aText review: remove the repetition from typing tasks

Productivity software can come in all shapes and sizes. As well as big, expensive programs such as Word, Excel or Photoshop, there are many small, time -saving apps that can make a big difference to your working day.

Text-expander programs can be really useful as they can automatically print out commonly used ‘snippets’ of text, such as your email address or postal address, in response to a single short-cut command that you define for yourself. I can’t imagine how many hours I’ve spent typing out my name and address over the years, so I’ve experimented with a number of text-expanders in the past, including popular options such as Keyboard Maestro and the aptly-named TextExpander.

But while these text-expanders can be really useful time-saving tools, many people are reluctant to spend the typical £25 - £35 required for a license fee, simply because it seems a lot to spend on a piece of software that does something so simple.

Well, aText costs just £2.99 so hopefully the price won’t be a problem anymore. It adopts the same basic approach as most of its rivals, allowing you to save snippets of text, such as your postal address, which can then be typed out automatically whenever you enter the relevant short-cut command. But where Keyboard Maestro tended to use key combinations, such as Command-1, to activate a text snippet, aText lets you use easily-remembered abbreviations instead.

You just hit the ‘New’ icon in the main aText window to create a new snippet, and you are then prompted to enter the required abbreviation into a text window, followed by the full text snippet. So you could enter ‘macw’ as an abbreviation, which is then automatically expanded into ‘www.macworld.co.uk’ whenever you type it on your Mac.

It’s quick and easy to set up your snippets and abbreviations – and I liked it better than Keyboard Maestro’s rather long-winded way of doing things – but you can also go deeper into the program as well. One nice touch is the ability to create groups of snippets and to modify the behaviour of all the snippets in that group. You could specify that one group of snippets only works when you’re typing in Word, while another only works in Pages.

You can also use aText to automatically correct common spelling mistakes. It includes a predefined collection of ‘autocorrect’ snippets – misspelled words, such as ‘ocasion’ , which it will automatically correct to ‘occasion’. There’s even a collection of HTML and JavaScript snippets that developers can use to automatically insert chunks of code into web pages or applications.

Our only complaint about aText is that there’s no documentation or help files provided with it at all, so people who haven’t used a text-expander program like this before might take a while to figure out how to get the most out of this undeniably useful little tool.

OUR VERDICT

A price of jus £2.99 is a bargain for a piece of software that eliminate a lot of tedious and repetitious typing. It’s simple enough for casual home users, but the ability to work with HTML and other types of code snippets gives it potential for professional users too.

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