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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.

Second, it monitors for frequently typed patterns of text, and then provides a notification about the text as a Snippet Suggestion. These suggestions are then added to a Suggested Snippets folder where they can be easily turned into active ones. (Smile explains that it doesn't transmit or retain the original text, but rather converts it to an abstracted sequence it can compare.)

I wanted to love this feature, but across several days of testing — with settings synced between the two computers I use — all the suggestions were too commonplace and short. Either I'm a modern Shakespeare, using a high degree of unique phraseology (unlikely), or the algorithm needs more tweaking, and perhaps training against a corpus of text I've already typed. As it stands, I'm disabling it after finishing this review.

There's a conceptual flaw here that keeps this release from receiving a slightly higher rating. After unchecking the Suggest Snippets option, the app...keeps suggesting. I confirmed with the company that it's a "feature:" any items in the Suggested Snippets list will continue to be suggested to you even after the option is disabled, unless you delete them from that special group. The preference setting doesn't note this, and it would seem to be contrary to the intent of disabling the feature.

Smile continuously improves and matures its products, and I expect I will love this one later. For instance, this release adds inline searches via a hot key. While you're in an application, you can trigger inline search to find a match. If you have large sets or infrequently used snippets, this retains the advantage of not typing them out without having to rely entirely on your memory.

This version also adds previews of snippets within TextExpander, which allows you to make sure that a snippet that includes special placeholders or characters will work as you design it.

Dropbox is no longer required for syncing: TextExpander 5 now works with any sync service. Dropbox is still required for use with TextExpander touch ($5) in iOS 8, which functions as an alternative keyboard layout that can expand many kinds of shortcuts, including web browser-compatible JavaScript. A single-user copy of TextExpander is $45. Owners of previous editions pay $20 for an upgrade; purchasers after January 1, 2015, get the upgrade at no cost.

Bottom line

TextExpander 5 is a no-brainer for anyone who regularly types the same or similar chunks of text, and who wants to speeed up work while retaining flexibility. On an hourly basis, you'll recoup the cost in a matter of weeks; the savings from tedium are priceless. Despite the need for the suggestions feature to be tweaked, previous users should upgrade, as they will benefit from several minor improvements.


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