January 9, 2017

TextNut Reimagines Zen Mode

TextNut Mac IconTextNut Mac Icon

Product: TextNut
Price: $24.99

TextNut is a note-taking app available from the Mac App Store. It has an iOS version and a macOS version. I had reviewed TextNut on November 2, 2015.

It occurs to me that applications are not static creations. Specially when developers keep updating them, refining them, and tweaking them. TextNut is one of those apps which gets regular update love from its developer. I am going to periodically revisit the apps I have written about to get a feel of where they are in their current iteration. This gives me an opportunity to revisit my review and check the progress of the application.

Let me tell you that TextNut surprised me. It is much improved over the iteration I reviewed a little more than a year ago.

Note-taking apps have two components to them:

  1. The Feature Set. This is the usual list of things which are build into these apps. Markdown support, or rich text support. Which flavor of markdown they are supporting. Where the files are going to be stored. What format the files are going to be stored in. Import and export features. How do you import a list of files you have, what kind of formats are supported in the import feature. Do tags automatically come along? What formats can you export the documents in?
  2. The Usability Component. How satisfying is it to work in the program? The note-taking apps see a lot of use for the inveterate note-taker. It is an app which tends to be always active on the users machine. How convenient is it to work in? What are the additional touches the developer has included in the application to make the act of note-taking pleasurable and easy?

Looking at my review from 2015-11-02 I find that the feature set of TextNut was competitive in the marketplace. At that point, it lacked an iOS version and that was something I thought needed to be launched for the product to be useful. There is now an iOS version and iCloud support. Thus, it is a cross-platform complete note-taking solution.

My main complaints about TextNut was the usability component of it. I am going to quote from my writing on a feature which TextNut highlighted, Zen Mode.

I don't see the benefits of Zen mode. It does not include typewriter scrolling. It is just an attempt to take away the chrome from your editing window. In zen mode, the title bar disappears and the sidebar disappears. Seems to me that this is a pretty standardized implementation in almost all of these markdown based editors. Byword, iA Writer, and a whole host of its competitors do a much better job of providing an environment for you to write in. Zen mode in TextNut is an imperfect and incomplete implementation of an old idea. Ulysses the main competitor to this product does this in much more innovative ways.

I was not done.

Again, it seems to me that TextNut is aware of a feature in this space, but doesn’t care enough to implement it with any degree of precision or thought. If you have a three-panel application, it is not at all unusual to hide two of the panels and focus on the editor panel. Every application in this space does this. Calling it “zen mode” is just marketing hogwash and lazy. There is nothing zen about this mode. Just hiding the chrome around the window and the panels doesn’t equate to any zen you are going to be happy in. How could this be improved? Add typewriter scrolling, focus on sentence or paragraph, let me implement typewriter scrolling at any point I want. Try to provide an environment which lets me write better: then you can call it zen.

Sometimes, I get the feeling that my innate grumpiness comes through in my writing. I don't know whether that is a good thing or a bad thing. It just is.

Well, back to zen mode. My suggestions were:

  1. Add typewriter scrolling. Done.
  2. Focus on sentence or paragraph. Done.
  3. Implement typewriter scrolling at any point I want. Done.
  4. Provide an environment which lets me write better. Done.

TextNut Zen ModeTextNut Zen Mode

As you can see zen mode is now much better. It is a great place to write. It has moved from "marketing hogwash" to a feature set which is useful and adds value to my writing life. I like working in TextNut, in zen mode.

TextNut gives me the ability to have multiple folders in my note-taking program. It lets me work in markdown. Markdown implemented well. It provides a fantastic writing environment in zen mode, and that helps me be productive. It is at this point a true competitor to Ulysses and Bear.

Comparison with Ulysses and Bear

  1. Markdown. TextNut implements markdown better than Ulysses. Ulysses can't make up its mind about markdown. Their support of markdown is abysmal. If you don't use markdown, and write in plain text, Ulysses is a great solution. For markdown? TextNut beats it handily.
  2. Proprietary database. Both Ulysses and Bear maintain their documents in a proprietary database. TextNut deals with text files with a markdown extension. Being reliant on text files and having amassed a bunch of them over the years, TextNut is the preferred solution for me. I don't like depending on an applications existence to have access to my files. My text files are not dependent on any one program, they are always accessible. I prefer that. Both Ulysses and Bear do a great job of providing you with the option of exporting the files out to a text file but I am not sure I need that extra step.
  3. Writing environment: Ulysses and TextNut are both great places to write in. They both provide you with the added polish of a writing environment devoid of friction. Bear is new. They have been busy implementing features. I am sure they will get to improving the writing environment, but they are not there yet.

Recommendations for improvement

TextNut could be improved by:

  1. Fix the bugs. The program has a few bugs in it still. Once in a while the screen redraws and it is distracting. Adding a large number of files through a linked folder makes the program crash once in a while.
  2. Give us the ability to add notes to the program without making TextNut the active application. A system wide keyboard command which brings up a modal dialog box where I can add content. The note gets saved in an inbox for later storage or I choose the folder I want to save to right in the dialog box.
  3. Give us more themes. Or let users share themes between themselves. This will increase the stickiness of the program too.


TextNut is heartily recommended. If you are looking for a note-taking program which deals with multiple folders of files, deals with text files, and has a fantastic environment to just write, TextNut is clearly one of the leaders in the market space at this point.

I recommend TextNut heartily.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

macOS TextNut Writing

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