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When I want to get some serious distraction-free writing done, I turn to an old Royal manual typewriter. Call me a hipster all you want, but there’s something about manually throwing keys around on a device, disconnected from the internet, that’s conducive to getting stuff done.

It’s that same love for typewriters that led actor Tom Hanks (another typewriter lover) to work with developer Hitcents to create Hanx Writer, a free-to-download iPad app that turns a user’s tablet into an old-timey typewriter. The app is designed to appeal to people who want to use a simulated typewriter, with plenty of restrictions to create the illusion users aren’t typing on an iPad.

For example, Hanx Writer doesn’t feature the autocorrect functionality that has distinguished iOS (for better or for worse) since its introduction. The app requires users to manually press the Shift key if they want a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence (even though iOS typically does that by default) and it even keeps users’ writing limited to simulated 8.5 x 11-inch sheets of paper.

Users who want to go old school can switch off the app’s “modern delete” button. Then, instead of removing a character from a document, the app overwrites it with a lowercase x, just like someone would with a traditional manual typewriter.

3D models of the app's three typewriters
3D models of the app’s three typewriters

To complete the effect, the app features visuals that make it look like the user is typing on an old fashioned typewriter, along with sounds to match. The default typewriter has black “keys” and makes a hearty thunk noise when a user presses a letter on the keyboard. People who want to try out different sounds and visuals can also choose to purchase other typewriters for $2.99 each, or in a $4.99 bundle.

It’s also possible to turn the resulting text into either a printed page or a PDF, which users can copy the text from and port into a more traditional text editor or word processor. (The initial draft of this review, for example, began its life as a Hanx Writer document.)

IMG_0200People expecting a straight 1-to-1 translation from a physical typewriter to a digital one will be disappointed with Hanx Writer. The app adopts several conventions from the world of digital text editors, including the ability to wrap text as well as the ability to insert and move the cursor freely around the document. While that would ordinarily be a boon, it also makes the app behave differently from a typewriter.

That creates an odd problem: I actually felt less at home with Hanx Writer than I do with either a text editor on my iPad (like my beloved Editorial) or a physical typewriter. It’s possible to cross out a line of writing when the “modern delete” feature is unchecked, and then insert text behind the deleted content.

With my typewriter, I would use the spacebar to move the cursor forward again after moving it in between words to cross something out, but I ended up inserting a long line of spaces in between two words in my Hanx Writer document because of the way it works. Looking at Hanx Writer as a fancy text editor for people who want to act like they’re using a typewriter, that makes a lot of sense, but it completely confused the reflexes that I built up typing on my physical typewriter.

The other issue I have with the app is the fact that it’s impossible to listen to music and write using Hanx Writer at the same time. I love the app’s sound design, but there are times when I want to rock out while I write, and requiring silence (or a second source of music) is a frustrating problem.

Still, it’s a beautiul app, and I bet that people who don’t have reflexes built up from using a manual typewriter will love writing with Hanx Writer.

Hanx Writer is available for free from the iOS App Store.

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