Simple notes. Sounds appealing? If it does, then read on. There are a plethora of note taking apps for iOS including the built in note application from Apple, which syncs via iCloud to your various other iOS devices as well as to and from a Mac. Simplenote, a basic note taking application that runs on iOS (universal) and Mac, offers the basic note functionality of the Apple Notes offering but adds a few extra features worthy of consideration for note taking needs.
Simplenote is a universal app which means it run in either a native phone or tablet app UI depending on the device it runs on. But wait, there’s more! There are also Mac, Android, Kindle, and a browser (web) client. Sorry PC owners, looks like you guys are stuck using the browser client. With all of these supported platforms, the ability to sync your data across all of these devices is critical. This is where Simplenote shines. Using the app on an iPhone, iPad, and Mac, the sync was almost intantaneous and flawless. Changes on any of my iDevices were automagically pushed to my Mac and vice versa.
Simple Note excels at entering in new notes quickly and easily. The add new note button (a “+” sign) is always available in the upper right hand corner of the screen. Once in the new note screen, you can type to your hearts content.
Notes are basic text, no fancy fonts or styles or markdown formatting, and no ability to insert or attach an image. However urls to websites are supported. The first paragraph of a note is set in boldface. Pressing return to start a new paragraph returns the text to normal (non-bold) font. At the bottom of the note entry screen is a freeform tag entry box. Tags assist in categorizing notes and multiple tags can be assigned to a single note. Tags can be added or deleted from the note.
While in the note create or review screen, pressing the information button (an “i” button) will bring up a slide-up-from-bottom menu that offers several choices: Send, History, Collaborate, and a trash can, which will place the note in the recoverable trash area. At the top center of the menu is an active word count. On the top right of the menu, there is a “pin to top” option button that when pressed will pin the note to the top of your note list. Pinned notes are marked with a circle with a dot inside prior to the note title. While writing this review using Simplenote on the iPad, I pinned the review to the top of my list and watched the change sync almost instanteously over to the iPhone sitting next to my iPad.
As mentioned above the "i" button allows for some pretty advanced functionality. One of the most useful functions is the history button which allows archive retrieval of past versions of your note. All you need to do is swipe right to scroll through the list of date stamped versions of the note and press the Restore Note button to bring that version back to life. The list of versions doesn't seem to be restricted but I am sure that there must be some limit. Most of the notes I have created so far have at least 4 or 5 versions which is a comfort knowing if I need a past version, it is accessible. Another mistake proof feature is the availability of a trash can. When you select a note for the trash, the note does not automatically get deleted but goes into the trash can. Selecting the trash can from the note list view displays all the items in the trash. A quick swipe to the left on the note reveals a restore button. To empty the trash, press the "Empty" button on the top right hand corner of the screen.
Simplenote allows simple collaboration functionality by providing the capability of sending an email with the appropriate link to the note to whomever you choose, as long as they have a valid email address. When you select collaboration from the "i" button menu, the app will ask for an email address. The email sent to the person includes the link to access the note and a short summary of the note.
Viewing the Note List
Notes can be viewed in the order they are entered or in alphabetical order of their title, which can be set in the application settings. A quick swipe to the right on the note list screen will reveal the saved tags used for notes as well as the Trash can, an Edit Tag option, and the application settings.
The application settings offer the note sorting, a condensed list (which shows only the note title and not a line or two sample of the note), the setting of a passcode to view notes, and the login account used to synchronize your notes across devices.
Overall, Simplenotes is a clean and efficient app that does notes well. As mentioned, it does not support advanced formatting or images and if you need that (or more) in a note taking app, take a look at Evernote or Day One. I would recommend the real nice looking Vesper app (brought to you by the Apple media triumvirate of John Gruber of Daring Fireball fame, Brent Simmons, and David Wiskus), however that app doesn't yet support syncing of any kind but it is being worked on according to the developers (link). Some have even gone so far to call the clean UI of Simplenote a copy of the Vesper app. Even if the devs did copy Vesper for the iPhone, the results are amazing. The UI across the iPhone, iPad, and Mac are consistent across all those devices. I can't remark about the UI of the Android and Kindle versions, but I am sure most of the design principles are the same there as well. Simplenote has become my primary note application, replacing Apple's built-in iOS application. The syncronization has been rock solid and astonishingly fast. If you want a simple note application without a lot of flash in terms of content that works terrific on multiple devices, Simplenote is the app for you.
Simplenote - Free
As an avid tech fan I look forward to sharing my tech experiences both personally and professionally with those that have similar interests and passion for technology.