Watch out Evernote. Look nervously in your rear view mirror. You see that hot sports car quickly gaining on you that seemingly came out of nowhere? That’s NoteSuite.
Okay, maybe Evernote doesn’t need to be that nervous because NoteSuite is only available for iOS and OS X — so it doesn’t compete across platforms. But for Mac and iPad users, this app is the next big thing in note taking, task management, Internet research, and file annotation. In other words, NoteSuite wants to be your Mac’s new productivity powerhouse.
NoteSuite does a lot things. Covering all its features would make for a too-long, too-dry review, so I am going to focus in on the key features. For extensive apps like this, a good help menu is a must, and luckily this app has a comprehensive help manual that will take you through all the features.
So where does NoteSuite have advantages over the incumbent Evernote? The first thing I noticed using the app across the iPad and the Mac is the unified experience. The UIs are similar, and so is the functionality. The lack of uniformity across platforms was, and to some extent still is, one of my main sources of frustration using Evernote. The second advantage is the lack of subscription fees — all your data is synced over iCloud. Finally, NoteSuite’s innovate integration of todos and notes really sets it apart. In fact, it is a full featured task manager, something Evernote could not come close to claiming.
If you find NoteSuite’s feature set attractive, you may also want to compare it with an app I reviewed a while back called Notebooks. It also combines note taking, task management, and file management.
UI and Design Basics
Overall, the interface is great, it has some quirks, which I will get to, but I really like the way this app looks. It’s modern and fits perfect with OS X, definitely built for the Mac. The notes view and the todo view are presented in separate tabs. The left hand pane — which can be hidden — is where the notes and to dos are listed. Where the UI gets a little bit quirky is with resizing the window — making the window larger makes the text bigger? This is really odd behavior and also happens in full screen mode. You can also interact with the app through the menu bar, but there is a bug right now where some of the functions do not bring the NoteSuite window to the front like they are supposed to.
The interface is built around the app’s two main functions: note taking and task management, so lets take a look at both of these in turn.
Taking notes in NoteSuite for Mac is just like taking notes on the iPad app, minus the drawing function. The first thing I noticed is the ability to customize the default font and styles. Styles are a big deal for me because tote taking is so much faster when you don’t have to mess with bolding text or making it bigger to denote headings.
List making is definitely a strong point for NoteSuite. You can make bulleted lists, to dos, and to dos that actually link to the app’s task manager (numbered lists are conspicuously missing). All of these lists are collapsable, a feature missing from a lot of note taking apps. The to do lists that link to the task manager are especially handy. Basically, you can make to dos in your notes, and they automatically go to your task inbox complete with a link. The task in your inbox also links back to your note. That’s just plain awesome.
What about getting notes into the database quickly? NoteSuite has a couple of ways for getting that great idea off your mind and stored away. One option is web clipping. I used the Chrome extension for clipping webpages and had good success using all three clipping options (clip article, clip full page, and clip selection). Notes can also be added directly into the app through email. Adding notes and tasks through email is a little different than Evernote. You have to set up a new email address to forward information to and then NoteSuite will download the emails from that address once you select the Get Mail option in the File menu.
NoteSuite provides a lot of options for organizing your notes including folders, smart folders, sorting options, and tags. If you need to refer to outside files in your notes, you can also link to other documents (unfortunately just Microsoft Office documents right now, no iWorks), not to mention articles in your Instapaper or pocket account. Not much of an organizer? The powerful built in search will help sift through your notes and find the one you need.Similar to Evernote, NoteSuite will even help you find relationships between your notes.
Overall, the note taking experience is straightforward and enjoyable, but there are some annoyances that need to be taken care of. First, the standard Mac keyboard shortcuts for moving the cursor around and selecting text are completely absent?! I am really baffled that this was left out. I need those shortcuts. Additionally, the powerful organizational features of this app are severely hindered by the lack of ability to select multiple notes at the same time. Its great to have tags and folders, but organizing notes one at a time can be a big time sink. Also, notes cannot be viewed in separate windows, this is a must for users who often compare notes side by side.
In general, task management in NoteSuite works like many of the other full-featured task management apps you know and love. All of the default lists are there: All, Today, Inbox, Today, This Week, Next (some of which need to be turned on in the preferences) and unlimited user created lists. A bunch of other features that don’t need explaining are also included: due dates, repeating tasks, tags, and task flagging to name a few.
What you are probably more interested in is what makes NoteSuite’s approach to task management different? One way that NoteSuite is different is calendar integration. Not only will it show you calendar events in the Today and This Week views, but you can also add calendar events from the app. I am interested in apps that do this because I find it very helpful for scheduling so I was thrilled to see it implemented. However, the current implementation is not as helpful as it could be. For example, the This Week view does not show the dates for the events, just the times. Plus, clicking on an event does not open the event in the Calendar app. Hopefully this gets better over time.
The way task notes work in NoteSuite is also unique. You can attach any existing note to a task, or create a new note that will be available both through the task, and in the notes portion of the app.
There are also options for getting to dos into NoteSuite quickly including a system wide quick add feature and email forwarding.
Many of NoteSuite’s note taking irritations also apply to task management. Again, no ability to edit multiple tasks at once, and no drag and drop. Tasks are definitely a little more buggy, sometimes disappearing and reappearing along with some other odd behaviors that I’m sure will get worked out.
This is an exciting productivity app. NoteSuite is on to something amazing with the way it combines tasks and notes. This app is feature packed and has the flexibility to adapt to how you work. Having said that, it does need more polish, stability, and a couple of key features. The odd window behavior and lack of standard keyboard shortcuts for editing text need to be addressed.
On top of that, while the unified experience between the iPad and Mac is a big selling point, NoteSuite needs an iPhone app yesterday. I can’t imagine not having my notes and tasks on my iPhone. I am going to hold off on moving my data over to NoteSuite until some of these issues get worked out — speaking of which the theory.io team might want to consider an importer. Despite that, my recommendation is to pick up NoteSuite while the price is low because it is going to be a excellent productivity tool.