What sets it apart

Draft, both in its form and function, resembles other previously reviewed apps such as AK or OI Notepad in many ways, save that it its focus is more on text-editing than quick note-jotting. This focus is made evident in two ways.

Draft supports writing text using the markdown syntax, a format which enables composition of rich text quickly and simply. Basic features of rich text formatting, such as headings, emphasis and lists are conveyed using combinations of common ASCII characters. Not only does Draft provide a toolbar to facilitate insertion of markdown elements, but it can also render the formatting and export it as HTML using customisable style elements.

Secondly, and most importantly for me, Draft uses Dropbox as a back-end to store its files in the cloud, thus offering, apart from backup and synchronisation, the ability to work on those files using any text editor on any platform. This allows me, for instance, to write a piece using my phone and a Bluetooth keyboard, revise and flesh it out under Linux using the vim text-editor, go back to my phone for proofreading, and return again to the computer to finalise it without ever needing to do more than save the file.

Additional features, such as the ability to create and manage a custom folder hierarchy in which to put one's files, full-text search and the ability to perform actions, such as deleting and moving, on multiple files, combine to take Draft very close to my ideal workflow.

Interface

All this is well and good, but of little use if the interface is lacking in accessibility. Fortunately, this app keeps in line with Epistle, its forebearer, in terms of simplicity and accessibility. Most buttons on the main screen are labelled and accessible, as are the options available from the menu to do such things as configure the app and change sort order. Strangely, when linking to a Dropbox account, it seems to be impossible to flick to the "Allow" button, but locating it at the bottom of the screen and double-tapping it does the trick just as well.

The three unlabelled buttons on the main screen, new in the last update, are shortcuts to create a folder, a text note and a markdown note respectively, from left to right. Draft also now takes a cue from Google Keep in providing a quick note input field on the main screen, allowing one to enter text extremely quickly. One word of warning, however, remember to hit "Done" on the keyboard so save your note, or your efforts might be wasted.

Selection mode mostly works, with the action bar clearly labelled and the number of selected items displayed just below, much like in the Gmail app. Unfortunately, the parallel also holds when it comes to individual item state, meaning that there is no way to tell whether an item is selected or not. The interface is therefore usable but requires the user to hit done and start from scratch, should he lose track of selections. Aside from that, all other action dialogues are completely accessible, except perhaps for the button to go up a folder when moving files.

The edit screen is similarly accessible, showing clearly labelled buttons at the top to share, save or discard the current file. The markdown toolbar at the bottom of the edit field, on the other hand, is a mixed bag of labelled and unlabelled buttons. This is not very problematic, however, as the buttons are easy to memorise and are in fact not even necessary, as markdown can be entered just as easily using the keyboard. In fact, if typing in from a Bluetooth keyboard, as seems likely for longer entries, using the toolbar would be impractical at best, which is why its presence on-screen is configurable, presumably.

Tapping an item opens it in view mode where one can in theory read the item (more on that later). At the top of the screen are buttons to switch to edit mode, share the item, or change some of its style elements. Tapping the latter allows to change the theme and font, something which might benefit some visually impaired users.

Writing and Reviewing

Writing new material is as easy as one might expect, simply requiring a keyboard, soft or hard, and the right amount of inspiration to get going. Markdown makes it incredibly easy to format text on the fly, as one simply needs to use the correct symbols and never needs move the hands away from the keyboard. Editing from the touch-screen is also reasonably feasible, thanks to the recent improvements in that area, and swiping through text by character, word or paragraph (newline, really) for reviewing and editing purposes is relatively painless, though the ability to navigate by sentence is still very much missed.

Unfortunately, reviewing and editing text from an external keyboard is not so simple or pleasant. The main problem here is that, while cursor motion works as expected (e.g ctrl+arrow moves by word), only the character under the cursor is announced, making it difficult to review by word or line and know precisely where one is in the document. This problem is by no means particular to Draft and seems to be present in most edit fields; only Google Drive seems to handle this properly, possibly relying on its own custom implementation of edit fields. Nevertheless, this will be a serious disappointment to anyone hoping to do extensive editing work using this application.

The last and only other major problem with Draft is that the viewing screen is not as thoroughly usable as one might like. The text cannot be explored and one must swipe through it line by line, although continuous reading mode seems to work well enough there. This, along with the seeming impossibility to scroll up or down reliably, more or less precludes skimming through a longer document; to do so, loading it into an edit field might be the easiest solution.

Conclusion

So, is Draft really worth its $2.50 price tag? Well, the answer really depends on your needs. If either tight Dropbox integration or the ability to export markdown to HTML on the fly are significant concerns for you, then this app is definitely worth considering; otherwise, with so many capable, free note-taking applications available, as well as the more edit-friendly option offered by Google Drive, you should probably look elsewhere. Because I like to do all my heavy editing in vim under Linux and use markdown for formatting on a regular basis, Draft is still the best solution for me, but I cannot say in all honesty that I would recommend it to all.

Pros

  • Tight Dropbox integration with both manual and automatic synchoronisation.
  • Markdown support with ability to export to HTML on the fly.
  • Ability to organise files in folders and subfolders.
  • Simple and accessible interface.
  • Under active development (latest update was today).

Cons

  • Poor keyboard reviewing functionality on Android seriously detracts from the app's usefulness for publishing purposes.
  • Text view implementation makes it difficult to navigate and review documents longer than a page.
  • Ability to navigate by markdown elements would be great.
  • Advertised full-text search only works on file names and could be more flexible in general.
  • Fierce competition from other note-taking apps makes it a niche solution for those really needing Dropbox integration and markdown support.
  • Accessibility rating: Three and a half a11y stars.