Evernote may be a brilliant tool for creating text, audio, and image-based notes that live in the cloud, but it’s still not so great when it comes time to actually browse through all of your notes — especially the older ones.
Bubble Browser tries to fix this problem, organizing your notes via colorful bubbles and presenting them in a three-panel browser that make it easy to explore Evernote visually. It’s a bit lacking in a few areas, and could do with more features, but its cool interface and straightforward navigation may be worth the price of admission alone.
Bubble Browser is big on bubbles. There are multiple tiers of bubbles, starting with Notebooks, Tags, and Creation Dates, then drilling through relevant subcategories for each one. These are your core filters, and the first thing you see when you open the app (provided you’re logged in). Bubbles are a different size depending on the number of notes they contain. Simply click on a bubble to display notes that meet that filter.
It all seems very inviting, and should be fairly intuitive to learn your way around. The streamlined interface is a welcome change from Evernote’s rather serious, conservative (admittedly still clean and attractive) official look, too — lending an element of playfulness to navigation.
Notebooks naturally expands into all notebooks that have at least one note in them. Empty notebooks don’t get shown, which makes sense given that Bubble Browser won’t currently allow you to edit or create notes. Creation Dates lets you check out your notes by year, month, and day, drilling down through these.
Tags is the most interesting one, because it let’s you go much further in filtering your notes. Your first tag selection reveals not only the notes created with that tag, but also the other tags that have been used in conjunction with it. Let me give you an example.
Browsing with Filters
I have a Freelance tag, for any notes related to my freelance writing work. Then I have tags for the kind of freelance work — pitching, interviews, article ideas, specific stories, and each outlet I write for. Most notes tagged Freelance are also tagged with one or more of these other things. So I see a new tag cloud, with Freelance outside of it to show what my current filter is.
If I click on one of these tags (e.g.., “Interview”), I can see the union of Freelance and Interview. Then I’ll see that I have some notes tagged with Polygon, where I’m doing a feature article. If I click again, I’ll see only the notes that are tagged with Polygon, Freelance, and Interview. This is extremely useful.
You can filter by multiple tags in the official Evernote app, too, but it’s not as elegant, and you have no way of seeing ahead of time how many notes are in each tag or union of tags. Bubble Browser makes it easy to see at a glance, just by comparing the size of the bubbles — or by moving your mouse cursor over each tag (which displays the number in a floating dialog.
The middle column shows thumbnail previews, rather like Evernote’s Card View except with text too small to read. Meanwhile the right column displays the currently-selected note. You can hide either the left or right column with the buttons atop the middle pane; the middle one can also be hidden, but it’s a bit fiddly — with dragging things in and out.
As is so often the case with impressive new apps that do something different, Bubble Browser has several issues that are cause for concern.
Images in notes are not resized to fit within the viewing area, making large photos difficult to see. They also aren’t selectable. This strikes me as strange because the app is otherwise fantastic about adapting to your window and window pane sizing — adding columns to the middle pane and redrawing the bubbles to fit in the left pane.
While text and links do wrap automatically to window width and behave largely as you’d expect, they cannot be edited.
In fact, there’s no editing whatsoever — which is a big dampener on Bubble Browser’s usefulness. You also can’t change or add tags, delete notes, create notes, or check note statistics (each note has information about source URL, location, sync status, attachment status, size/length, author, edit history, and more associated with it).
Audio notes are recognized, but can’t be listened to within the app — clicking on them opens QuickTime Player. There are no sorting options for source URL or size, or any kind of search tools, and also no location filtering.
What can you do, besides browsing via the Tags, Notebooks, and Creation Dates filters? Not a whole lot. You can read, provided any images included are small enough to fit on your screen without resizing. You can open a note in Evernote (there’s a button in the top-right corner). And you can jump to the overview for a related tag or notebook directly from the note view.
It should be noted, also, that I encountered stability problems. Bubble Browser seems to have an issue with some of my notes; the app crashed a number of times — repeatedly on two separate occasions, but generally out of the blue and unpredictably. Repeated crashes when scrolling past a specific note from around two years ago stopped occurring briefly, then started again.
I also couldn’t sync, even after reauthorizing and reinstalling, in the days following the much-publicized Evernote hack, but the developer was quick to troubleshoot the problem with me and get things back on track. (Turns out I needed to delete a Keychain entry.)
Cool App, But Underdone
Bubble Browser frustrates in that it’s just so close to being a brilliant app. Despite great ideas and solid execution, it falls short for me because it gives the sense that it’s too simple. I seldom use Evernote passively; if I’m not creating a new note, I’m looking through older ones and making changes based on new information.
But Bubble Browser is as much a nuisance as a boon for productivity, forcing you to juggle another app in your workflow for the little luxury of its fantastic visual organization and better navigation of your notes.
In its current state, the app can’t replace Evernote on your Mac. That’s a shame, and a shortfall that will turn some users away, but Bubble Browser probably only needs three things to push Evernote’s Mac app into the background: full editing support, more filtering/sorting options, and improved stability. Let’s hope those extras come soon.