More iPad Note Apps: We Might Have a Winner

July 13, 2011 by Gabe | [mmd] |

There's been a couple of new note apps 1 since my real-world review. Most of them still can not compete with Simplenote and Omnioutlner. However, I have found three very good alternatives. Notely, WriteRoom and Notability.

All three of these apps started out simple enough but they have evolved and matured into top of class text editors.

Notely; $1.99

Notely started out as a relatively barebones text editors. It had some rudimentary Dropbox syncing that required a manual sync. The last couple of updates included automatic document syncing and document sorting options that include sort by modification date (my personal favorite).

The features that really elevate Notely to the top of class for me are - Markdown preview - Markdown specific keyboard row - Send to OmniFocus

The additional keyboard row also includes keys for moving the cursor around by character or by word. There is also an easily accessible document info panel with word and character counts as well as file size and modification date. Finally, Notely has a send to OmniFocus function to drop a text note right into OmniFocus as a task. The document title becomes the task and the body of the document becomes the task note.

Notely also includes all of the features I expect in a text editor. - full screen writing mode - TextExpander integration - Font customization - Universal iOS app

WriteRoom 3; $4.99

I purchased WriteRoom from the day it became available. I've always been a fan of HogBay's design style. Jesse is creative and careful and has a light touch with feature selection. Unfortunately it also meant that WriteRoom 1 & 2 didn't really fit my workflow. I want all of my notes in one Dropbox folder. I have that folder constantly in sync with Simplenote so I can have additional options for editing and syncing. WriteRoom original had no Dropbox support and when it did gain support, it was locked to a single WriteRoom folder. WriteRoom 3 has really found the sweet spot for me. Not only does it automatically sync with any Dropbox folder, the app is one of the best designed text editors I have used. Here is a sampling of what makes WriteRoom a clear winner.
  • Elegant design
  • Automatic and Manual Dropbox syncing to any folder
  • Customizable keyboard row
  • Fullscreen mode
  • Custom cursor-move tap zones
  • Full font customization
Of course there are many more little touches like an option to disable autocorrect. WriteRoom 3 for iOS is a mature text editor that will be replacing Simplenote as my editor of choice.

Notability; $2.99

Notability is a very different kind of app from the other two. If WriteRoom is a simple Moleskine for iOS, Notability is a TrapperKeeper. It is a full blown note-taking suite.

The app is pretty. The note-taking environment can be customized to suite individual tastes. Fonts and note colors are mutable and have several options to choose from. Notes can be organized into dividers. Dividers can be customized with titles, colors and icons and are displayed in a simple list view. Dividers can be further organized into folders. In this way, many different notes can be grouped in logical order and easily navigated.

The organizational options are just the icing on the cake. Notability really shines in the options for entering and later extracting information.

Adding Information

  • Add text anywhere on the left margin by tapping
  • Import an image and add a caption
  • Add a hand drawn sketch from a custom free hand sketch tool
  • Wrap text around images
  • Record audio
  • Use the built in web browser to search for content and embed in a note

Exporting Information

  • PDF
  • PDF + audio files
  • RTF
  • RTF with embedded images and audio
  • Notability native file for sharing
All exports can be saved to Dropbox, iDisk or WebDAV as well as emailed directly from the app or printed through AirPrint. My complaint with many of the alternatives was that they only provided a PDF export and I wanted access to my raw text. Notability scratches that itch.

Audio

The audio recorder is especially nice for a conference. Each recording is added in sequence to a timeline. You can also play the timestamped recording by selecting it in a list. Whether you want to record an entire presentation or quick audio notes to yourself, this is the way a voice recorder should work.

Images

Images can be added from almost anywhere. There are built in shapes, freeform drawing, access to the camera and camera roll and an excellent webclip tool. Visit any URL and it will grab the page as an image and insert it into your note. There is also full copy and paste support for images in a note. The only missing tool is the ability to rotate an image after it's been added.

The only downside to this app is the lack of direct Dropbox or WebDAV syncing. If I am going to enter a large amount of information into a notebook, I want it to easily2 out live the lifetime of the device lifecycle.

I'd also like to see TextExpander support to more easily add Markdown notes.

Notability seems to be hitting a very nice balance between features and bloat. There's just enough there to make it competent for taking notes in a meeting (which I have proven to myself) but not so much that you have to visit a help section every 10 minutes.

Conclusion

Here's my conclusion: WriteRoom has replaced Simplenote on my iPad springboard dock and Notability is on the first screen of my iPad.


  1. I really only look at these apps when I see a new one that supports Markdown and/or Dropbox and Simplenote syncing.  
  2. By "easily" I mean with very little effort on my part. I do not want to export and then reimport hundreds of notes when I get an iPad 3.  
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