We love text expansion on our Macs, but we've always assumed TextExpander was the best option. With some capable challengers, we decided to find out if any of them could dethrone the reigning champion. Here's what we found.
Before we get started, if you're wondering what text expansion actually is, read this. For those of you running Windows, take a look at Texter. This is an exploration of four text expansion apps for the Mac to find out which one's the best. We've always looked to TextExpander as the title holder for the best Mac text expansion app, but with three other options now available we had to ask: is it really the best? Let's find out.
Snippets is the newest contender and also the cheapest of the bunch, coming in at only $6. It doesn't have a lot of features but what it does do, it does well. Snippets has a simple interface that lets you add a shortcut name and what that shortcut expands to. You can also insert something called a placeholder, which lets you define variable text. You can't tell it to just use the clipboard, insert a date, or anything particularly complex, but placeholders will let you enter in variable text at the time of expansion. For example, if you were creating an HTML link you could specify a placeholder for the URL and the name of the link, then during expansion Snippets would prompt you to enter the URL (which you could just paste in) and the link name. While at first I found this off-putting, because TextExpander just grabs the clipboard automatically, I found that this was a lot faster than relying on the clipboard for things like links that require multiple variables. Even better, Snippets is super fast. It also doesn't cause any clipboard conflicts, so you never have to wonder what pressing Command+V is going to give you. Though a little low on features, it gets the job done very well. If you want text expansion but you don't want to pay too much, Snippets is significantly less money than its competitors (4x cheaper than the next cheapest option). If you're on a budget, there really isn't another option.
Snippets ($6) [Mac App Store]
TextExpander is our title holder because it's an amazing text expansion tool that has a great variety of features. You can define snippets with all sorts of variable text, set delays for when text should be expanded, control how the clipboard is restored (in theory), change case, automatically correct spelling errors, and so much more. Almost anything you can imagine doing with text expansion, short of tabbing through different fields and automatically submitting forms, TextExpander can do. All of that said, it's by far the most expensive option you have, coming in at $US35. As an added bonus, you can buy an iOS app for $6 that can sync your TextExpander snippets and use them within iOS apps that support them. This is incredibly useful on a mobile device because, well, you probably type much slower. Text expansion can save you even more time with your iDevice, and TextExpander is really the only app that provides such a high level of integration. That said, you're looking at $US40 for the whole, combined package. This is twice the cost of TypeIt4Me and eight times the cost of Snippets. Also, TextExpander has some annoying issues with restoring the clipboard properly. Often times you can expand text, copy something, and then it will restore older contents of the clipboard negating the copy action you made. This is very frustrating and is the main reason I set out to try other options.
TextExpander ($35) [Smile On My Mac]
TypeIt4Me is very similar to TextExpander's feature set but costs almost half as much. It also doesn't suffer from the obnoxious clipboard issues I mentioned earlier. It can handle rich text and pictures, plain text, complex variables like the current date and time, correct your spelling (using an actual dictionary, rather than manual input), automatically fix common typos, and much more. It's almost identical to TextExpander, really, only it works better and costs less money. It also gives you statistics about your typing as a fun little bonus.
TypeIt4Me ($US20) [Ettóre Software]
Typinator is also fairly similar to TextExpander and TypeIt4Me, only its feature set is a little lacking in comparison. It won't fix as many typos and other problems, but it definitely beats all the apps on speed. It also has a neat feature where you can modify snippets by holding down a modifier key. For example, if you hold down shift while typing a snippet, Typinator will capitalise everything in that snippet automatically. This isn't a mandatory feature, but it's great if you need it. Typinator can handle rich text, pictures, and plain text just like the others. It can handle complex variables like TypeIt4Me and TextExpander. It does give you a good number of options and works very well, but if you're in the market for the greatest number of features it certainly isn't going to win you over.
Typinator (€20) [Smile]
The Winner: TypeIt4Me
Hands down the winner is TypeIt4Me. It's the fastest, the most reliable, and nearly the cheapest in the bunch. In fact, after using all four programs I'd say TextExpander is my least favourite. Typinator is fantastic because it does everything TextExpander can do (and a tiny bit more), but it actually does it properly. The only thing you get by abandoning TextExpander is the lack of a mobile app. If that's important to you, then you might not want to abandon TextExpander just yet — unless you can get by only using it on iOS. If mobile's not a problem, there is absolutely no reason you shouldn't be using TypeIt4Me instead. I'd like to give a runner's up nod to Snippets, only because it's a really good early effort and it's so inexpensive. If you're on a budget, you'll get by with Snippets. If you want a feature-rich, excellent text expansion app at a very reasonable price, however, TypeIt4Me is our new champion.