Simplenote for Mac: A Beautiful Alternative to iCloud Notes

Apple’s Notes app is fine if you’re quickly jotting things down, but after a while you may start to want something more powerful. That’s when services like Evernote and Simplenote. The former has had a native Mac app for a while now, but the latter has relied on third-party solutions like the newer Justnotes and Brett Terpstra’s fantastic nvALT.

But now there’s something new on the market. It’s an official app developed by Automattic, the team behind WordPress which now owns Simplenote itself as well. The free Simplenote for Mac promises to bring the whole experience to your computer without a Web browser, and kicks off an entire new wave of Simplenote apps across all their supported platforms. Is the long-awaited client everything we’ve dreamed of?

Flat and Simple

The sign in screen.

The sign in screen.

The folks at Simplenote didn’t spend any time messing around with a complicated user interface. Rather, they went with a look similar to the new Rdio: plain, flat, beautiful. Some might say this is too minimal for a note-taking app, but I disagree. I think nvALT is too OS X-esque for notes, just as the iCloud Notes app is too skeuomorphic. Simplenote has arrived in the prime of minimal design — a time when apps lose their ornate icons and such to become not just flat, but simple — and delivered its own solution.

If you’re not an advocate for minimal (or “flat”) design, it’s important to remember that this app is Simplenote for a reason. It’s not Evernote with a library of different functions, nor is it iCloud Notes with its lack of tagging and overall basic approach. Simplenote finds the balance, and that’s why it’s always been such an appealing service.

Overall, this app’s design couldn’t be more fitting. It’s very reminiscent of Rdio, yes, but that’s not a problem.

Three Panes: Sidebar, Notes, Editor

The welcome note.

The welcome note.

As with the Web app, Simplenote for Mac makes use of the service’s three panes: a sidebar, list of notes, and note editor. The sidebar, which is collapsible, shows the tags you’ve used, as well as the trash. There’s no way to add a new tag here because you have to do it in the note itself. However, you can rename or delete tags, which is helpful for organizing things.

Simplenote in fullscreen.

Simplenote in fullscreen.

Next is the notes list. Everything here is identical to the Web app with the exception of the search field, which for some reason is at the bottom of the window. After using nvALT and Simplenote on the Web, having a search field at the bottom of the screen doesn’t feel as natural and takes a while to get used to. The developers probably put it there because they wanted to keep the minimal design at the top with just the + button in the center.

Lastly, the editor. Again, just like with the Web app, the first line of notes becomes the title. It’s nice to see this app give it priority, too. Some Simplenote clients keep all the text the same size, which gets confusing and makes me want to add a ## (header 2 in Markdown) for organization purposes.

The font geeks among us will be interested to know that Simplenote app uses Adobe’s Source Sans Pro font for your notes.

No Markdown Preview or Export Options

After using the app to edit a few of my notes, I noticed that it didn’t have a button to preview Markdown. To be fair, most Simplenote clients don’t support this. It’d sure be nice to have a Markdown syntax highlighting feature, though. Even a way to export the note as a .md would be helpful. None of this is supported, though, and that’s a bit disappointing.

The closest thing to export options.

The closest thing to export options.

While I’m on the subject of exporting, this app only supports one type of saving a note: printing it. You can then print the note as a PDF, but it doesn’t use any of the Markdown formatting you’ve put added. Other than that, there’s no plain text export option, just the usual “Collaborate” and “Publish to Web” functions in the … menu. It stores your notes in an internal database, and the only way to get the Simplenote app to save text files to your Mac would be to upgrade to a Pro account online and set it to sync to Dropbox. Otherwise, if export support is very important to you, you may want to stick with nvALT — indeed, the Simplenote team itself says “The official Simplenote for Mac isn’t geared towards power users”, and still recommends nvALT for those wanting more.

Instant Syncing

Unlike nvALT, Simplenote for Mac syncs instantly. There’s no wait for it to finish syncing when quitting the app, nor is there an option for how often you want it to connect to the server. This app automatically starts sending data once you’ve changed something, as it should. I didn’t have any issues with the app’s syncing abilities and it was faster than anything I’ve used. It’s so fast, in fact, that if you have Simplenote.com’s web app open in your browser, you can see your changes from the Simplenote app appear within 1-2 seconds in the web app. It’s incredibly fast, and all but real-time — which almost makes us wonder if they won’t add a co-editing option like Google Docs in the future.

Fantastic Design and Solid Functionality

Editing a Markdown-formatted note.

Editing a Markdown-formatted note.

I tested this app for a few hours straight and didn’t experience any crashing, syncing issues, or issues of any kind. Simplenote for Mac is a beautiful alternative to the Web app. In fact, it’s easily the best notes app available on the Mac today. With the minimal design and perfect feature set, this app is perfect for people who need to quickly jot down something. Evernote is more powerful, yes, but Simplenote does everything it’s supposed to without a single problem. It’s the official app, too, and that means support should be guaranteed for a while. That’s all Mac users of Simplenote have ever wanted.


Summary

Simplenote almost gets a perfect score from me, but it lacks basic Markdown support. Regardless, this is by far the best-looking Simplenote client available on the Mac. And it works.

9
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