Review: em notes for Dropbox

I continue to struggle with “work on the go”. Daughter has taken my laptop (although that itself was not an ideal solution), leaving me with just an iPad and keyboard to work with away from the house.

When your brain and fingers are absolutely wired for Emacs editing, it’s a frustrating experience to have to work on the iPad, with all its touching. As a touch-typist, any time I have to move my hands away from the keyboard, it feels like I have failed.

After some searching around App Store, I eventually downloaded a few Emacs-style editors. Of these, em notes (about five bucks) offered the best solution. It links with your Dropbox account and enables you to edit text in an application folder there, ensuring you can load and work on documents and have them available as well in the “real world”, aka anywhere you’re not working on an iPad.

The app by Daisuke Kawamura is not entirely ported to English. Expect to find a few non-localized menu items and help write-ups. Despite that, and despite its Engineer-looking bare-bones design, it represents the best I could find for now although I hold out hope for better.

The fonts are adjustable, it integrates well with the system pasteboard, and you can disable the alternating blue and white lined background which caused me irrational anger. The key bindings are settable to either True Emacs or Mac-style, which is a really nice touch.

I could not get rid of the carriage return symbols which continue to haunt and irritate me and the app doesn’t respond to Command-N to create new files. Argh.

There’s a cool little feature for renaming files that I discovered by accident, by the way. Just tap the name on the navigation bar and it transforms into a name editor. Nice.

If only, the app could export a keyboard for other apps that supported Emacs key entry as well, it would come close to ideal. As it stands em notes isn’t pretty or perfect but I’m glad I forked over the money for it.

A few unrelated points:

While I’m writing about keyboard entry, I’d like to point out how frustrating keyboard-based iOS spotlight is. You can hop into it using Command-Space, just like on a Mac, but it’s slow as anything and if you’re trained to follow that launch with the text you’re searching for, 99% of the time, it will type into the currently active program instead of Spotlight because, yes, Spotlight launch really is that slow.

Once in Spotlight, there’s no way to navigate search results by the keyboard, so you have to reach around and touch the screen to pick the item you’re hunting for. So annoying.

As I was testing text entry today, I realized how far away I  keep my monitors. The relatively small size of the iPad normally doesn’t bother me because I  interact with it much nearer than I would with a proper monitor.

Using a stand and keyboard made it almost unusable for my eyesight because the iPad was pushed back so far. I think this is one of my major issues with laptops in general too. I tried setting up the iPad to my left to get it closer but it just gave me a sore neck.


  • Erica – If I may ask, how do you have Emacs key bindings setup in Xcode? One solution I found was to place a dictionary file that contains the definitions of the key bindings in `~/Library/KeyBindings/` but this does not seem to work properly with Xcode 7. Thank you.

    • I just use the default ones that are built into Xcode and TextEdit. If they’re not, I have Keyboard Maestro to supplement

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