multi-task task into its own project, but the ability to rapidly enter sub-tasks is great.

Probably my favorite part about THL is its task timing integration. Yes, you read that right. You can both assign estimated time to tasks, as well as track it! It’s not as robust as a dedicated time tracking software–you can’t get to-the-minute readouts of your day. But it’s a pretty sweet feature on the Mac app.

 

Time Estimates

 

Counting Clock

 

The iPad app just came out, and it’s got Slide Over and Split Screen support right out of the box. It’s very cool to finally see THL on a bigger screen. (The iPad app is lacking in any external keyboard shortcuts however; future updates should add these in.)

 

What I Found Lacking in THL

 

1. No Save+.

 

Rapid-fire brain dumping is tricky in THL. Well, it’s not impossible, but on iOS there’s no Save+ button so you can just add a bunch of tasks at once without multiple taps. Keyboard shortcuts make it quick on the Mac app, though.

 

2. You can’t email a task to the app.

 

It continues to perplex me that this is not standard issue in a task management app. I don’t know… maybe it’s just hard to implement. In THL there is no way to convert or forward emails to tasks from wherever you are. Evernote and OmniFocus allow this, as will 2Do soon. This functionality is essential to me in a task management app.

 

3. The iOS app isn’t as configurable as one might like.

 

The criticism that you have to understand the app on its own terms often gets leveled toward OmniFocus, but I experienced some confusion in THL with the “Today” list. Support was outstanding in helping me to understand it (which I do now), but the Today list shows all your tasks that start today. You can’t adjust it to show just your tasks that are due today, which feels to me a more natural way to use it. You can’t even really trick Today into doing what you want, since a task with no start date that is due tomorrow still pops up in Today.

On the iOS app, there are few settings you can configure:

 

iOS Settings

 

THL also sort of forces you (if you’re going to use the app) into its Inbox–Today–Upcoming logic. (These three “hit lists” give the app its name.) This could be a limitation for some. That way of setting up things, to which you can add your own lists, appeals to me, so it’s fine. On Mac you could create a “Due Today” smart list, so there is flexibility in that regard.

 

Three Lists

 

4. You can’t attach anything to tasks in iOS.

 

There is no way (whether in iOS or OS X) to attach photos or files to an item. It’s hard to envision a week where there isn’t at least one time when I want to take a picture of something as a reminder or attach a .pdf I need to complete a task. You can link to actual files on a desktop with the THL Mac app, but that’s not the same as attaching the file to the task, so the file doesn’t show up on iOS (just an error message). There’s a notes field, so you can leave additional text, but attachments aren’t really a working feature in THL.

 

Concluding Thoughts and How to Get THL

 

There’s more to say, of course. The Today widget and Share extension features in iOS work nicely. The layout and interface of the apps is executed well on all platforms. It runs really smoothly, and looks great in its new iPad incarnation. Smart lists can help you customize your experience. Recurring tasks are easy to set up. You can quickly swipe a task on iOS to change the due date or move it to a different list and folder.

This is a little thing, but I think my favorite thing about the app is the sound effect that goes off when you complete a task. I wish every app had that option! It’s like a little “congratulations!” every time you get something done. Very satisfying to hear that tone.

Their support is excellent, too. THL even made a feature addition that I had requested–the ability to drag handles to reorder task lists on iOS.

Okay, okay, one more nice little touch: the icon for note detail attached to a task is excellent. Just by looking at a task, you can tell if there’s an associated note. Similarly, a number icon shows you how many sub-tasks are connected to a task. Thoughtful design, for sure.

To sum up: the sound effects on iOS, tabbed list views on OS X, and integrated time tracking set THL apart from other apps, so if those appeal to you, this might be your app of choice. Lack of email integration makes it hard for me to think about switching to THL as my go-to task management app, but perhaps future updates will add that feature. Overall, THL is at least on par with Things and certainly an option one could consider alongside 2Do and OmniFocus.

You can find the app here (OS X) and here (iOS).

 


 

Thanks so much to the makers of The Hit List for giving me a download in iOS and OS X for the review. Check out the Karelia Software site here.

Habit List: A Sophisticated iOS Habit Tracker

I noted in September that the App Store has seen quite a few habit tracker apps of late.

Why not just use your task management app, you might ask?

Well, one can get tired of seeing the same “Update YNAB” task every day. Or the same “Study Greek” reminder. Habits and tasks aren’t the same per se.

This may be splitting hairs, but since getting past my initial skepticism, I’ve been using one habit tracker or another for much of the fall. The interface of Streaks is unparalleled, and Productive makes a cool sound when you complete a habit.

Habit List, on the other hand, is the most powerful and customizable of the three.

 

Options Galore

 

Habit List takes the cake in what it allows you to do with regard to scheduling your habits. Every potential use I imagined I could accomplish with the app.

You can set up a habit with just about any frequency imaginable, whether certain days or x times per week, and set a reminder. If I want to work out three times a week, I can set up a habit for that, without it having to be the same three days in a given week.

 

Habit Frequency

 

Set Habit Reminder

 

I came to Habit List from another app and could easily backdate edit my habits-in-progress so I didn’t have to start at zero just because I was using a new app. This was unexpected and a great touch.

This also means that if you are completing the habit but forget to track it for a few days, you can easily make the manual adjustment in Habit List.

You can view stats for individual habits, presented in a variety of ways:

 

Calendar Stats

 

Monthly Stats

 

There is no limit (at least that I could find) to the number of habits you can track. So, sure, why not go ahead and add, “Take out trash Friday mornings”?

Here is a look at more app settings:

 

App Settings

 

For Future Updates?

 

Marking the completion of habits in Habit List feels very much like crossing off a list. The interface is exactly that. You swipe your finger across a habit to signify you’ve done it. No filled-in circles, no animations, no sounds. This will be fine for many, but there may also be more aesthetically pleasing user interface options for future updates to explore–whether color changes, distinct habit icons, etc.

Maybe this is draconian or just Pavlovian on my part, but I found myself wanting more from the UI that would give me a sense of satisfaction when crossing off a habit. (I know… what do you want, people cheering??? Well….)

 

Final Words and Where to Get the App

 

TL;DR: Habit List doesn’t quite have the pretty layout of some other similar apps. But it has the most functionality of any habit tracking app I’ve tried. There are no limits on what you can track, as well as a great degree of flexibility. If you’re serious about tracking some specific habits and don’t mind a minimalist layout, you may have found your app.

Find Habit List in the App Store here.

 


 

Thanks to the good folks who make Habit List for the review copy of the app, given to me for this review but with no expectation as to its content.