field report: documents to go for iphone (updated for 1.1)

IPhone and iPod Touch apps for creating and editing business documents have surged to the top ranks of the App Store’s popularity charts. This is good news for freelance writers who work in the field and who like to travel light.

Over the course of the next few entries I’ll be reporting on my field tests of some of my favorite apps. These won’t be full-blown reviews, but rather brief and complementary summaries of the highlights (and lowlights) of each app that revealed themselves while I put them through their paces.

First up is the long-anticipated DataViz Documents to Go for the iPhone app.

UPDATE: No sooner do I post my field test of DTG 1.0 than 1.1 appears in the App Store! I’ve updated the post where applicable to take the new and improved features into account. — PDL

Okay, we still can’t plug in a full-size keyboard yet. But with the near-universal landscape mode, at least two-thumb typing and editing got a lot easier. If you haven’t used Documents to Go 1.0 yet, check out this review on pda-247 first. Currently you can edit Word files and view most other formats. I created and edited several basic documents to get a feel for the basic mechanics of the app.

1. Writing and Editing

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Likes/nice touches:

  • Allows you to customize the location of the sync folder on the desktop machine.
  • With on-the-fly save/save as, you don’t have to back out of the document in order to save changes.
  • Offers shortcuts to recently used files on the home screen, which is great if you have a complex file structure.
  • Portrait and landscape typing modes are available.

Things that need to be improved:

  • The typing window is narrow in both portrait and landscape modes, but especially in landscape (see below) due to the top bar and the menu bar above the keyboard. This makes scrolling nearly impossible in landscape mode. Future versions need an option to retract both bars to increase the limited screen real estate. Fixed in DTG 1.1
  • The built-in cut/copy/paste action is an awkward one-word-or-everything affair. Hopefully this will change when future versions adopt the iPhone 3.0 native cut/copy/paste. Fixed in DTG 1.1
  • When rotating from portrait to landscape, the document does not automatically scroll to put the cursor in the (narrow) window, requiring you to scroll until you find it. Fixed in DTG 1.1

Glitches:

  • No automatic initial caps for the first word in a bulleted item.
  • Auto periods (triggered by two rapid spacebar taps) are irregular. Fixed in DTG 1.1
  • Scrolling is erratic even in a simple text document. The position indicator frequently sticks in place when scrolling. Loupe (zoom) mode is too easy to trigger when attempting to scroll.

2. File Handling

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Creation and storage:

  • Simple and straightforward Word file creation.
  • Default new file format options are currently only Office 97-2004 and Office 2007.
  • Moving a file from one folder to another is an awkward process involving the “Save As” function and lots of navigating back up and down the file hierarchies.

Uploading, downloading, and syncing:

  • Surprisingly, the desktop syncing interface is clunky and doesn’t take advantage of the icon-based, drag-and-drop strengths of OS X.
  • The desktop app’s copy checklist is a pain to use if you’re syncing files to folders that have complex hierarchical structures; each folder, or each file within a checked folder, has to be manually checked or unchecked.

3. Wish List

  • The swipe-able tool bar is terrific, because it allows the app to pack a lot of standard editing features into a small space. But it would be great if users had the ability to customize the bar so that they could cluster their most-used features together to minimize the need to swipe back and forth.

Overall, DTG is a very strong writing app that promises to only get stronger in future releases. Some weaknesses are due to the nature of the iPhone platform, and others are simply the result of being among the first to try something new. The desktop app needs work to become as elegant as its iPhone counterpart, but if you use it infrequently, it won’t be a bother.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Documents To Go is the first app that can truly claim to have displaced Brancipator’s TextGuru as the iPhone’s best fully-featured writing app.

Rating: 4/5

Author: Paul Lagasse

Paul Lagasse provides expert-to-expert communications services to nonprofit, business, and government clients in the metro Baltimore-DC area. Specialties include science and medical writing, technical report editing, and content marketing.

1 thought on “field report: documents to go for iphone (updated for 1.1)”

  1. I used this app last weekend to work on a story outline while on vacation, and it worked great. Although it will never be as easy to type with two fingers as it is with ten, given the platform limitations the app felt very intuitive. For non-typing-intensive editing activities and basic writing, it is a handy pinch-hitter. You won’t be able to take real-time transcription with it, for example, but then again you wouldn’t use a Vespa to haul a mattress, either.

    The iPod touch / iPhone has finally matured into a good PDA. Last week was the first time I’ve felt comfortable leaving my laptop at home. DTG is a big part of the reason I felt comfortable doing so. WTG, DTG!

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