iPad Mellel, Not Quite There Yet

Back in August I was given the opportunity to review the latest version of Mellel, I loved it. I was also given a code for the iPad version of Mellel, but the code didn’t work. I reached out back to the company a couple of times, but never heard anything back. So, about a week ago I decided I wanted to check out Mellel on the iPad and see what I thought. So not only is this review my free and honest opinion, it’s my free and honest opinion on software I actually paid for.

Mellel on iPad 1 costs $19.99, and for that price I would expect an application on par with other premium iOS apps like Scrivener, Luma Fusion, or the Affinity apps. Instead, feels more like an app from the early days of iPad – a companion instead of an tool in and of itself.

There’s power under the hood

iPad Mellel displays a good amount of power working behind app, and that’s a good thing. Mellel’s desktop application takes off once users decide to implement it’s excellent power features like auto-titles. The good news is many of the power features are accessible in the iPad app. Auto-titles can be inserted, document navigation is a snap, page and section setups can be applied, and Mellel’s styles are intact 2. Because I wanted to start this review with a new document, I decided to create a template from my layout test of In The Land Of The Penny Gnomes and create a new document from my Scrivener project 3. I compiled my text into RTF, opened it in Mellel, and applied the template. I then put it in iCloud so I could edit in iPad Mellel.

If you’re paying attention you see there is a problem with how I generated this new document. Every step had to be done through my Mac 4. My first attempt attempt to import my RTF Manuscript into iPad Mellel left me stuck with a default template. To get custom auto-titles, styles, and page formatting I had to work through the Mac version of Mellel. These features, once set up on the desktop application, work well enough as a custom setup – but they can never be created on the iPad itself. Nor can they be edited on the iPad. The power of Mellel is there to be applied, but not adjusted. As someone who has come to appreciate the power of Mellel on the Mac, the experience on the iPad left me feeling handcuffed. Any time I wanted to adjust a design element, such as the way Mellel handled the footnotes in Penny Gnomes, I had to run back to the Mac. It felt more like an iPad app from 2011 than 2018.

auto-titles
Auto-Titles are in the app, but you can’t edit an auto-title flow

Interface

iPad Mellel does have a decent enough interface, though it does have a few quirks I find odd.

First, the formatting toolbar appears either at the bottom of the screen or atop the virtual keyboard. This keeps many features within easy tapping distance while editing, and I really appreciate it. There is a thoughtfulness of design there which shows there a level of care 5.

Mellel styles
Mellel’s styles are all there. I just wish I could edit them!

I also appreciate how pinch-zoom worked in iPad a Mellel. Users are able to pinch out far enough that four pages are displayed side-by-side. This makes a visual exploration of a test simple, and I didn’t notice any lag as I swiped through my novel manuscript. That is impressive. A two-up display is also able to be shown, which is nice.

4-up view
Users are able to pinch-zoom all the way out to a 4-up view. This is really slick

But then I hit the quirks, and things go sideways.

First, while it is possible to display a two-up view in iPad Mellel, there doesn’t seem to be a way to mandate that the first page of a section should be on the right. This means the two-up display in iPad Mellel always shows odd numbered pages on the left, which messes up the display of the layout. I hope this is something they fix in the near future – it’s a killer feature, but it’s not implemented well.

2-up view
A 2-up view, but my pages aren’t set up correctly, I need the odd numbers on the right!

There is also no way to tell Mellel to remain in two-up mode when editing text. Whenever a paged is tapped for editing the interface zooms into that one page. This is fine for most cases, but sometimes seeing the opposite pages helps with tweaking the document.

Most frustrating, for me at least, is text selection. When using a physical keyboard it works fine, as it should. When using the touch interface, however, selection can be a nightmare. I’ve never been good at manipulating the iOS text selection handles, but in Mellel it feels like the activation point for the handles isn’t where they should me, it takes me a good deal of tapping before they decide they’ve been activated. It gets frustrating.

Conclusion

iPad Mellel, as it’s currently constructed, is working off of an outdated iOS philosophy. It’s no longer good enough to see the iPad as a companion to a desktop app, particularly if the iOS app is being sold at a premium price in the app store. At the same time, there is enough power present in the app that I have hope it might become a more full-featured sibling to it’s desktop counterpart. It’s just not there yet.


  1. It does not work on the iPhone. 
  2. Even the variation feature is present, and that is impressive. 
  3. This also had the added effect of including all the typo corrections I made after the book’s release. That was embarrassing. 
  4. This isn’t entirely true, I could have compiled my text into RFT on my iPad. Only the Mellel steps had to be done on my Mac. 
  5. Though the insert menu is positioned at the top of the screen, which is weird.