I’ve used a lot of note taking apps over the years. I was an Evernote user for a while, I took a look at Google Keep, I jumped in and out of Notability (and still do), and finally settled on OneNote. It’s free, works on all devices, and has the features I need for organizing and searching through my notes. I’ve been very happy with OneNote, but if I’m honest, it has more features than I will ever use. I know I can just not use those features, but it made me wonder what it would be like to use an app that had less bells and whistles. What if the app was more…simple?
Simplenote is a free, cross-platform note-taking app that is owned and operated by Automattic, the parent company of WordPress. It’s light on features, but I say that in a good way, because it still has what most people need, most of the time. It’s also really well designed. It’s clean, modern, and it looks great on all devices.
Speaking of which, there are Simplenote apps for iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, Linux and the web, and all your notes sync seamlessly between each platform. There are no storage limits on the number of notes that you can write, and no real limit to how long your notes can be. Simplenote also a powerful search feature lets you find what you need, when you need it.
To organize notes in Simplenote, you use tags and pins. This took me a little time to get used to, but after a while, you become used to it. In the past, I have used folders or separate notebooks to group my notes, but tags aren’t too dissimilar so long as you can show some restraint with the number that you create.
The Simplenote editor is perhaps the definition of minimalism. There are no rich text editing functions like bold, italic, underline, bullets, etc, but it does support Markdown if you happen to be fluent in that syntax. I don’t know Markdown well enough to use it without a cheat sheet, but I know I could learn it if I took the time to practice and use it on a regular basis. You could too, even if it was just to master some useful tricks like hyperlinks.
Inside the note editor is a button that lets you access version history. This feature is similar to Google Docs where you can turn back the clock to see what a note looked like at an earlier point in time. Speaking of Google Docs, you can also share notes with other Simplenote users so that you can collaborate on a note. Simply add the email address of the collaborator as a tag on the note to invite others to join you.
Missing features that you might expect in a note-taking app include the ability to add attachments. You can’t use the camera app on your mobile device to snap a picture and add that to a note like you can in Google Keep or OneNote, or add PDFs and other docs for reference. However, notes with attachments mean larger file sizes, which means more work syncing, which also means Automattic would probably have to start charging for all that extra server space.
In short, Simplenote is the app I didn’t know I needed. Are there things I wish it had? Sure. Things like a public URL for notes would be great for sharing with those who do not have a Simplenote account. Markdown is great, but a few rich text icons on a toolbar wouldn’t go a miss either. I also feel like a way to group untagged notes would also be beneficial.
All that aside, if you are looking for a clean, light-weight note-taking app, that works on basically every device that matters, then Simplenote is well worth a look. It makes no apologies for the things it doesn’t have, and instead concentrates on perfecting the features it does have. I like that, so I’m going to keep using Simplenote if only to see how I can make it fit the work I do, and maybe I will also learn some Markup along the way.