Head to Head: Text Expander Mac Software Compared

No matter if you are coding web pages, writing lots of text, or typing out the same replies to emails constantly, I bet you’ve wished more than once for a faster way to accomplish the task of typing the same content over and over. Believe it or not, there is!

With the help of a “text expander” application, all you need to do is memorise a couple of quick abbreviations, and all this repetitive typing can be a thing of the past. Although TextExpander itself arguably holds the crown in this department, we wanted to put it to the test against some other competing software today.

Read on for our head-to-head comparison of four popular text expanding applications for OS X!

So What Does a Text Expander Do Again?

The basic principle of all text expander apps is the same (that’s why, when reviewing the apps, I’ll focus on what sets them apart from one another). You create a short abbreviation for the content you use regularly, and the software expands it for you as you type the abbreviation.

For example, if you answer the same type of emails with a “thankyou” note, you could come up with “tty” and the expander would turn that into something like:

Dear Person X,
Thank you very much for your inquiry. We will get back to you as soon as possible.
Sincerely,
Your Name.

And if you like, you could have your signature inserted as an image or the logo of your company added. Similarly, when you code, you can set up some short hand code for the basic structure of a website (DOCTYPE declaration, head, body, basic css stylesheet links and so on).

With maybe three or four keystrokes, you could have the framework of the website set up; something that would normally take you up to two or three minutes. Now, that’s what I call a time saver!

How to Create a Good Shortcut

Now that we are clear on what text expanders do, how can you use them most efficiently? The key to actually improving the speed of content creation and reducing unnecessary effort is an intelligent abbreviation. For that, your shortcut should be

  • Short
  • No real word that you’d use
  • Nothing you’d type accidentally
  • Something that is easily typed (doesn’t force you to twist your fingers unnaturally)

For example, if you want to create a shortcut for the closing of an email, something like “wkr” is easily typed and is easily remembered when you need “With kind regards,…”.

By the way, when I say that something should be easily typed I am referring to the flow of your typing. Try to use meaningful abbrevations that can be typed with both hands. The longer it takes you to hit the right keys because you have to go hunting for letters with one finger and interrupt your flow, the less time you’ll save.

To minimize the number of abbreviations you have to remember, try this simple trick – double the first letter of a keyword! “tthanks” is something that you normally wouldn’t write and it can be very easily recalled when you need to quickly reply with a “Thankyou” note.

Presto

Presto is an app by the well-known App4Mac. I would refer to it as the simplest of all of the choices presented here. It doesn’t offer any of the extra and exciting functions the other apps do, but it is very easy to set up and use.

That’s where it scores highly for me. If you don’t want to mess with a lot of options, but want do want functionality such as image or timestamp insertion, Presto might be the right choice for you.

Presto

Presto

Despite the simplicity, it offers app targeting, something that it shares with mightier competitors. App targeting means that you can decide in which app a certain shortcut works – or not.

For example, if you are writing a novel and the full name of your character is “Sara Paula Andrews” and you give it the shortcut “span”, you wouldn’t want this to be an active abbreviation while you code a website (as “span” is an HTML tag and you’d be majorly annoyed if it was replaced with a name while you code).

Presto brings everything you can expect from a text expander, but since you can have Typinator, which offers many more functions, for the same price, you should compare at least those two before you make a buy.

Typinator

I’ve been using Typinator by Ergonis for a couple of years now. It was the app that first made me appreciate what a time saver expanding can be. It has some powerful features under the hood, so don’t be fooled by the lack of a pretty interface.

Typinator

Typinator

Abbreviations can be sorted in different folders, which unfortunately are squashed into the tiny window at the top. If you have a lot of different categories, it can get cumbersome to manage. But that’s about the only issue I have with it.

Funtion-wise, Typinator comes already bundled with some absolutely awesome sets of expansion options, which you can activate in the settings as you please. Included are auto correction for English (US, UK), French and German as well as File Maker 9 funtions and – hold on to your hats – 111 HTML snippets!

I was completely blown when I discovered this set in the new version, and my coding speed has significantly increased with it. Apart from the usual functionality concerning time stamps, image insertion and formatted text, here are some things that come in extremely handy:

  • Cursor position: You can define a position in your expanded text where your cursor will be placed afterwards, allowing you to insert personalized information in a breeze. Unfortunately, it works with only a single position.
  • QuickSearch: If you don’t remember the abbreviation for something, just hit CTRL+ENTER and a search bar pops up. Enter one of the words in the expanded text you’re looking for and Typinator will present you with all the abbreviations in question. Simply awesome.
  • Dropbox and MobileMe sync: Yes, you can take your Typinator library with you to any other computer. I don’t think I can stress enough how much of a help this is, even though it takes a moment to set up.
Typinator Quick Search

Typinator Quick Search

Of course there is much, much more to Typinator, but these functions set it miles apart from Presto. So, if you are on a tight budget and don’t want to spend more than the least amount possible, Typinator should definitely be on your wish list.

TextExpander

TextExpander by Smile Software is generally regarded as the standard expansion software. And after testing it, I have to admit that brings some extremely useful functionality that is not included in the other apps.

TextExpander Window

TextExpander Window

The interface is comparable to Presto, with the abbreviation management to the left and the expanded text and insertion options to the right. It doesn’t look overly impressive at first, but once you dive into the options the tiny buttons beneath the text window offer, you’ll probably be craving these functions soon:

  • Snippets: You can use snippets within snippets! So, if you are setting up an expanded text and you want some text in there that you already defined a shortcut for, just insert that very same shortcut. TextExpander gives you an easy-to-use menu to pick the snippet, so you don’t even have to remember it.
  • Key: Insert a certain keystroke after or within an expansion like ENTER, TAB or ESC. It doesn’t sound like much, but it can greatly help you to stay in your writing flow.
  • Clipboard: Why not just use CMD+V? Well, what if you want to put an anchor tag around the URL you just copied? Just define the HTML code with {clip} following the href declaration and once more you’ve saved valuable time and prevented yourself from spelling mistakes.

The best I’ve saved for last: Fill-In. It’s not be confused with inserted cursor positions, which TextExpander offers too. No, Fill-In means that you can define multiple fields that will be fillable when your snippet gets expanded.

You can easily navigate the fields with the TAB key and, through this method, significantly cut down on the time needed to type out personal replies. For example:

TextExpander Filling

TextExpander Filling

TextExpander also comes with Dropbox and MobileMe syncing, though it’s not quite as easy to set up as with Typinator (you can read up on the TextExpander method here). In addition, there is also an iPhone/iPad app that is supported by quite a wide range of other software (meaning: you can use TextExpander’s funtionality right within third party apps like Twitter, Things, 2Do, Write Room, and various others). If your Mac and your iDevice are on the same network, you can even share snippets between them.

TextExpander offers you possibilities you might not even have considered before, but with a $35 price tag, it’s worth considering if you really need all the power-user features.

Snippets

Snippets is not a text expander in the classical sense. It’s an app targeting developers who are reusing bits and pieces of code extensively. As we all know, the biggest enemy during coding is spelling mistakes.

By saving code snippets that you’ve already used successfully for later use, you can eliminate that danger and, of course, save plenty of time. You could think of Snippets as a code repository, rather than an automatic expander of short hand code.

Snippets

Snippets

Snippets already comes with some pre-defined groups and code examples to give you a head start with the app. The CSS reset and the basic HTML declarations alone demonstrate the app’s usefulness (I always have to go hunting for these things at the beginning of a new project).

There is no automatic expansion of short code, as I already mentioned, but Snippets recognizes your code editor and allows you to beam the snippet right into it (in my case, you can see the Espresso icon in the menu bar).

So, do you need Snippets? That depends. You can of course manage those snippets in your average text expander as well (and define shortcuts so they get expanded automatically and circumvent the drag & drop method).

But with Snippets, you get code highlighting, which will make editing larger snippets much easier. If you earn your money with coding, you should definitely take a look at Snippets.

Conclusion

Now that you’ve read this comparison, which text expander is right for you? There is no definitive answer. All of them bring unique and useful functions, and the decision rests not only on your budget, but also on your workflow and personal taste.

You can’t go wrong with Typinator, which offers many more options than Presto for the same price. Typinator is updated regularly, and upgrades are offered at a discounted price.

With Text Expander, you get it all (well, apart from the awesome quick search functionality of Typinator) and additionally you have a syncing option for iDevices, should you own one. Whether the additional $10 is worth it is entirely up to you. As I mentioned in the review – if the Fill-In feature is something that makes your jaw drop because you can see yourself using it multiple times a day, go for it.

Snippets is an app that will appeal to the coding geeks but, as handy as it is, it remains a repository and not an expander. Only through an evaluation of your own coding habits will you be able to decide if it’s worth a hefty $40.

Nevertheless, after reading this article, you should go for one of the suggested apps. Why? Because they really, really will make your life so much simpler. Except for Presto, which puts a limitation on the number of snippets you can test, all apps offer you a thirty day trial.

So go and see for yourself how much more productive you can become. I bet that after those 30 days are up, you won’t want to go back to working without a text expander!


  • Joshua Johnson

    Great comparison Julia! I couldn’t live without TextExpander, I love looking at my stats weekly to see how much time it saved me!

  • David Ferguson

    You can search in TextExpander. If you go in the Preferences, go to the Hotkeys tab, and you can set a hotkey to the search function from there.

  • http://www.smilesoftware.com/TextExpander Jean MacDonald/Smile

    TextExpander also has Dropbox sync baked in. See Sync under Preferences. I just updated the blog post on manual syncing with Dropbox to reflect that. Thanks for the heads-up.

  • http://brettterpstra.com Brett Terpstra

    Unless I missed it, you left out the #1 reason that TextExpander kicks everyone else’s butt (at least for power users): you can use shell scripts and AppleScripts as snippets. Mix that with the fill feature and clipboard handling and you’ve got a powerhouse. Shell scripts, of course, don’t sync to iOS, but they provide unlimited possibilities on a Mac.

    • http://www.iKreateIt.com Julia Altermann

      Thanks for pointing that out, Brett. I looked at it from a non-advanced user’s perspective and I have to admit that I am not that familiar with shell scripts as probably are a lot of people.

      But if this is something that makes advanced users go YAY, thanks again for sharing this information :)

  • http://www.wirtschaft-erklaert.de Niels K.

    What is with TypeIt4Me and Keyboard Maestro (one of its many features is to expand text)? I’m missing them in this comparison

    • http://appleecious.com Gabriele Contilli

      I agree. TypeIt4Me is really a great app.

  • http://www.webkarnage.net Karn Broad

    Typinator for me for sure! It can even import Text Expander expansion sets, a small addition to your comparison chart!

  • Eric

    Actually, I find QuicKeys pretty much does all the text expanding I need, and it does a whale of a lot of automation of OS X for me.

  • http://nslog.com/ Erik J. Barzeski

    Kind of a joke that TypeIt4Me is not included in this review. Oh well.

    • http://www.iKreateIt.com Julia Altermann

      Sorry, guys, seems that one slipped by me :(

  • http://anone.studiogbkk.com/ Anone Saetaeo

    I use another app from this choice, AutoTyper (http://www.macupdate.com/info.php/id/32616/autotyper). Good enough for little power user.

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  • http://www.larsn24.de Lars R.

    If I become a successful freelancer somewhen. I would be a Text Expander License.

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  • http://www.okend.fr Okend

    Hello all, i’m a frontend developer that have a daily routine of creating test pages on my HTML/CSS/jQuery integrations (i don’t know if that term exist in english).

    I tested the demo that is Soooo useful to me ! Appstorm, please, pimp my mac !!!!

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  • http://www.16software.com/breevy/ Patrick

    Hi guys, just wanted to let you know about my Windows text expander app, Breevy (http://www.16software.com/breevy/). Those of you who have Windows PCs in addition to Macs might be interested in checking it out, as it can sync with your TextExpander snippets using Dropbox or manual import/export, so you can use them on your PC(s) as well. :-)

    Best,

    Patrick

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  • http://ettoresoftware.com Riccardo Ettore

    I would like to thanks those who commented about the absence of TypeIt4Me in this comparison. Typinator and TextExpander are certainly worthy competitors but they came on the scene in 2005, sixteen years after TypeIt4Me.

    Bottom line? I should sack my PR and marketing team ( :-) ) as they are obviously not doing a good job of spreading the news about the original text expander for Mac, TypeIt4Me, available since 1989 and now also on the Mac App Store.
    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/typeit4me/id412141729?mt=12

  • enrico

    Unbelievable TypeIt4Me is not in this review – it was the first text expansion software out there (since 1989!) and is still the best by a long margin and acknowledged as such but many authoritative reviews. Shame on you for leaving it out! Anyway if you fancy a comparison with TextExpander you can find it here: http://bit.ly/dbpTo5

    • http://www.hennieboshoff.co.za Hennie Boshoff

      I think it is better Typeit4me not included. I ws v excited abt this app: problem: Problem w typit4me is that Riccardo doesn’t offer any support.

      Since june I have send him a question about using rich text / HTML + a couple of other issues: I get any auto response: will be dealt with 48 hours, if no reply re-send the mail with REPEAT in the subject : which I have done again [+ again, etc] getting the initial auto response: will be dealt….

      I contacted the other 2 e mail addresses on their site: no reply

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  • Carlos P. Rodríguez

    Although very clear as a review it is absolutely unfair because it doesn’t include the oldest text expander for the Mac: TypeIt4Me by Italian programmer Riccardo Ettore. European programs are often not considered by American publications, but Typinator is from Austria, so that this is not the case in this review.
    TypeIt4Me is the most complete of all and is kept constantly up to date by Riccardo.
    Take a look at it at http://www.typeit4me.com

  • http://www.justcharlie.com Charlie

    I just started trying out TextExpander and it’s pretty incredible so far.

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  • Kryptun

    Typinator is best for me. I love using it. It just saves me a hell lot of time :)

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