There are so many different ways to keep notes on the Mac, but even with the advent of Notes on iOS and now OS X, Simplenote has remained one of the most popular apps for taking notes. Simplenote on its own is a convenient way to access text notes via your web browser from just about anywhere. Matched up with the literally dozens of apps for Mac, PC, and mobile, you can have complete control over your notes wherever you go.
We’re going to look at five of the Mac apps for Simplenote and see where they succeed and where they fail. Whether you’re a Simplenote veteran looking to try something new, or you’ve never even thought of using an app to manage your notes, we’ll take a closer look at what makes a good notes app. While there’s still more Simplenote apps to be had out there, hopefully this list will help you break free of pen and paper.
Justnotes, a recent addition to the offering of Simplenote apps, has a pretty simple interface, but it gets you to what you want fast. There are two ways to edit notes: in the main window or in a separate note-only window. You can also open a note in fullscreen creating a distraction-free way to edit your text. The interface is very similar to the Simplenote webapp, so if you’ve been using that exclusively, you won’t experience a huge culture shock with the move to Justnotes.
Unfortunately, there’s no Markdown support. You can of course still write your notes in Markdown, but you won’t be able to preview them that way. If you want to copy the styled text, you’ll first have to login to the Simplenote webapp or move the note into a Markdown editor. While this isn’t a dealbreaker and certainly won’t affect anyone not interested in using Markdown, it’s still a bummer.
There are some great shortcuts for working with your notes in Justnotes that aren’t in the Simplenote webapp, and that adds some functionality you can only get from the Mac app. I’m always a big fan of keyboard shortcuts for speeding up how I work, and this is a favorite for me. I’m not sure that makes up for the lack of support for Markdown though, and if you give Justnotes a try, you’ll have to see for yourself, but the similarity in design and ease of moving from Simplenote to Justnotes is a nice bonus.
Metanota has a very similar interface to Evernote, though it’s incredibly trimmed down. If you like Evernote but only really need to sync text, Metanota may be the right choice for you. The far left pane houses your folders, which are really just labels in Simplenote. Each tag is given a color when it’s created, and you don’t get a choice as far as I can tell. Beneath all this is where Metanota serves its ads in the free version.
The center pane lists all the notes with a particular tag and the date each was created. You can sort by title or creation date, but that’s about it. You can’t sort by the date the note was last accessed or updated, unfortunately. Clicking the magnifying glass in this pane will bring up the search field, allowing you to search all of the notes in that folder for whatever text you want.
The third pane, all the way to the right, is where Metanota displays your notes. You can create new notes or delete them, or even share them via email in this third pane. Clicking the plus sign allows you to add the note to a new or existing folder/tag. You can also add the note to your favorites by clicking the star at the bottom of the window. Metanota is pretty barebones as far as what’s on offer, but the interface is intuitive, and it really gives you all you actually need, if not all you may want.
From the view menu in Nottingham, you can sort your notes alphabetically, by date created, or by the ever handy date modified. Whenever I tried to sort by the label, though, and get all of my similarly tagged notes together, nothing ever happened.
In the righthand pane is your note, and it just looks like some text until you open a Web Preview window, either in the Window menu or via the ⇧⌘P keyboard shortcut. Nottingham lets you format all of your notes in Markdown and then preview them to make sure you got everything right. Which is nice for folks like me who aren’t too familiar with Markdown and want to style our notes a bit but want to make sure we aren’t creating ginormous goofs along the way, either.
It’s easy to organize your notes by color in the Edit menu, but I wish I could choose a single color for all note with a specific label. If I want all of my grocery lists to be green (and let me tell you, I do!) I would have to select each note individually and change its color one at a time. These colors won’t get synced to Simplenote, but it’s nice to have them here in Nottingham.
The interface in Notational Velocity is incredibly clean, but it’s not the most intuitive. Once you’ve got the hang of it, though, it’s a knockout. Notes can be sorted by title, tags, and date modified. The sort feature is something I come back to again and again in these Simplenote apps, but it’s because I’m always curious to see what they feel is important (or isn’t).
Despite being provided with a short tutorial note, I was flummoxed when it came time to create a new note. It didn’t seem to make sense to just start typing in what looked to be a search field at the top of the application window. Where would the actual note go? But indeed, that’s exactly what I needed to do; hitting Return after creating a title gave me my new note, and I could edit it in the field below, giving Notational Velocity a slimmed down interface with absolutely no fat to trim. Again, you can create your notes in Markdown if you know what you’re doing, and you can even use some text styling and hyperlinking between notes.
One drawback that was pretty major from where I was sitting was the lack of tags. I could tag all my notes in Notational Velocity easily enough, but none of my labels from Simplenote synced as Notational Velocity tags, and I never saw any of my local tags sync to Simplenote, either.
A fork of Notational Velocity, nvALT is incredibly similar to its sibling app. The interface is just about identical and has that same uncluttered, almost too bare bones look. But the features on the inside are what really set it apart.
I keep tools like Simplenote open all the time, so they’re there when I need them, but I don’t necessarily want a mile long dock to match all of my open applications. To put it simply, I’m a menubar enthusiast, and nvALT caters to me, allowing me to toss out the Dock icon and manage the app entirely from the menubar.
Aside from my own selfish menubar fixation, nvALT has improved tag syncing over that of Notational Velocity. Which is to say that it has tag syncing at all. By default, there’s no tag column in the application window, though, but it’s easy enough to turn that on in the View menu. Once that’s settled, you’ll see all of your Simplenote labels attached to your notes, as they should be.
Besides these features, nvALT also has improved Markdown support and makes it easier to get to the HTML source code if you need to copy your note to a blog or webpage.
Click.to is absolutely not for managing your notes via Simplenote. You can’t edit notes or organize them, and there’s certainly no support for Markdown. What Click.to does let you do, though, is make a quick note out of just about any text faster than you can say “really really fast.”
When you open Click.to for the first time, you choose which services will be in the satellite, a sort of pop-up menu, and which will be in the satellite’s submenu. Beyond just Simplenote, you can have Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, a bunch of apps, and a whole lot of stuff I’ve never heard of.
Select text pretty much anywhere, whether in a document or in a browser. (Click.to works with images and folders, too, but that kind of thing isn’t compatible with Simplenote.) Copy it to the clipboard, and your satellite menu will pop out. Choose the service you want to use, in this case Simplenote, and a new note will be created for you from your clipboard contents. The new note will open in your default browser, just so Click.to can prove how clever it is.
You can also create a note by hovering over the satellite menu until it appears and clicking the Simplenote icon. You’ll get a gray text box into which you can enter pretty much anything. If you want to get down with Markdown here, you certainly can, but you won’t see the results until you login to the Simplenote webapp.
The downside is that if you want to edit, tag, or in anyway work with the notes you’ve created with Click.to, you’ll have to either use the webapp or a second app for your Mac, like one of the apps mentioned above. While Click.to is a brillaint tool for taking quick notes but otherwise staying out of your way, it goes best with a Simplenote app friend.
There were never going to be any winners or losers in this race. If you’re looking for a new app for managing your notes on your Mac, you first have to figure out what’s most important to you.
Do you want something you can update and sync quickly or something with lots of bells and whistles. Is organization important, a sleek interface, or ease of use? Hopefully I’ve at least helped you narrow down your list and given you a good place to make your start.
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