For the last three years (ever since I switched from PC to Mac in fact) I’ve used Evernote as my personal notes repository, using mainly the Mac application and Android app, and occasionally the web interface.
Lately I’ve found that every so often, Evernote will fail to properly save or sync a note, leaving me with a new version and a renamed fallback version, which I have to manually review to see which version is the most up to date.
I’ve also become frustrated with Evernote’s “do everything” philosophy which has led to a plethora of icons and links cluttering the interface of the Mac application. I also find the Android app’s UI to be overly complex and quite confusing at times (I’m a simple guy who likes simple user experiences). And when you read articles like this, you start to worry about the app’s continued availability in the future.
I read a few online articles that compared various note-taking applications, and one app in particular, Simplenote, stood out from the crowd for three reasons:
- It’s free
- It’s properly cross-platform (I need Mac, Android, PC and web)
- It has a reputation for extreme simplicity, but still has tags for organising content
In particular, on the Mac version at least, I could still get the Evernote-style three column layout that I liked (left: folders/tags, centre: list of notes, right: note content).
So I was drawn to Simplenote, but there were two aspects of it that, initially, at least, I wasn’t so keen on:
- No file attachment or image storage
- No text formatting (unless you use the web interface)
I wasn’t sure if I could live without these features, both of which are offered by Evernote. Then I looked at my actual note collection, and realised two things: firstly, I have never actually stored an attached file or image in Evernote! And secondly, the only time I’ve used HTML-style formatting was in one particular note, where I used a table to summarise the current status of client projects. And in fact, that note was almost obsolete now because I have moved a lot of my project management information to Asana.
So I created a Simplenote account, added a few test notes and tags in the web interface, and then installed the Mac client and Android app to have a play. I found that syncing was essentially instant, the Mac client worked just like Evernote but without all the crappy bloat that has afflicted Evernote in recent times, and the Android app was supremely intuitive and a joy to use. Simplenote tags work like Evernote folders, except that a tag name can’t have spaces in it, but I can work around that. In fact, tags are more versatile than folders, because you can give a note multiple tags (think Gmail).
It also has some basic sharing facilities which I haven’t tested because I don’t need them – but it’s nice to know they’re there.
One moan: the UI is very white, and I think some pale grey backgrounds for some parts of the layout would help make it more usable. But maybe if I lobby the developers…
So now all I have to do is have the Evernote and Simplenote desktop apps open side by side on my monitor, and prepare myself for a copy-paste session. However, I only have around 200 notes so it shouldn’t take too long.
Simplenote won’t be suitable for everyone. One example is a former colleague who clips all kinds of media-based content into Evernote and would last about 30 seconds with Simplenote before deciding it didn’t do anything useful. However, if your life or workflow involves creating a large number of text-based notes that must be categorised with tags or into folders. but you don’t need to store images or attach documents to those notes, Simplenote could be exactly what you need.