Elements is a new iPad text editing app that syncs with your Dropbox. Another one? Yes, but this one is at once simple, functional and a lot of fun to use. It is also a universal app, so you can buy it once and use it across all your iOS devices. The core of Elements is a super-simple plain text editor which saves and reads files directly to and from Dropbox, a (free) online sync and storage service. This means that any new documents, and any changes you might make, are immediately available on any other device connected to the Dropbox account, or on the web. Elements saves changes every 30-seconds and, if you’re offline, will sync next time you connect. If you drop a TXT file into the Elements folder of your Dropbox, it will show up in the iPad app.
You can choose a color scheme, change fonts and sizing, but it’s the details that really make this stand out as a great portable writers’ tool. First, it supports Textexpander, an app which expands typed snippets into longer texts. For example, if I type “gl” it immediately changes to “Gadget Lab”, according to my settings. It is essential for writers. Elements also shows you word, character and line counts in a popover, and will email your TXT files as attachments.
The other standout feature is the scratchpad, a popover panel which lets you type a quick note or paste a paragraph to use later. It should be standard in any app, mobile or desktop, which uses text.
What it doesn’t do is let you do fancy formatting, or search within your files. It won’t even let you search those files by title. But that’s not early the point. Elements is, as it’s name may suggest, a bare-bones text-editing machine.
One hidden feature is file versioning, which comes courtesy of the Dropbox storage. Here’s an example. Say you are writing a review of a new iPad app, and you are writing it in that same app. Say that the Internet connections are flaky and somehow you lose all your work but the first two lines. Then say you panic a little (you may have already guessed that this is a true story that happened a few minutes ago). Stay calm, wait for the Dropbox website to load up and go chase down the version with the most text in it. Make sure Elements isn’t in use, click restore and you’re back where you were. Thank God.
I like Elements a lot so far. It lacks the tabbed document view of Simplenote on the iPad, which makes popping between documents to copy and paste a breeze. The word-count features, versioning and scratchpad, though, make it useful in other ways. $5.