Barely a week after I reviewed the promising prototype release of Evernote viewing app Bubble Browser, we were sent code for its first major update. I’ve been playing around with it for long enough now that I can confidently say it’s a big step forward.
Bubble Browser 2 addresses many of my concerns with the previous version — with a more polished interface, improved filtering and navigation, and a few new features — but it’s not yet the app I hoped for. Let’s see what’s changed, what’s still lacking, and how the improvements stack up.
Bubble Browser already looked good, but the update cranks its presentation up a notch, with lots of little touches that make the UI fly off the screen. The bubbles themselves — the menu system for navigating categories and tags — are no longer flat blocks of color; they now look more like bubbles on a surface, given volume by a concave visual effect.
Pop-up elements and the information section displayed above a note’s content received similar facelifts, while the background and three-panel layout have been subtly re-tuned to improve readability and UI signposting. Bubble Browser 2 is one sexy beast, as far as apps go.
These fancy new looks thankfully come packed with improvements in more functional aspects of the app’s design. Foremost among these are new buttons, tweaked layout, and a swanky new universal search.
It’s now more straightforward switching between the three main category filters — Date, Notebooks, Tags — thanks to a little three-icon button alongside the bubbles. You could always swap quickly via keyboard commands, but this cuts down the number of steps required with a mouse.
Note information in the reading pane has been cleaned up for easy at-a-glance consumption, with better labels to illustrate what’s what. You can click on attachments to open them in their default app. Click on the blue date ribbon to see other notes created on that day. If you click on one of the tags or the notebook here, it shows in the search bar at the top of the window.
Search was sorely limited in the previous version of Bubble Browser, but now it’s a killer feature. The current filter(s) appear in the search bar, with a little x you can click to remove them. Start typing in this search field and you’ll get instant recommendations for tags, titles, and dates related to your term.
It behaves oddly with dates, suggesting notes created in 2012 for the term 2013 or notes from February when I type “March,” but that should be an easy fix in a future update, and this issue belies the fact that the best use of search appears to be quickly finding notes by title or content.
Just by typing the letter “a,” I can see several titles and tags that contain the letter. Make that “ar” and bam! — it instantly adapts the recommendations. I found that I seldom needed to finish typing a search term before I had precisely the thing I wanted.
You can even search within the body text (and images) of notes from the comfort of Bubble Browser, using the Remote Search option at the bottom of your recommendations. This calls the Evernote API and then a few moments later pushes out all notes containing your search term.
This includes also text on images — Evernote has fantastic text recognition capabilities, correctly identifying all words on book covers that I took photos of as a reminder to check out later.
All these changes, plus three big ones I haven’t mentioned yet — resizable text, auto-resizing images, and background sync — turn Bubble Browser from a neat way to visualize your notes to the best method of browsing them that I’ve seen. Evernote’s official Mac app seems old-fashioned by comparison. I just wish Bubble Browser had editing support so that I could stay in the app when changing, appending to, or creating notes.
If you’ve drifted away from Evernote, Bubble Browser might pull you back in. If you’re a current user like me, it could transform the way you use Evernote for the better — with more consistent tagging and descriptive titles that lend an extra layer of organization to your workflow, along with more frequent note taking, both of which make future cross-referencing so much simpler. Either way, the new version of Bubble Browser is impressive, and we can’t wait to see how it continues to improve going forward.