When I need to quickly jot down a thought, remember to do something at work, or create a list of films to go see, I typically use Simplenote. Why, you ask? Because it’s the best service out there for storing plain text notes, and can be accessed from any device that connects to the Internet. The service has also proven to be extremely reliable for me in the past and I’ve never lost any information that I’ve saved onto it, unlike alternatives like 6Wunderkinder’s Wunderkit.
One problem with Simplenote, however, is that there isn’t actually an official app for the Mac, or even Windows for that matter. There are a few third-party clients like Notational Velocity which work well, but have never been quite what I was looking for. Enter Matthias Hochgatterer’s Justnotes. The simple little app does an amazing and beautiful job of making your Simplenote experience on Mac a bit more enjoyable than the traditional web interface.
Tip: If you don’t want to use Simplenote, you can use Justnotes to write notes on your computer by setting up a folder to sync to instead of an account.
The first time you open Justnotes, you’ll need to enter your Simplenote account information to begin using the app. If you don’t have an account, you can just click the “Register…” button in the Setup tab to be taken to Simplenote’s account creation page. Once you’re all signed in, click “Finish” and you’ll be taken to the “Short introduction” note that’s included with Justnotes. This will help you to get acquainted with the basic functions of your new Simplenote client, so at least skim over it.
Tip: To create a new note, just click the blue button in the bottom left corner or use the keyboard shortcut CMD + N.
If you’ve already been using Simplenote for a while, then you probably have quite a few strings of text in your account. Justnotes gives you a two different ways of editing a note that you’ve already written: in the main window and in a separate window. If you want to avoid distractions, then opening a note in fullscreen should do the trick. Just double click the note and click the fullscreen button in the top right corner of the window. The only complaint that I have about fullscreen is that it doesn’t actually make use of your entire display, which seems counterproductive in my opinion. The great thing, though, is that Justnotes’ interface looks very similar to Simplenote’s online interface, so its instantly familiar.
Sadly, the app lacks Markdown formatting, so you can’t preview any code that you’ve added to a note. I use this feature a lot and not having it is a bit disappointing, especially for what should be a full client. The web version has it and I’m sure there are other people who use the preview function quite a lot. If not, you may use the “Markdown Formatted” option in the web app and that’s not even in Justnotes. I know it’s not supposed to be a rich text editor, but support for Markdown formatting is something that should be included with any Simplenote client.
When it comes to organizing notes that you have, you can click the orange star on a note to favorite it, archive it to move it to the trash in Simplenote’s web app, or send it as an email. I’m surprised that there’s no option to keep it pinned to the top, which should be what the favorite function does since there’s also no way to access favorites anywhere but Justnotes. In addition, an inconsistency is present in the right-click menu; you can’t export as a PDF, but you can if you click the universal OS X share button in the bottom right corner. It’d be really nice if Justnotes had support to export as plain text or even Markdown – when the functionality comes to the app.
In addition to those little issues, there’s no way to access the history of a note. As you may recall from using the web app, Simplenote has a revisions function that’s just like OS X’s Time Machine, except for your notes. By clicking the clock icon and dragging the slider, you can look at every single thing that’s changed in your note, back to its original state. You can then restore anything you want to with one click. I’d really like to see this in Justnotes because it’s something I use often to correct little mistakes and look up old facts that I no longer needed in my notes.
One really nice thing about using a native app instead of the web version of Simplenote is that the former has support for keyboard shortcuts, which means that your productivity might be boosted a bit from using it. You can do anything from simple navigation and note composition to restoring and opening notes in a separate window. I happen to use keyboard shortcuts all the time in other apps, so this has proven to be very useful in speeding up my editing process.
Justnotes includes an enhanced search function that’ll look for more than just words. If you tag your notes a lot, then this will aid you in quickly finding the ones that have certain tags – it even has an autocomplete function. In my testing, I’ve not found the feature to be all that useful because I don’t have so many notes that I have to tag them to keep things organized. This doesn’t devalue the feature, though, and I think it can be useful to some people. Lastly, searching seemed to be very stable and always found results swiftly when I tried it out. One very nice thing, if you always found Notational Velocity’s combined Search and New Note box confusing, is that search is just search, and you click the write icon to write a new note.
I always manage to find issues that an app has, in addition to my little complaints about the basic functionality. Below is a list of the minor bugs within Justnotes..
- The scrolling is a bit jittery at times, even in shorter notes.
- If you create a new note and don’t add any content to it, the app will save it as a blank note in your account.
- The scrollbar in the notes list never disappears.
- The “Favorite” button in a note’s right-click menu should say “Unfavorite” when the note has already been marked as a favorite.
There’s a lot of room for expansion in this app. I actually think that Justnotes could bring some really nice new things to improve the Simplenote experience, but it’s not quite there yet. For instance, you could be using this as a very reliable cloud-based text editor instead of something like Byword or iA Writer. But right now, there’s no printing capability, no markdown support, no character count, no way to publish as a live web page, and a few bugs here and there.
The app could be very powerful, but maybe the developer doesn’t want to make it that way and there’s nothing wrong with keeping it this way and ironing out the little issues here and there. However, I would like to see a price drop because $9.99 is twice what someone should be charging for a minimal Simplenote desktop app. Notational Velocity is free, and it’s kind of hard to recommend Justnotes over that. It’s a good app, but it’s just not worth the price.
Editor’s Note: Unless it is worth the price to you. I happen to like it, and was glad to purchase it at full price, and now use it by default for my notes.