Review: Notesy

If you are a regular listener of The B&B Podcast that Shawn and I co-host than you probably already know that I think pretty highly of Notesy — a Dropbox (that’s a referral link, it helps us both) syncing note app for iOS. If you don’t listen to the show 1 then you may be surprised to hear that I like Notesy so much that it has replaced Simplenote on my iPhone home screen — and it replaced Simplenote after only 4 hours of usage.

Syncing OTA

The most noticeable difference between Simplenote and Notesy is that the former syncs using the excellent Simplenote sync engine and the latter syncs using the still very good Dropbox. You would think that there would be little to no difference with that, in fact, nobody should care about this. I thought the same thing, then I found out that there is quite a difference here.

Surprisingly, Dropbox is slower than the Simplenote sync engine. 2

It is not slower to the point where you are slowed down by the syncing of Dropbox, but it is slow enough that you notice the syncing — whereas with Simplenote I never really noticed it syncing. I don’t think this has anything to do with the app itself, I think it is just a difference in the speed and the way that the two engines sync.

Where all of this matters is when you switch to the iOS device needing to get at your notes that you just added to the folder using, say, [Notational Velocity](Notational Velocity). When I was syncing Notational Velocity with Simplenote the notes just seemed to be in Simplenote on my iPhone moments after opening it. Using the Dropbox setup on Notational Velocity and Notesy the notes seem to pop in noticeably slower. 3 For the most part this doesn’t matter — truly we are talking about fractions of seconds here — but I thought it worth pointing out.

What is important about this is the Dropbox is very good and Notesy integrates very will with it — so much so that if you never got on the Simplenote bandwagon this is likely to feel magical to you.

Looks

I am just about as picky as they come with the design and looks of any app. When I first opened up Notesy I wasn’t too impressed with the look of it. I opened up the settings and found that there is a plethora of options for customizing the looks of the app, and after about 20-30 seconds of playing around I can say that I now have an app that looks better than any other note app I have used on iOS.

By default Notesy comes with a ‘textured’ theme set that has a very subtle canvas texture behind the text. I really like this texture on the notes themselves (you can set the backgrounds separately), but I am not a fan of it on the main notes list. The main notes list with the plain theme set, no lines of the note shown 4 and timestamps turned off looks pretty good. My only complaint about the notes list view is that there are little green check marks on the right edge to show when the note has been synced — that’s nice to see, but I would much rather not see that, or just see a subtle looking check mark — I assume that the app has done its job and synced the note. 5

When you get into the individual note view, is when you get to the part of the app that I adore. With the subtle textured note background and ‘Thonburi’ set as the font at 17pt — well you just have heaven. Thonburi is incredibly legible on the iPhone/iPad screens — much more so than Helvetica 6 . I set the fixed width font to ‘DejaVu Sans Mono’, but more on this in a bit. Overall I think this a great looking interface.

As with most apps that provide a ‘textured’ background I also find it a bit off putting when you scroll the note and the background remains static. It would feel a lot better if the texture moved with the text, but this may be a limitation of iOS itself.

The Icon & Name

I am, admittedly, very picky about app names and their icons, Notesy passes the test in my book. The name is simple and short, easy to say and descriptive. I know what this app is about just by reading the name.

The icon though, man do I love it. It is not blue. Also, the icon is not blue. A simple looking ‘n’ with a nice light gray background that has ruled lines like a sheet of stainless steel notebook paper. It is subtle and elegant — an icon that I truly love. I think it maybe the best icon on my iPhone/iPad home screen — edging out Reeder and Gowalla.

The Interface

There isn’t much innovation to be done in the iOS note taking app arena, but there are a couple of nice things that the developer did with Notesy and a couple of really confusing things too.

The Confusion

I don’t get why there is a keyboard button when just tapping the screen pops up the keyboard. It almost seems like this was done to have six icons across the bottom. I really just don’t get why you need this — then again I am sure it is a sigh of relief for others.

[Updated: 4.11.11 at 10:52 AM]
The developer emailed me to say that this button actually is used as an append text button. That way if you have a long note you can tap this keyboard button and begin adding text to the bottom of the note, rather than scrolling down to the bottom and tapping on the screen. That is a nice touch, sorry for not realizing that — I don’t keep many long notes.

Then we get to the ‘send this’ button, the button that typically allows you to email things — but in Notesy will also allow you to do things like: rename the note, duplicate the note, change the note to fixed width mode, email it, or print it. I get the last two options, those make sense, but the first three seem like they are in the wrong place. Again, I just don’t quite get it.

I feel like those note action buttons need to be placed in their own menu item, but with the amount of icons along the bottom there really isn’t room. This isn’t something that is a deal breaker, but it does take a bit of getting used to. It is also likely that the average user may never know that these features exist because they never hit the button that they are accustomed to seeing as an ‘email’ button. Having said that, the confusion about what the rectangular box with arrow popping out button really means. Safari uses it in very off ways, much like how Notesy uses it.

The Nice Touches

One of the coolest features of this app is that you can change notes (on a note by note basis) to a variable width font or a fixed width font. Essentially allowing you to flip the notes between the two sizes and fonts that you chose in the options. If I want a smaller note font I can change to fixed width and the size and font changes (because I set it to be a smaller font size) — not everyone will use this feature, but it is a great option for those that need it.

What I would really like is that the background was able to switch when you changed the font style — then I could get fixed width on a white background, and variable width on the lovely textured one. Hopefully this comes in future updates, but there is a downside to this: too many style options leads to too much fiddling. Perhaps Notesy is saving me a bunch of time by omitting this option.

I also noticed that setting a note to fixed width on my iPad did not sync that across to my iPhone — not sure if this is possible, but it would be neat if it did. Right now it is just a minor annoyance since most of my notes stay in the standard variable width font view.

Unlike some other apps that argue over showing you no length, reading time, or word count Notesy hides this off on a dialog that you must invoke. There it shows you the basic word count information along with the creation time, modified time and current path. That’s the kind of information that you rarely need, but when you need it you want to be able to easily get at it — a very nice touch to keep it out of sight until needed.

You can also select the folder you want Notesy to sync with — something that many other apps don’t allow. This is great because I can keep all my apps in sync and easily switch between them — I don’t feel stuck. I despise apps that don’t allow you to set the Dropbox folder that you sync with, it just feels silly to limit a user to a Dropbox folder named after your app.

The Complaints

I have two major complaints about this app:

  1. When you create a new note it asks for the note title — instead of just grabbing the first line of the note. I really dislike this practice because for notes that you have made in Notational Velocity that don’t have a ‘real’ title line it puts part of the first sentence in the ‘title’ view and the rest in the note body — making it very hard to read. I would love to be able to turn off this ‘feature’.
  2. The app looks identical to its iPhone counterpart on the iPad — while this can be advantageous for some apps, it makes this app not feel ‘right’. The list in landscape view is simply too wide and the app would really benefit from having a list to the left and a note preview to the right — just like how Simplenote chose to implement it. Truthfully anything to make that list a bit smaller, or to better use the space, would be welcomed.

Two Thumbs Up

No app is perfect 7 but the negatives of Notesy are far outweighed by its positives — so much so that I think it is a better solution than Simplenote. It is only $2.99 and for that you get both the iPhone and iPad versions — I’d easily pay $4.99 for this app. Give it a try.

  1. You should.
  2. I use Notational Velocity syncing to Simplenote with the Simplenote engine and store the plain text files in Dropbox. Now this works well so long as your Mac is always on and syncing. If that is not the case, then you run into the potential for sync conflicts if I changed the same note in Notesy and Simplenote without Notational open and running. Buyer beware.
  3. Upon further investigation this could also be a result, in part, to the animation used when new notes come in.
  4. Except on the iPad where I show two lines.
  5. I have heard that I may be getting my wish soon on this.
  6. I am a Helvetica fan, but it is not great in every instance and small type is hard to read with Helvetica.
  7. Which is unfortunate.
Originally posted for members on: April 11, 2011
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