aText: aTerrific text expaaander at aGreat price

A text expander will make your typing life so much easier. aText is terrific, and it's a serious bargain. Curious? Allow me to expand on that.

If you've heard of text expanders, you've probably heard of… well, TextExpander. (They've definitely got the name thing going for them.) It's arguably the most well-known, and arguably the most expensive. I used it for many years and it's been great. But when TE went to a subscription model (!), that was too much for my use level. So I decided to look around. And I'm glad I did.

What is a text expander?

A text expander app sits quietly in the background, and when you type a pre-defined abbreviation, it is replaced with expanded content (a snippet).

For example, you might define the shortcut ddate to insert the current date. Or ,add to insert your address. Or ,sig for an email signature.

And using it is effortless—just type your abbreviation as you go, and with a happy little bubble-pop sound, your text appears.
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What would I do with it?

You'll be surprised at the little ways it's useful. How often do you type your email address into forms? Let's say yours is Define the shortcut ,jj and you're done.

Hey scriptwriters…

Think about how much this will help if you have to type scripts in Word. This is worth its weight in character names alone. In fact, I'm going to do a dedicated post (or two) on that soon.

You may not think you type enough repetitive or complicated things to need one. And for subscription dollars, you may be right. But what if I told you that you could get the features of an expensive text expander for only five dollars? NOW how much would you pay?

Getting started with aText

When I opened aText for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it had already imported all of my snippets from TextExpander. So I was up and running instantly. A nice touch. aText can import snippets from other apps too, as well as CSV files.

Here's a look at the main window.
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On the left are your snippet groups. This is where you… organize your snippets into groups. Some are included by default, and you can create your own.

The big window on the right is where you define your content. The top field is your abbreviation-trigger (tkvm, in this case), and the large field is for the content that will be inserted. It's big, because you can define as much text as you want, and it can even include images. (More on that later.)

The bottom field, Label, is what you'll see as the "name" of your snippet on the left. If you leave it blank, it will use the content text.

Defining snippets

The basic thing you'll do in aText is define your snippets, and it's simple. Just click New, type your abbreviation, and type your content.
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Abbreviations, in brief

For your abbreviations, you'll want something that you won't type accidentally, but will remember. My go-to favorites are:

  • Commas, both single and double-commas. Not many words begin with commas, so these are pretty safe bets.

  • Double consonants. Examples include ddate (inserts the date) and ccopy (inserts the © symbol). Consonants are your friends. Vowels will turn on you.

But you don't have to use prefix-tricks. (© Me btw.) Anything that's intuitive to you is fair game. I defined ,rta to insert the rt. arrow: . You might use >>. Or ,arwpntgrght. Live free, man.

The default is plain text, which is usually best, since it will match your font and formatting when it's inserted. But you're not limited -- your content can include formatted text and even images.
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There's a nice format bar, including line spacing and lists, and even styles.
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You can insert dynamic data like the date and time, with a lot of options.
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You can define a snippet that will expand with your cursor in a specific place.
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And hey, speaking of the <img> tag…

It's ggreat for ccoding

aText comes with predefined snippets for HTML and Javascript. It does not, however, include snippets for CSS. TextExpander had a free add-on group of CSS snippets.

Organizing snippets

What's the point of defining a million snippets, if you just have a big jumble of a million snippets? As mentioned earlier, aText lets you organize snippets into groups.
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I wish a little bit that you could rearrange these; they just appear in the order you create them. But, that doesn't affect usability, it's just a little inconvenient when you're sorting/organizing in the main window.

Teaching your snippets to behave

aText gives you control over how snippets are inserted. You do this at the Group level—defining the behavior for all the snippets in that group. Below are the settings for my Brett's Snippets group.
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Normally you'll want it to recognize your abbreviation immediately after the delimiter. But there are a few options.
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You can enable aText groups selectively — which is super useful. You probably don't need your coding snippets active in Word, or your email app. (But who knows, maybe accidentally adding padding-bottom: to your dating profile will get you the attention you're looking for.)
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aText options

Here's a look at aText's preferences.
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The General tab has your normal basic stuff. Obviously you want aText to start at login. aText can live in your menu bar, for drop-down access to all of your groups and snippets. You can choose from 15 feedback sounds like Frog, Funk, and Purr, or keep it simple. (Now that I think of it, Funk Snippet might be a good name for my lounge band.)

The Auto-Correction tab isn't what its icon implies -- it only has auto-capping and double capitals. But you get plenty of autocorrect with the snippet groups. You can define a Backup location, and Sync your data to Dropbox and iCloud.

aText has an impressive Hotkeys palette. It's customizable enough that you should be able to find global combos even on Macs with a lot of hotkey-heavy apps. I really like this checkbox interface.
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Final thoughts

I like aText a lot. It does everything I need, and you can't beat these features for the price. I would miss the CSS snippets if I didn't already have them from TE; maybe that can be added in the future. If you haven't used a text expander yet, or are balking at an expensive upgrade, take aLook at aText. For five bucks, you can't go wrong.

aText for Mac by Tran Ky Nam Software
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I write plays and lyrics. I design for print and web. I blog about apps, Mac stuff, and writing.
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