January 29th, 2021

Spaces.do - Great Writing App or DOA?

Okay I actually find this name unfortunate because it's just Spaces and if you search for that combined with macOS you're not going to find the writing application you want to find. You're going to find a bunch of tutorials on how to use the Spaces feature in macOS.

Spaces.do 3 Panel View

Spaces.do has a fairly standard 3 panel design which you can change around with CTRL and numbers 1-3 to see more or less of the interface on macOS. If you're on iPadOS you have to click around the interface because there are no keyboard shortcuts that I can find. Certainly none show up when you hold ⌘ to bring up the available keyboard shortcuts.

Things to like about Spaces.do

In my initial testing sync is reasonable. Nothing to write home about. I'm typing this while watching what happens on my iPad with the same note open and it seems to take a few minutes before anything updates between the devices. This should be good enough for most uses, but it's nothing to write home about. You should be able to write a note and have it sync to your iPad before you leave the house.

From the time I imported my 1000 notes till they all showed up indexed on my iPad was around 5 minutes. This is certainly reasonable, but again it's nothing to write home about. I'd say the sync meets the basic expectations of how sync should work. It doesn't excel, but it doesn't dissappoint either.

Like most writing and note applications out right now, Spaces has backlinking. It does this with the standard [[ format for a wiki link. I imported about 1000 notes from my Obsidian Database and it autocompletes and finds the notes I'm looking for fine.

To categorize your notes you use #tags. I had many tags with my imported notes and Spaces picked them all up without issues. It took a few minutes to have them show up, but it was processing around 1000 files for all connections so I don't fault it for this.

When it comes to exporting your notes Spaces has a decent number of options. You can export to Markdown, Text, TextBundle, and HTML. Since the tagline that Spaces uses is "The joy of writing, elevated." I'd actually like to see more options. Where is the Epub export? What about PDF? It's not that the options are bad, they're just lacking.

Issues with Spaces.do

A big issue with Spaces is how it creates links. In every other writing app I've used that has a basis in Markdown you can highlight text and then press CMD+K to create a link with the URL in your clipboard. Spaces sort of does this, but instead of assuming the highlighted text is the title of the link you want to create it asks you for the title text. Yes that means you have to type in the same text you just highlighted a second time. Is this a deal breaker? No of course not, but it's a continual nuisance for your writing process that's going to cost you extra time and it's something that Spaces should take care of for you.

Then to add to this pain, when you create a link it doesn't let you "accept" the link you just created without moving to the keyboard. CMD + Enter doesn't accept the created link. Enter on it's own doesn't accept the link. You have to get your hands off the keyboard to click a button to make it happen. More time wasted.

While the "lightning search" is decent, it's also another small usability nightmare. First, the menu item for it doesn't provide a keyboard shortcut indicator on macOS. I've triggered it somehow from the keyboard, but I haven't been able to reproduce it. I only am sure I triggered it because I couldn't exit it the first time. Pressing escape doesn't exit lightning search. Just like with links, you're going to have to reach for your pointing device and click somewhere else on the screen to exit search.

This makes interacting with it anything but lightning fast.

Before I even started this review I wanted to understand how I create new spaces so that I could organize my writing. Unfortunately this isn't documented anywhere, but spaces are created by using the tagging ability in the application. Add a tag and your note will magically be in a new space.

Yes this operates much like Bear, which I've used. Maybe I should have clued in to how these work, or maybe the app developers should have documented their software better.

Then we get to a bunch of markdown that it says it supports, but doesn't currently work on macOS under Big Sur. Spaces.do says it supports standard task lists with - [ ] but I continue to have trouble making them work. In the video above it works, but then with further testing it doesn't work sometimes. It says that backticks will highlight, but it doesn't work for me with inline backticks or with code blocks in backticks.

no single backtick

or multi-backtick

The last straw here is the lack of multi-window support on macOS. This means it has backlinking, but if you want to reference two notes you have to find and switch between them instead of being able to look at them side by side. I have no idea how they expect anyone to get real work done on this application without being able to reference multiple pieces of writing, but evidently the developer thinks it's possible in some magical world.

Should You Try Spaces.do?

I hate to say this, but no way. I don't regret purchasing it when they were offering a lifetime purchase, but the app wouldn't be worth a subscription. Sure they're updating it, but I never purchase a subscription on the off chance that they will resolve my issues in the future. If the app isn't worth it today, then it's not worth it.

At this point Spaces feels like a writing or note app in search of exactly where it's going to sit. While the marketing copy positions the application as a writing application, the features point it towards a research and note app like Obsidian or Craft or Roam Research. At the same time, it's not as full featured as any of those options for research. It's also doesn't match Ulysses or Drafts for writing features. Both of those applications have far more available in export features than Spaces.do has.

By all means I'll keep an eye on Spaces.do and I hope that they resolve some of the issues that I have above, but I won't be moving to this app any time soon for my writing.

Visit Spaces.do to see the app