in Technology

Simplenote vs Evernote

I have been an Evernote user for the last couple of years, and for a long time it has been the only viable option for note syncing between the Mac, iPhone and the web (and recently the iPad). Supporting multiple notebooks and a hierarchical tagging structure, as well as RTF note editing capabilities and GPS location has made it into a very appealing catch-all application.

What brought Evernote over the top however, is the automatic OCR scanning of uploaded images. This basically means that you can find an image by searching for text contained within. I used this feature on a daily basis when snapping pictures of whiteboards during meetings with the iPhone application. Instant meeting notes people!

The problem with Evernote

There is just one problem — Speed. Evernote for iPhone is just a tiny bit too slow for using all the time. You know that one small thing you really should have written down, but you could just not be bothered to open the Evernote app since that would just take a few seconds too long. Instead of using Evernote for exactly what it is designed for, I sometimes pop open Apple’s note app and jot it down there instead (and later of course forgetting all about it).

Okay, I lied, there are some other minor problems besides the speed issues. When writing longer notes, or articles such as this very one, it feels tremendously important to have editing history. Maybe I am just spoiled by using Subversion and Mercurial all the time, but I feel having the possibility to revert back to previous versions of the text makes experimenting fun, and making it easy to try new things. Evernote has no editing history that I am aware of, except for the standard undo/redo available everywhere.

Just for the fun of it, another annoyance with Evernote is the lack of auto-save on the iPhone and iPad. If I am writing something and want to save, I will exit editing mode when saving the article and have to reopen it to continue writing. Why is there no auto-save in the edit window, or at least a save button that keeps the writing window open?

Simplenote enters the ring

I have lately become aware of a semi-new contender in the note-syncing market called Simplenote. In one corner we have Evernote with a million bells and whistles, while we on the other hand have Simplenote with its simplicity and focus on content. The only real feature of Simplenote, except for the obvious feature of writing plain text, is its support for tags.

Okay, I lied again. Simplenote has limited support for revisions, which means that you can go back 10 “increments” (30 in the paid version) of changes. I am not sure about the voodoo in the calculation of these save increments, but at least you have limited support for going back in time to restore an alternate version of your file.

On the happy side of things, Simplenote has very fast and simple (haha) iPhone and iPad applications, which automatically sync to the cloud as well. They have support for tags and the search function is quick and accurate as well. Another nice-to-have-but-not-entirely-necessary feature is the fullscreen edit mode, which cuts out all distractions and lets you focus soley on the words themselves. Think of it as WriteRoom for iOS, but with a white background.

What I say

I have just started trying out Simplenote, so I have no idea about the long-term affects and issues that may crop up. I am somewhat worried about the tag management, since it does not seem to be any way of renaming a tag without having to manually rename the tag in all individual notes. There is no support for tag hierarchies, which may or may not be an advantage — I am not sure yet. The tag drop-down in the website seems limited as well. I would like a list of all tags, almost like folders, where I can dive down to the notes themselves.

In addition, I would like the ability to search for notes within a certain date period in addition to the normal tag and keyword search, or perhaps even a date calendar where I can select the date range and visually see the number of notes written on certain dates.

Another issue I have with Simplenote is the lack on an official application for Mac OS. There are lots of third-party apps, but no one works the way I want. Until such application comes out, the next best thing is to use the website directly, which works remarkably well and is very fast to be honest!

I will keep on using Simplenote for a while, and if it continues to work as fast and easy like now (and if there is a Mac app coming), it is a winner in my book.

What other people say

Shawn Blanc says that All You Need is Simplenote, and John Gruber writes a post regarding Evernote and Simplenote. For an insight into what other people put into their Simplenote, have a look at Minimal Mac’s article What’s in your Simplenote?.