I’ve written 1,000 or so posts on this site over the last few years, and the most popular topic I’ve written about, both in number of times I’ve covered it and the traffic it’s brought here to Digitizd, is Evernote. With good reason, too: It’s the app I’ve used most in the last few years, the one app that I truly couldn’t live without. But this weekend, I canceled my Evernote subscription, moved all my notes out, and uninstalled the various apps. I’m now a Simplenote user, and I should apologize in advance for the amount I’ll likely be shilling for Simplenote in the future.
I want to clarify from the get-go that Evernote was, is, and will likely continue to be, awesome. It’s a fantastic app, the Evernote crew is incredibly smart and fast-moving, and they’re in a better position than ever to be your external brain. It’s just, for me, not the right fit anymore.
The way I used Evernote, and now use Simplenote, is fairly simple – it’s my inbox for everything. Things I think of that I should do get notes. Emails I need to deal with in a way other than writing back get notes. Blog post ideas get notes. Meeting minutes get notes. If it’s not a specific task, or an email, or an appointment (Remember the Milk, Gmail, and Google Calendar, respectively, handle those), odds are good it lived in Evernote (and just got moved to Simplenote). I don’t store tons of photos, or files—Evernote’s great for that, and Simplenote can’t do it at all—it’s just a lot of text, coming from a lot of places.
Just Take Notes
For simple, pure note-taking, Simplenote’s got a bunch of advantages over Evernote. Taking a note, for instance, is ludicrously simple: Just type something. There’s no saving, no entering a title, nothing. You can add a tag if you want to, but that’s simple too. Evernote’s not difficult, but there are several more steps involved, especially if you’re using their mobile apps. I do an inordinate amount of red-light-note-taking, and Simplenote is as easy and fast as taking out a piece of paper and scribbling something down, and that’s huge. Everything gets automatically saved and synced, and if I want to write “buy milk,” doing so takes only as long as typing those two words.
Managing your notes is also a no-frills experience, in the best possible way. There are no notebooks to deal with, like in Evernote. You’ve got one, running list of all your notes, sorted either by title or by date modified. The method of finding notes is 100 percent search-based—the search in every Simplenote app is lightning fast, searching as you type so by the time you type the word “cupca” all your cupcake recipes are waiting for you (it’s like Google Instant, re-filtering with every letter you type). You can also filter notes by tag, but search is the way to go here. It feels very unorganized at first, and flies in the face of every inbox-emptying notion in my brain, but in a couple of days using it I’ve been able to both find and edit notes faster. It’s not a system for everyone, but it’s definitely for me.
The spark for my switching to Simplenote was one, relatively minor feature. It’s not exactly mission-critical, but just fits better with how I work. You can choose to pin a note to the top of the list, so it’ll always be the first thing you see. I have two right now: “Links inbox” and “Posts Queue,” which are links I need to check out and articles or subjects I need to write about. Those are always at the top of my list, no matter what other notes I add, and I’ll never need to work to find those notes—one click and I’m editing them. That’s huge, and was by itself about 60 percent of the reason I jumped on the Simplenote train.
Do Other Stuff
Frankly, the “just take notes” feature of Simplenote is the killer app, and I’d guess I’ll only use the other stuff sparingly. But there’s plenty of other stuff, and who am I to complain about other stuff? You can share notes with particular people, or show them publicly on the Web—I’m just about to force my roommate to sign up for Simplenote, so we can share a grocery list and cleaning schedule. You can see old versions of your notes, which is crucial given that the auto-save features mean anything you mess up gets saved instantly.
One other, smaller feature caught my eye: If you use an iOS (iPad, iPhone, iPod) device, there’s an option in the Simplenote app to turn any note into a list. When you toggle List mode on, the app takes every line of the note and turns it into a list item, which you can reorder or edit as such. Since I keep things like “Books to Read” and “Gift Ideas” as notes in Simplenote, List mode is a great way to manage those notes better.
Get it Everywhere
One of the things I liked most about Evernote was that it was available everywhere. I could take notes, or access them, from my phone, my computer, my iPad, and just about anywhere else I could think of, with or without an Internet connection. Since I relied on Evernote for everything from phone numbers and confirmation numbers to all of my notes for gadget reviews, I needed that. Simplenote does that too, rarely with company-built applications, but always with good ones. Here’s what I use, of the many available options:
- Web: Simplenote Web App
- iPad: Simplenote (by Simplenote)
- iPod touch: Simplenote (by Simplenote)
- Mac: Notational Velocity
- Android: Flick Notes
- Windows: ResophNotes
With the exception of the $2 or so I paid to remove ads from Flick Notes, and the $19.99 I paid for a yearlong subscription to Simplenote, using it hasn’t cost me a nickel. (Simplenote’s base version is free, supported by unintrusive ads. The $19.99/year buys you more backup versions of each notes, unlimited third-party app usage, Dropbox sync, and more. Plus, it buys me the peace of mind that I’m not going to lose my notes, which is easily worth $20/year.)
Evernote is a wonderful way to organize documents, photos, notes, Web clippings, research, and more. I don’t need all that, and Evernote became too much. I need a fast, frictionless way to take notes, and then an easy way to see or find the notes I took. Evernote is all of those, but Simplenote is better. I needed simple and fast, and Simplenote is exactly that.
Do you use Evernote, or Simplenote, or something else entirely? Tell me about it!