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TextExpander 5 review: Typing shortcut utility makes you more productive by learning your habits

Glenn Fleishman | June 16, 2015
TextExpander is designed to save keystrokes. Instead of typing the same sequence again and again at full length, tap in a few characters and the app automatically drops in your replacement in whatever software you're using.

TextExpander is designed to save keystrokes. Instead of typing the same sequence again and again at full length, tap in a few characters and the app automatically drops in your replacement in whatever software you're using.

Version 4 extended that to offer fill-in forms, so that entire messages could be partially automated, such as common replies. The latest release, TextExpander 5, adds suggestions, watching what you type to either remind you of a shortcut you'd already set or note a frequent pattern that could be replaced with one. It also expands sync, improves search, and adds previews. (This version requires OS X Yosemite.)

The basics of TextExpander remain the same from our TextExpander 4 review in 2013. The program lets you set text, called a snippet, that replaces an abbreviation when typed. The snippet can be plain text, HTML with images, AppleScript, a Unix shell script, or — new — either of two kinds of JavaScript. Snippets can be organized into groups, which also allow overriding default settings for that group, such as precisely how an abbreviation is expanded and whether a sound is made.

This allows not only the replacement of typed text with other text, but more sophisticated operations, such as taking the contents of the Clipboard, sending it to a URL shortening service, and pasting the replacement URL. Even with plain text, a number of placeholders allow the app to insert the current time or date, or even recursively include another snippet by its TextExpander abbreviation.

I use TextExpander constantly throughout the day: inserting a time and datestamp in a file where I'm taking notes; dropping my voice number into a chat or email message; formatting HTML; and dropping in hashtags in Twitter. The developers, Smile, like to remind you that the software is truly useful with a Statistics dialog you can click from the main screen.

TextExpander comes with a few predefined sets. Choose File > Add Predefined Group, and you can load a set of common typing errors (in English, French, or German, or from a list assembled by fellow Apple publication TidBITS), shortcuts for Emoji (typed in the form :name:; for example,  :knife: for =*), accented words, and HTML/CSS snippets. These are handy, especially the 50th time you type teh for the.

Version 5's flagship updates are related to suggestions. The program already has to watch everything you type in order to drop in shortcuts you've set. The latest release has two complementary options, each of which can be disabled. First, any time you type in the full snippet for which a shortcut exists — I have a shortcut for my full name but I re-type it all the time — an OS X notification appears reminding you what you could typed instead. This works perfectly and is much appreciated.

 

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