iPhone notes app comparison

I have four note taking apps for the iPhone: Simplenote, Elements, PlainText, and Nebulous Notes. I’ve written about each of them before,1 but I thought it might be useful to compare them all in a single post.

Update 3/15/11
I just wrote a similar post looking at the features of Notesy, which has taken over from Elements as my main note-taker.

The comparison will cover

Cost

None of these apps are particularly expensive, but in-app purchases can make the cost different from what you see in the App Store.

Simplenote

Simplenote is free, but there’s an in-app Premium upgrade option that costs $20 per year. A Premium subscription does several things:

I had a Premium subscription last year—I won it in a contest—but that was before some of these features were available, so I can’t speak authoritatively on their value. It seems to me that the most important of the Premium features is the Dropbox syncing, but there is, famously, a way to get Dropbox syncing via the API without a Premium account. We’ll discuss that in the Syncing section.

Elements

$4.99. No ads, no in-app purchases. Buy Elements and you get all the features.

PlainText

PlainText is free, but has ads that remain at the bottom of the screen in both List view and Note view. The ads vanish when the keyboard appears for editing. An in-app purchase option will remove the ads for $4.99.

Nebulous Notes

$1.99. As with Elements, this is the price for the app with all its features.


Syncing

This is an area where the differences between the apps can be huge. Dropbox syncing is the primary reason I switched from Simplenote to Elements.

Simplenote

This is really complicated.

Simplenote has its own syncing system, which I’ll call native syncing, that backs your note up to Amazon’s S3 cloud storage service. The notes can be viewed and edited through your web browser by going to simplenoteapp.com and signing in with a username and password. Before Simplenote published its API and before there was a Premium service, this was the only way to get at your notes from your computer.

Now, with a Premium account, you can sync your notes to your Dropbox account, where they’re available to be viewed and edited in any text application on your computer. This is a fairly new feature, and I have no experience with it.

Because of Simplenote’s API, there are ways to get Dropbox syncing without a Premium account. The most common, on a Mac, at least, is to use Notational Velocity. Both the standard NV and its most famous fork, nvAlt, make periodic calls to the Simplenote API to sync the notes with a folder of your choice on your computer. If you choose that folder to be one within your Dropbox folder, you now have Dropbox syncing with Simplenote.

This option pretty much forces you to run Notational Velocity all the time to get automatic syncing. If you’re an NV user, you’re probably doing this anyway. I prefer having just one text editor (TextMate) running all the time, so the NV syncing has never appealed to me. But lots of people do use the NV option to get Dropbox syncing with Simplenote and they love it. I’ve never heard anyone say that Simplenote’s API throttling interfered with syncing.

Elements

This is really simple. Elements syncs to an “Elements” folder in your Dropbox folder. When you start Elements for the first time, you give it your Dropbox login credentials, and it creates that folder. Notes you create on your iPhone are saved in that folder and are available to be edited with any text application on your computer. Notes you create on your computer and save in that folder are available to be viewed and edited on your phone in Elements.

I’ve noticed that small edits made on the computer sometimes don’t get synced immediately, and I’ve had to quit Elements and relaunch it to see those changes. I haven’t had this problem in quite a while, so it may have been a bug that got fixed.

PlainText

This is almost as simple as Elements, but the one extra step of complication has real benefits. Like Elements, PlainText syncs your notes to a folder within your Dropbox folder. By default, this will be a folder called “PlainText,” but you can choose any folder at all. I chose my “Elements” folder, which gives me access to all my notes from both apps. A thoughtful feature from Hog Bay.

Syncing PlainText to my Elements folder

Nebulous Notes

Now we’re back to complicated, but not as complicated as Simplenote.

Nebulous Notes can access any text file in your Dropbox folder—it’s not limited to files in a single subfolder. However, it doesn’t automatically sync all your Dropbox text files to your phone. Only files that you specifically open within Nebulous get a local copy put on your phone. These files are called “Auto-saves.”

Nebulous auto-saves

If you find yourself without a network connection, only the auto-saves can be viewed or edited; Nebulous won’t even let you see a list of the other files.

In a way, this is quite flexible, because Nebulous doesn’t force you to put your notes into a specific subfolder. But it makes the syncing only semi-automatic. If you may be going somewhere with no network access, you have to remember to turn any file you might need into an auto-save before you lose your connection.

This is a better approach than Nebulous had when I first reviewed it. Back then, there were no local copies whatsoever—if you were off-network, you couldn’t access any of your notes. Still, I prefer the fully automatic syncing of the other apps.


TextExpander support

All four apps have TextExpander support, and I wouldn’t even consider an app that didn’t.


Fonts

When it first came out, Simplenote’s two main advantages over the built-in Notes app were automatic syncing and Helvetica, and for many of us the font choice was just as important as syncing without iTunes. There were ways of getting Notes to use something other than that godawful Marker Felt, but they were annoying.

Simplenote

Simplenote still uses Helvetica and only Helvetica. If that fits your needs, you’ll be happy with it. Four font sizes are available: Small, Normal, Large, and Extra Large. What’s surprising to this middle-aged user is that Small is actually readable, and Normal is comfortably readable.

Elements

Elements offers every font on the iPhone in every style. This is overkill, as no on is going to write notes in DBLCDTempBlack. But if you like Palatino or Snell Roundhand or Verdana, they’re available to you. Also, Second Gear has included my favorite monospaced font, Bitstream Vera Sans Mono.

I’m repeating myself here, but I find a good monospaced font essential to note taking, mainly because so many of my notes are schedules and lists that are best expressed as tabular data, and a monospaced font is the easiest way to get the columns to line up.

PlainText

PlainText uses Georgia, with no option for another font. I love Georgia and it gives PlainText a beautiful overall look, but it isn’t right for my more data-centric notes. I imagine it would work really well for people who write mostly in paragraphs.

Nebulous Notes

Nebulous offers a subset of the fonts that come with the iPhone: Georgia, Georgia Bold, Heiti TC, Helvetica, Helvetica Bold, Marker Felt, Times New Roman, Times New Roman Bold, Trebuchet MS, Courier, and Courier Bold. It also includes not one but three additional monospaced fonts: Bitstream Vera Sans Mono, Monaco, and Lucida Console.


Searching

There are two ways to organize your text files: lots of little files on specific topics or a few large files covering broad categories. I use the former strategy, so I don’t need to do much searching; but if you use the latter, searching will be the best way to get to the information you want.

Simplenote

Simplenote has, without question, the best search tool. Not only does it tell you which notes contain the text string you’re looking for,

Simplenote search across files

but tapping on one of the files will take you to the first spot that string occurs within the file,

Simplenote search in files

and the arrow keys in the bottom left corner will take you to all the other places in the file with that text.

Elements

Elements will do the first stage of searching, telling you which of your files contains the text,

Elements search

but after that, you’re on your own for finding the string within the file.

PlainText

PlainText has no search feature whatsoever.

Nebulous Notes

Nebulous, like PlainText, has no search feature.


Sorting

Simplenote has the most options for sorting the list of notes, Nebulous the fewest. My preference, both when I used Simplenote and now that I’m using Elements, is to sort by descending modification date, which puts the most recently edited file at the top of the list.

Simplenote

Simplenote can sort the list of notes by

There’s also a “Pin To Top” option that allows you to choose files that will always be at the top of the list no matter how the other files are sorted.

Elements

Elements can sort the list of notes by

PlainText

PlainText can sort the list of notes by

Nebulous Notes

Nebulous sorts by ascending file name only.


Full screen mode

Full screen mode can be great for reading; it clears all the chrome off the screen, giving you a couple of extra lines of visibility.

Simplenote

Simplenote has a well-designed full screen mode. You get into it by tapping a button at the right end of the bottom toolbar,

Simplenote regular view

and go back to normal mode by tapping the floating “ghost” button in the lower right corner of full screen mode.

Simplenote full screen view

Elements

Elements has no full screen mode. You always have a title bar at the top and a toolbar at the bottom.

PlainText

PlainText always has a title bar at the top but has no toolbar at the bottom if you paid to remove the ads.

Nebulous Notes

Nebulous has a frustrating full screen mode. You access it by tapping a floating ghost button in the lower right corner of the screen,

Nebulous regular view

and get out by tapping a similar button at the same spot when you’re in full screen mode. I can’t show you this second button because Nebulous keeps it invisible until you tap at that spot. Worse, when you tap there, the virtual keyboard appears, whether you wanted to edit the file or not. Only then does the “regular mode” button appear.

Nebulous keyboard view

By the way, how do you dismiss the unwanted keyboard? Damned if I know. Nebulous is the only app that doesn’t have a button for that purpose. The only way I’ve found to dismiss the keyboard is to tap the folder button in the title bar to go back out to the list of files. If there’s another way to do it, I’ll happily update this paragraph; but if it’s there, it certainly isn’t obvious.


Word count

I can’t say I use this feature much, but all the apps have some form of it.

Simplenote

Simplenote has an info button in the bottom toolbar that tells you the number of words and characters in the note.

Elements

Elements has an info button in the bottom toolbar that tells you the number of words, characters, and lines in the note. It’s basically like the Unix wc command.

PlainText

PlainText has a cute but weird way of telling you the word count. Tap and hold anywhere on a note and the usual selection bar will appear. The word count will be at the right end of the bar. If you have text already selected when you tap and hold, the editing bar will have the word count of that selection at the right end.

PlainText selection word count

Nebulous

Nebulous’s word count is accessed through the settings ghost button, the one that looks like Aa. It tells you only the word count.


Other features

Elements has a Markdown preview mode; Nebulous is supposed to be getting one soon.

Simplenote has a “View As List” option, which I know nothing about because it’s a Premium feature.

Simplenote and PlainText will let you lock the orientation of the display even if the global orientation lock is off. Nice for reading/editing while lying down.

Elements has a variety of choices for foreground and background color. Nebulous has a smaller number of choices and a handful of preset themes, one of which gives you the green-on-black look of old CRTs—a look that people who never had to use those CRTs find much cooler than those of us who did.

Simplenote has a passcode lock similar to the four-digit lock you might have set on the phone itself. If you don’t like passcode-protecting the phone because it slows down access to it, you might still want to protect your notes.

Simplenote and PlainText can detect “links” in files. Tapping on a URL will open it in Safari; tapping on a phone number will dial it.

Nebulous has an optional macro toolbar that you can have displayed above the normal keyboard. It gives instant access to keys that you’d normally have to dig for.

Nebulous macro bar

I suppose this is OK on the iPad, but it takes up too much precious screen space on the iPhone.

Simplenote has some clever ways of sharing files online with other Simplenote users, a great feature for household files like shopping lists.


Conclusions

I’ve chosen Elements as my regular note taker, and that shows in my descriptions. While I’m still not happy with its use of byte-order marks and CRLF line endings, overall it fits my way of working better than the others.

Before Elements came along, I got a lot of use out of Simplenote and have no regrets buying it. Apart from the lack of font choice, it has more features than the other apps, and I can see where one or more of those features—search, in particular—would make it the best choice for many people.

PlainText strikes me as better suited for long narrative files than short, list-like notes and probably a more comfortable fit on the iPad than the iPhone. It’s the best looking of these apps.

Nebulous Notes has lots of interesting features, but its user interface is just too flaky. And the semi-automatic syncing is a dealbreaker. I know some smart people who use it, but it’s just not right for me.

Update 2/22/11
Many good comments. I initially responded with a comment of my own but decided to move the response up here.

  1. I didn’t include Trunk Notes (Comment 7) because I think its wiki features make it distinctly different from the apps I covered here. You can see my impression of Trunk Notes in this other post.
  2. I didn’t include iA Writer (Comment 5) because it’s iPad-only and this is a post about note taking apps on the iPhone. I don’t have an iPad, and can’t speak to how any of these apps work on one (although the screenshots of PlainText on an iPad look lovely).
  3. One of the few advantages of aging is learning that everyone is different; another is coming to accept your own flaws and limitations. If you like Evernote, more power to you. I’ve stayed away from both it and Yojimbo because I know I’d never tag the entries and they’d turn into digital junk drawers.
  4. I’m leaving in Chris Miles’s naked self-promotion (Comment 10) because his product may be just right for some readers.
  5. I take a dimmer view of thinkery’s naked self-promotion (Comment 6) because I don’t believe his product matches the theme of this post. But I’m too tired to bother deleting it.
  6. Thanks to Miles (Comment 12) for describing Simplenote’s new list feature.
  7. Alan Schmitt (Comment 23) makes a good point about Elements not expanding TextExpander snippets in file names, something he’s mentioned to me before but which I forgot to include in the post. It’s never affected me, but it’s a bug that Second Gear should fix.
  8. Marcel (Comment 25) should see a doctor about the bug up his ass, but he is partially correct about Elements being restrictive in which file extensions it allows. Originally Elements wouldn’t open or list files that didn’t have a .txt extension; that restriction was loosened several months ago, but it still won’t open, say, .rb files. I don’t know the full list of extensions it does support, but I’ve been satisfied since it started working with .md files.
  9. hekkipekka (Comment 26) clarifies Simplenote’s sharing feature; it’s more flexible than I said in the post.
  10. Michael Evans (Comment 30) links to his own comparison of Elements, PlainText, and Nebulous. It’s worth your time reading; although we cover much the same ground, you’ll get a better view of the apps if you read both his post and mine. I’m sorry I missed Michael’s article when it came out.

  1. There are lots of posts about these apps, especially Simplenote and Elements. If you have any interest in seeing what I’ve written before, your best bet is to use the search field in the sidebar. 


54 Responses to “iPhone notes app comparison”

  1. JamisLaFrance says:

    I love using PlainText on my iTouch. While I can access any note from any Dropbox folder/subfolder, I now prefer using it as a quick way to add a note to be filed later. My other favourite note taker is Notebooks. It also has Dropbox sync and permits me to also access (view/hear) pictures and audio files.

  2. Sean says:

    Very nice comparison. I was unaware of Elements, and it sounds like something I could have used also. But I am very happy with Plaintext, as it fills my needs. I’ve spoken to the developer and have been assured that a search and sort solution is on the way.

    PS. For me using Plaintext, on the iPhone syncing with Dropbox to Notational Velocity on my Mac has worked ferpectly for me for months. The combination of these three elements has finally allowed me to remove Evernote. Notational Velocity is my all time favorite Mac app btw.

  3. Tarun says:

    Thanks for this comparison. I don’t know if you own an iPad, but I found Elements also the best for that as well. Some occasional cocoa bugs can be annoying, but the interface is lightweight and doesn’t get in the way for note taking. By far DropBox integration is the most important feature, and Elements does it seemlessly.

  4. Tarun says:

    Thanks for this comparison. I don’t know if you own an iPad, but I found Elements also the best for that as well. Some occasional cocoa bugs can be annoying, but the interface is lightweight and doesn’t get in the way for note taking. By far DropBox integration is the most important feature, and Elements seamlessly

  5. Olivier says:

    ia writer is also very good

  6. thinkery says:

    Ok, we’re not there yet with a mobile app but are releasing a mobile web version this week. We’re making it as easy and fast as possible to save things, thoughts you have, URLs you find on the web, and also, to retrieve them with instant-search. Maybe you wanna check it out. Greets, Nader.

  7. honkeydorey says:

    I’m disappointed to not see my favorite notes app - Trunk Notes (http://www.appsonthemove.com/trunk/). It is a portable wiki, has markdown support, stylesheets, and has dropbox syncing as well.

    As far as functionality goes, I believe Trunk Notes takes the cake. It just needs a little bit more of a flashy UI to grab people’s attention and I think it would sell a lot better. Since it supports stylesheets and markdown, you can basically use any CSS tricks to make your notes look real nice like with basic website design - and the developer just needs to include some nice looking stylesheets to help sell the program.

  8. Seth Rubenstein says:

    I’m perplexed as to why Evernote isn’t mentioned here. Better syncing. Great desktop app. Great iPhone app. Great iPad app.

  9. James Katt says:

    Evernote is BETTER than any of these note apps.

    Evernote synchronizes automatically to the Mac, iPad, iPod, and iPhone.

    And it can also store other documents such as Word Docs, PDFs, etc.

    And Evernote is FREE for basic services.

  10. Chris Miles says:

    I recommend looking at Locayta Notes. Coming from a search engine company, it easily has the best search features of all notes apps. http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/locayta-notes/id393819477?mt=8

    Not only top class search, it has Dropbox syncing, text style options and printing.

    Locayta Notes aims to match or beat the above notes apps in terms of features and still remain completely free.

    Disclaimer: I developed the app for Locayta. I used to use Simplenote but Locayta Notes easily replaced it.

  11. No Name says:

    Yep, Evernote is best. Integrated, free depending on how much you put into your account each month, accepts written notes, photos, pdf’s, and even voice notes and is synched on my iPhone and my Mac and on the Evernote site as well.

    I didn’t develop Evernote; I just use it everyday.

    Now if I could just find a woman who was a good to me as Evernote is!

  12. Miles says:

    The “view as list” feature in Simplenote changes the view of your note so that each line is a list item with top and bottom borders and a drag handle on the right. You can drag each line (including blank lines) up or down to change its position in the list, and you get a pseudo-list item at the bottom that says “Add an item…” which performs as expected.

  13. dave says:

    I prefer simplenote. Then again, I think NV is the best mac application in the world, so that helps. It seems everyone wants dropbox integration. I prefer that it’s not needed for simplenote. I see few advantages and I’d rather not have everything I use tied to one service.

    Also, for those touting Evernote, which is an application that does everything but almost nothing well, if you can’t see why a dedicated notes app might be preferable to some people, you need help.

  14. Steve Rubel says:

    I have tried all of these but my search ended with Alfons Schmid’s outstanding Notebooks app (available for iPhone and iPad). It offers full offline sync with Dropbox, amazing search, Textexpander, fonts, folders, full screen and on ans on. It’s by far the best. Everything is thought out. Very elegant app. Check out his site http://www.alfonsschmid.com/notebooks

  15. Justin D. says:

    Killer Feature for me:

    Elements was a no-brainer, since with some simple setup, Notational Velocity on the desktop and Elements on iOS can share the same files, and everything is kept in sync:

    http://mangochut.net/post/971777943/nv-elements

    Have yet to encounter a single sync-related problem. Whole thing works like gangbusters!

  16. Dr. Drang says:

    I moved everything I originally said here to the update at bottom of the post. Just keeping this here so the comment numbering doesn’t change.

  17. Barbara Smith says:

    Thank you for this detailed article. I have used SimpleNote, Evernote, and PlainText and PlainText is the app I use BY FAR the most. There are two main reasons why I like PT over the others: the dropbox integration is top notch, quick, and makes it so that all of my changes are reflected in dropbox and I can go back and recover deleted files, old versions, etc.

    I used to use Evernote, but the app takes a while to open, sync, and load, and in that time, I have already edited my notes on PT and been good to go. I like Evernote quite a bit, but I don’t use it for every day notetaking and writing.

    The other thing about PlainText is that I can edit documents from Scrivener (my favorite writing software program). I have done this in the past and I have linked the functionality.

  18. Barbara Smith says:

    oh, btw…Notebooks is an app I find inscrutable. If I had been able to download a trial version of the app and played with it a bit, I never would have downloaded the full app.

    I’m not a luddite, but Notebooks is not for the faint of heart.

  19. Wayzom says:

    You should give Evernote a shot and then replace this article with a story that only talks about Evernote :)

  20. James Katt says:

    With iOS Multitasking, the time to start Evernote is non-existent.

    I prefer Evernote since the data is already organized and synchronized by the time I open my laptop and desktop.

  21. Matt says:

    What about Notesy (http://notesy-app.com/)? It costs $2.99 (though I got it for free), and has no ads, no in app purchases, and no fees. Syncs with Dropbox, has most features mentioned above, and is super simple and easy. How come no one ever mentions it?

  22. Tom Davies says:

    I use Notesy, which sounds very similar to Elements.

    Better: cheaper, full screen capability Worse: no markdown preview, less font choice(?)

  23. Alan Schmitt says:

    A quick note about Elements (which is what I mainly use) and TextExpander: unfortunately it does not work in the title, which is where I would find it the most useful to name files.

  24. mattg says:

    I’ve used simplenote since the beginning and see no reason to switch. It simply can’t be beat for my workflow.

    As for evernote, I imagine most users that like it either one, are newbies that don’t know any better, or two, simply want one app to do everything. It’s basically like outlook for the pc. A terrible application that’s bloated with a terrible UI, but it appeals to some that only want to use one application for everything.

    For taking notes, NOTES, evernote sucks compared to every app here with the possible exception of one.

  25. Marcel says:

    Before you spend $4.99 on Elements, be aware that it can only edit files with the .txt extension (not .TXT, not .Txt, etc.), only in the /Elements folder of your Dropbox account. It will not even list files with any other extension. Freaking Notepad on Windows 95 does better than that.

    If you can live with that, good for you. But if you ask me, that’s retarded. Elements is one of the most hyped apps in the store, it started with John Gruber at daringfireball.net, and apparently still means a lot to Gruber, who couldn’t miss the opportunity to link to this review.

    Pathetic. But don’t take my word for it, try them all and see for yourself. And also try Droptext, if you need a Dropbox editor.

  26. heikkipekka says:

    Some corrections to Simplenote’s sharing functionality.

    1) Other one doesn’t have to be Simplenote user. You can share a note from in-app to a web page with anyone, not just with Simplenote users.

    2) It works in two ways: you can publish your note as a read-only web page OR share an editable web page anyone can add edits to.

    Those are quite unique functions. It’s possible that those are paid Premium features only. I paid 8 euros (~ $11) last month for Premium for renewal the subscription.

    Have bought and used Simplenote, Evernote, Elements, Plain Text and AudioNote on iPhone and some others on iPad. Liking Simplenote for note taking and Plain Text for separating longer text drafts from notes on Simplenote.

  27. okiepr says:

    I keep trying to like Evernote, but find the app crashes on my iPad and is ridiculously slow on my iPhone. I have also found that the PDFs I have in Evernote will not print half of the time. I want to like Evernote and keep reading how great it is but I have nothing but trouble, even with the paid account.

    The other issue I have is I live in London and am underground (on the Tube) or deep in a building with no signal so I need things on my phone and iPad and need it to sync fast and automatically.

  28. art says:

    Nice comparison. I wonder why you didn’t include Evernote?

  29. blogjunkie says:

    Great overview! I also use Elements and have tried out all of the above. Since I also have an iPad I have also tried IA Writer. Unfortunately IA Writer has more sizzle than steak. Stick with Elements, it’s definitely the best note taking app out there - and since it’s a universal app, it also works with iPad.

  30. Michael Evans says:

    Just saw your comprehensive plain text review (via The Brooks Review) and thought you’d be interested to see I ran a similar (though less comprehensive) comparison of Elements, Nebulous and Plain Text a week prior to yours:

    http://www.macfilos.com/2011/02/text-editors-review-elements-plaintext-nebulous-notes.html

    I think have have very similar views on the three apps, although I came down in favour of Nebulous Notes on a very fine balance (second choice was Elements). I see we both coincidentally came to the conclusion that the fixed Elements folder in Dropbox was the place to keep all text notes.

    Just one slight disagreement: I don’t really consider Simplenote to be a direct competitor of the other three, which are all file-based and ideal for writing drafts. I made this point in my review. Simplenote has an independent existence as far as I’m concerned: It’s a brain dump for all sorts of odds and ends and is perfect for retrieval because of the solid search facilities, especially if you use Merlin Mann’s QQQ tagging system. Whichever plain text editor I am currently favouring, Simplenote is always there in the background.

    Incidentally, since I have a Simplenote subscription I have set up the Dropbox sync and it seems to work perfectly. BUT, the Simplenote folder treats every item in the app as a separate file. While this is logical for filing purposes, from within Simplenote you see everything in one place. It doesn’t look like a folder of files and you have the advantage of lightning search of the entire database. The relative lack of clutter and the ability to create sub-folders in the Elements folder (for instance) is good reason for choosing one of the other apps for writing projects so they are not dumped in the one folder and could be difficult to find.

    Yours is a good and thoughtful post. Thanks.

    Michael Evans Macfilos.com

  31. Michael Critz says:

    I use Simplenote and sync with my Mac using Dashnote. http://dashnote.resen.co/

  32. Jim says:

    The comparison is very helpful. Personally, I use Evernote and have for a couple years. The syncing is seamless. The one thing that I miss is being able to create printable documents; I find I have to export them to Pages to format. But then we are beyond note taking.

  33. Mihir says:

    I’ve been using Plaintxt since the last few months and am quite safisfied with it. The Dropbox syncing works great. The review mentions ads at the bottom of the screen. This is surprising as I use the free version and there are no ads which appear.

    Elements looks interesting in that it has multiple fonts. I find this occasionally frustrating in Plaintext. Most times, I like what I paste into Plaintext to appear in the default font. Occasionally I would like it to appear in the original font which I can’t do in Plaintext. I wonder if I can do that in Elements.

  34. George Musser says:

    Plaintext’s Dropbox syncing, unlike Simplenote’s, handles subfolders. For me, this was decisive.

  35. Oscar says:

    Nice review.

    I went on a similar search a few months back, but my main criteria was that the apps should sync with Google Apps (which has the advantage of letting me both view and edit the documents on any web browser).

    For those interested, I narrowed it down to these two apps at the time: “NoteMaster” and “aNote”. Each had its advantages and disadvantages, of course.

    I’m most surprised you didn’t include the ever-popular “Evernote” in your review, however.

  36. Creig P. Sherburne says:

    I love this. It’s like you got inside my head and wrote about Notes apps in exactly the way I wanted you to. Thanks a ton for the comparisons. I always knew Simplenote was good, but there had to be something that fit my brains better. Thanks again for the head’s up.

  37. Cybertoy says:

    A review of springpad would be interesting too, I think…

  38. Mats Berm says:

    Response 3. From the update makes no sense at all, you don’t need to use tags in Evernote, you can search on anything anyway… Obviously a revewer who asn’t actually used a product (Evernote) but has an opinion anyway, pity….

  39. John D says:

    Good comparison.

    Another iPhone app you may want to try is Nocs. It’s similar to Nebulous Notes but I find it more responsive. It also has an option to display as Markdown. As with all of them it has its quirks, but I do like it.

    But, I mostly use PlainText. It has multi-folder support and also is the only one of the group that saves it directly to dropbox. I find the separate local / remote folder system of the others awkward.

    For simplenote users on the PC, I’d recommend ResophNotes. It sync’s cleanly and quickly and has a nice clean interface.

    As a final note, I am surprised by all the people that are mentioning liking the evernote iPhone app. I find it extremely slow and awkward but, as always, each to their own!

  40. BMWTwisty says:

    FWIW, if you do like to use Simplenote, you have an alternative syncronization method other than Notational Velocity - which is very nice but doesn’t do tags.

    Look into JustNotes http://selfcoded.com/app/justnotes/ It works in the background and is accessed by a menu bar icon.

    You can sync tags with Simplenote using JustNotes. And JustNotes is free. IMO, Simplenote and JustNotes does a really good job of managing text files between your iOS device, your Mac and the Web.

  41. Dirtbagg says:

    Interestingly, the feature I consider absolutely essential in a text note app is a note preview.This is lacking in Elements but present in Simplenote and, for me, is a dealbreaker. I use Simplenote and Notational Velocity to access my notes on all my platforms. I use Nottingham (similar to NV) to create my Dropbox backup because it does not separate the first line of text as a title separate from the note’s body of text. Another note app very, very similar to Simplenote is Notespark. It has a superior and more viewable iPhone and web GUI than Simplenote , but lacks useful backup (only a CSV export).

    I use Evernote every day, but it’s way to powerful to waste as a simple text note application. I use it for clipping content for which it’s perfect. Unfortunately, Evernote’s iPhone app is lame (esp for text). It provides no preview and insists on a thumbnail view, which, when used with text notes, provides no help whatsoever.

    So, for me, it’s Simplenote for text and Evernote for clips.

  42. John says:

    I still find SimpleNote best for entry—you just hit + and start typing. There are no separate fields. It’s ideal for quick, one-line reminder notes, such as “look this up when you get home.” Elements makes you give everything a “title” that is separate from the body of the note.

    I find that this one-line note business is best on the go—it’s very hard to edit a text file on your phone or even iPad, say, on a train, and doing things that way rather than just creating a whole new note is more likely to lead to sync errors. The only sync error I get with SimpleNote, working this way, is the occasional duplicated small note. (Syncing on mobile devices has to account for the fact that there’s not always any service.)

  43. Lex says:

    I’ve been using Notesy (universal) for about 1,5 years now. Very happy with it. Just my 2 cents. Using it both on iPhone and iPad. Cheers guys.

  44. Paul Ross says:

    And what about Evernote? It is one of the best apps for note taking and it is available on Mac, Windows, iPhone and iPad. Such an important app seems to have been overlooked.

  45. TStark says:

    Elements seems quite similar to Notesy, of which I’ve been using with no issues. However, I’ll be checking out Elements… I’m always on the hunt for a good note taking app (i.e. Evernote - very slick with lots of features but, for myself, and this is nitpicking, a little bloated for quick note taking; Notational Velocity on the Mac is cool and simple, in a good way; however, I keep falling back to TaskPaper - pricey but this app is close to emulating how I use a piece of paper).

  46. David Cizek says:

    Great article for me as a user and for me as a developer (what’s important for users).

    I use Simplenote to remember various things (because of I have iPhone 3g Evernote is too slow for me), native notes.app for longer texts and when in need to make a note and process it immediatelly on my comp, I used to send them by e-mail to myself. Then I made app for it (sorry for selfpromo) Noted! (http://analoguebits.com).

  47. SunByrne says:

    I use DropText. Nice ASCII editor, works on both iPad and iPhone, understands whatever folders you have on DropBox and can create new ones. And cheap, too.

    Lots of love for Evernote here. Personally I find it slow and bloated, and have you ever actually read the TOS? Of course not, nobody reads those things. Well, go read it. Evernote explicitly owns all your data and they are allowed to republish or use it in any way they want, for free, and they don’t have to notify you that they’re doing it. Yikes! No thank you… (Note that DropBox TOS explicitly says that they do NOT own your data—big difference.)

  48. Inmansquare says:

    This review is kind of an apples to oranges. I use PlainText for writing, Simplenote (and nvAlt on Mac) for notes. They are more a matched pair than competitors. And as you say in your response, things like Evernote and Yojimbo are more note organizers than writing tools.

    On a different nite, so to speak: I do like the list feature of Simplenote, but it is only part of the premium version, and I find the subscription pricing scheme onerous.

  49. Gregor says:

    I tried the four you review here, as well as droptext, but none quite did it for me. I found an app called textforce, not quite as polished as some of these, but more functional. Worth checking out.

  50. Dan says:

    For me, Nebulous wins because of a feature not mentioned. That optional toolbar can contain cursor keys. I detest having to poke at the text where I want to insert something or change a character.

  51. Neb says:

    Thanks for the comparison.

    I know there is hundreds (maybe thousands) note taking and syncing apps in the App Store, so you just can’t talk about more than 4 or 5.

    But there is one than in my opinion, worth to be included. (To be honest, until I saw this comparison I just thought it was the reference in notes apps). It’s Awesome Note (bridworks.com). It supports syncing with Evernote and Google Docs, so you can have you notes where you want without a specific app etc.

    Can somebody tell me why those apps are best or aren’t we talking about the same kind of software ?

  52. Dan says:

    Hey,

    Since you are enthusiastic about note taking apps on the iPhone, I came across a new one called ‘notes + u’. It looked pretty good. Interesting ideas in it, especially for a situation like a lecture or meeting. On top of the basic notes, you can have a audio session being recorded while doing the notes / attaching pictures. Or you can add audio clips…

    Looks really promising (www.m2d2apps.com/notesplusu.html)

  53. MyFreeWeb says:

    I switched from Simplenote to PlainText (even though I prefer Helvetica to any other font) and my own webapp for editing notes on different devices. I’m using Emacs (and NV too, sometimes) for editing and I didn’t like that synchronization was visible in it and I needed to open a simplenote buffer to see the list of all notes. It works better with Dropbox.

  54. Gregory says:

    I use Simplenote for most everything and Plain Text for longer notes.

    The new Dropbox sync feature for Simplenote premium accounts had a few early missteps with their hosting provider, but that has been worked out.

    You can setup the Plain Text sync to Dropbox in the “/” directory instead of “PlainText” to get access to the entire Dropbox folder. When you open a folder, or modify an item in it, the contents of that folder are synced. Subfolders and parent folders are not synced until you visit them.