Several months ago in my never ending quest for the perfect note keeping system, I bought an iPad app called ProjectBook. Despite the fact that it had some nice features, I didn’t take to it right away. At the same time, I started to rely more on Evernote, because it made my notes available on all my devices, so, though I liked a lot about ProjectBook, I didn’t use it very much.
Last week came word that a new version of ProjectBook was available and the app had been rechristened NoteSuite. Not only that, there was also a version I could run on my MacBook. The upgrade on the iPad was free and the MacBook app was just $5.00 through the App Store. Needless to say, I jumped in.
Here are some observations, beginning with the iPad app:
NoteSuite allows you to combine note keeping with task management. When you create a new item in the app, you have the option of adding a note, a todo list, or a quick todo.
You can see from the above screen shot one of the things I like best about NoteSuite, and that is the clean writing environment, which is especially important to me when working on my iPad Mini. There is something a bit odd about the app, though. You need to open a note to be able to add a new note. Let me explain that a little more. The first screen shot above is the folder view from within the folder “Reading Notes.” I’ve got the entry for a book called The Information selected. This looks like a pretty standard two-pane note taker view. But I have not be able to find a way to add a new note from this view. I have to tap on the content area for the currently selected note, and then tap the new note button, which is what we are seeing in the second screen shot above. What is essentially happening is that the file tray on the left is popping out and pushing the new note button (as well as the action, search and insert buttons) off the screen. Is this a problem? Not really, but it is a little disconcerting when you first start using the app. And it seems to me the four buttons that you “lose” when the tray is open are more important than the text or drawing buttons in the middle of the tool bar. And, actually, those buttons all become inactive when the tray is open.
That tray is the way to navigate all your data. At the very top of it are three buttons. The one on the left is how you access your note views. The middle one gives you access to your todo tools. And the third one is how you get to the preferences settings.
Directly below these three buttons, are buttons for seeing different organizing views of your information. When in note view the four options are:
- All Files: This is basically an index of all the note files in your database, which can be sorted alphabetically or chronologically. You can also type in a search string to narrow the list down.
- Folders: This is the primary organization function. Create manual folders, or smart folders that dynamically look for all notes meeting a specified search criteria.
- Tags: All notes organized by tag.
- Recent: Notes you’ve recently been working on.
At the bottom of some of these views, you get further options for sorting your files or notes.
So, you can create notes and organize them by assigning them to folders and adding tags. Notes can include text, photos, drawings, audio recordings.They can be imported PDFs that you can annotate. You can add todos wherever they make sense in your notes, and the cool thing is that NoteSuite will notice them and include them in the various todo lists available. In the screen shot below, you can see that I’ve used todo tool on the extended keyboard to add a todo to the note I’m working on:
Sidenote: One of the ways I judge a note taking or writing app is how much thought goes into the keyboard. I appreciate extended keyboards like the one pictured above. NoteSuite has keys for indenting and out-denting, adding bullets and check lists, todos, formatting of text, and moving the cursor character by character. Nice touch.
The separate view for todos, provides the following options:
- All. Choosing this option provides a fairly standard interface for parsing your todos, where you can view them all, see what’s actionable today, this week, or what are your next actions.
- Lists. This is where you organize all your lists of todos. Basically, a list is a project that is composed of nested lists of todos.
- Tags. Here you can view your todos by tag.
- People. Here you can view todos you have assign to others.
You can see in the above screen shot that the todo “Learn more about Charles Babbage,” which I included in the note I am writing about the book The Information, is picked up automatically by NoteSuite and shown among all my todos.
You can set due and start dates for todos, assign an alarm, make the todo repeat, and even add the todo to you Calendar (though there appears to be a disconnect between the Calendar app and NoteSuite — that is, NoteSuite opens a gateway to Calendar, where you can add the todo item as an event, but the details you include with the Calendar don’t return to NoteSuite; you have to add the info separately). You can also apply tags to the todo and assign the task to someone else.
I have one small peeve with NoteSuite’s todo list feature. When you check off items in a todo list, there appears no option for keeping them visible in the list. They disappear to the “completed” view, where you can find them. But I would like to see the items that I’ve completed within the context of the list. I have no problem with the default function being the removal of the completed items from the list, but I would like the option to keep them.
Perhaps NoteSuite’s signature feature, the one that makes it unlike most such apps, is how it indexes each note and provides ways to navigate to related notes. There are two ways it does this. In every folder you create, NoteSuite automatically creates a related notes sub folder that shows notes from other folders that might have related content. The second way is that the app identifies what it thinks are keywords within your notes, which it then underlines with a light blue dotted line. Tapping the highlighted word brings up a list of possibly related notes. You can see this in action in the screen shot below:
These related word functions will take on more value the more information you have stored in NoteSuite. As of yet, I do not have a lot of notes, so I can’t say how effective this feature is, but I can see that it would be a nice alternative when browsing notes. (Sadly, see the Update at the end of this article.)
There is more to NoteSuite, of course. I’ve got the program installed on my MacBook. The app uses iCloud to keep notes in sync between the two devices and so far that appears to work seamlessly.
Over all, I’m impressed by NoteSuite. I like the clean editing environment. I like the fact that you can add todos to a note and have it appear in your master list of tasks. I like that I can work on both my MacBook and my iPad mini. As there is no PC/Windows version of the app, I will continue to use Evernote as my main connective tissue among all my devices. But NoteSuite is a much more inviting note-taking environment than Evernote, and will likely be my go-to app for notes that I do not need to access at the office. I’m looking forward to using it more and more.
UPDATE: In September 2013, the developer of NoteSuite released version 2.2 of the app: “Keyword linking and related notes features have been removed to improve startup and loading performance.” I think they should have found a way to improve performance without removing a key feature.