NoteTaker 4 – Initial Thoughts

NoteTaker 4 gives you ample space to build page after page of outlines.
For all intents and purposes, development of NoteTaker 3 ended a half dozen years ago. I assumed it was an abandoned product, but then I got word that version 4 was in the works, probably induced by the demise of its chief competition Circus Ponies Notebook. It has been a long time coming, but the new version hit the App Store recently and I immediately ponied up the $30 for it. Let me say up front that there is no iOS companion app, so if you need your notes to be mobile, this app may not be for you… then again…
I’ve been working with NoteTaker 4 for a few days now, and have decided I’ve spent enough time with it to write up a longer review, so here you go.

Overview

If you are familiar with the earlier versions of NoteTaker or of Notebook, there isn’t anything earthshakingly new in version 4. The developer, Aquaminds, has stated that the first release was mostly a way to modernize the underpinning code to pave the way for future improvements.
If you’re new to this app, it basically allows you to build pages of outlines and impress them into a notebook metaphor, complete with section tabs. I find this appealing, even though in the past I also found it too restrictive. Because I haven’t been overwhelmed by the other outlining apps out there (other than Dynalist), I’m open to giving NoteTaker a chance to win the right to capture and store my brilliant thoughts and words.

The Sum of Its Parts

You can think of each NoteTaker document as a notebook; and in fact that’s what the developer calls it. Your notebook can consist of the follow items:
  • Cover
  • Table of Contents
  • Sections
  • Pages in each section
  • To do sections
  • Index
Each page will be built mostly of text in an outline. But you can insert tables, images, voice memos, hyperlinks and more. You can also search the web from within a page, but more on that later. Some of these insert features are still only half-baked.
If you would like to write long, flowing entries in your outlines (for the sake of this review, I am refering to each node of the outline as an entry), that’s fine in NoteTaker. But if you want to restrict your entries to single lines, you can choose that option.

As an outliner

Since the core of each NoteTaker notebook is the outline, the first step in judging the app is as an outliner. There is mostly good news on this front. NoteTaker is a solid, if not brilliant outliner.
First of all, you can create outlines quickly and reorganize them easily. You can do so using the keyboard only or you can use the trackpad or mouse to drag and drop.
Second, NoteTaker has the familiar disclosure icons that help you expand and contract what you see on the screen, and it provides a variety of styles for those icons.
You can apply labels to your outline, selecting from the standard styles. These can only be applied to the entire outline, and not to individual entries.

You can focus in on an individual entry. Then you can work on that entry’s details without the distraction of the rest of the page.

You can display up to three columns of meta data, though you can only select from a list of built in information. You can’t create your own custom meta data. Because the columns don’t have headings, you need to remember which column displays what information.
You can highlight and flag entries in NoteTaker.
You can flag and/or highlight entries. Flagging adds a check mark in the left margin.

Missing outliner features

Power outliners will miss a few advanced features. For example, there is no cloning of entries. While there is a nifty “Todo Section” feature (more about this below), you can’t individually apply checkmarks or due dates to entries.

Interesting Features

NoteTaker has several special features you won’t find on many other applictions. Some of these help make up the notebook metaphor, such as having sections with section tabs for rapid access. Here are a few others:

Contents page

Every notebook has an automatically generated contents page, which provides an overview of your material and allows you to navigate to the page you want. You can also view your contents in the drawer, which optionally opens on the left side of your main window.

Index page

You can also choose to insert an automatically generated (and updated) index page for each notebook. Circus Ponies Notebook did this as well. This is a wise feature, because larger notebooks can become difficult to navigate. Combine this with the fairly powerful Find feature and locating information in a notebook should never be too difficult.

Todo Section

I haven’t yet put this feature to the test, but here is what it says about To Do Sections in the User Guide:
NoteTaker includes a simple, built-in To Do Section feature. Prioritize your to do lists on daily pages then check them off whenever items are completed. Each day you open your notebook, the To Do Section automatically adds a newly dated page for that day’’s list while rolling over any uncompleted tasks from the most recent To Do page.
If this works as promised, it should be a very handy feature for managing tasks; although having no due dates or recurring tasks does hamper it some as a full task manager. I see this is more useful when creating notebooks for projects.

Other Pros

NoteTaker provides many ways to see the big picture or zoom in on the detail, starting with the Drawer panel that shows a mini version of your contents page, as well as a history of the pages you’ve viewed. You can also open the Libraries panel in the drawer, but I have yet to figure out how to use Libraries, so I can’t comment on this.
You can create clipping services for for individual pages, so you can hoover up data from other apps and push it into the right place.
NoteTaker provides several options for exporting your work, although I feel the Word export could be better. For this review, I exported to plain text and formatted the document in WordPress.

Where NoteTaker needs work

You can’t nest sections or pages. Maybe this is a good thing to maintain the notebook metaphor, but I find it slightly limiting.
The tagging feature is confusing. I couldn’t figure out how to add a new tag or a new group of tags.
Likewise the “Library” feature doesn’t appear to work. At least I couldn’t figure it out.
I’d like to be able to create styles so that they would automatically apply at specific levels. Essentially, I don’t want to have to manually make certain headings bold.
There are still some glitches that need to be ironed out. For instance, full screen mode gets it wrong when you switch to another app and back again. And three times I’ve had NoteTaker freeze up on me, causing me to lose some work.

Summary

I like working in outlines. I find they clarify my thinking and help me organize my work. There are a number of software outliners available for MacOS, but none of them stands out as clearly better than the others, in my view. Thus the door is open for an application like NoteTaker to arise from the ashes and make a comeback. It still has some work to do, however, before it will achieve that goal.
I wrote this review in NoteTaker and found the process enjoyable. That’s the first step.

7 comments

  1. Thanks for this, Steve. Until I read your review, I was ready to dismiss NoteTaker4 as too late a resurrection in a market niche where its rivals are too far ahead for NT4 to catch up.

    I can see now that this judgment was premature, and that NT4 is worthy of consideration. As you say, none of its rivals is a stand-out winner. NT4 is worth watching because eventually it just might be.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Hugh. NT4 needs polishing, and then it needs additional power features. But it is a good start. I have hopes for it.

      1. I have been adrift in a sea of unmoored notes since the hasty sinking of Circus Ponies NoteBook, which I adored and used daily to navigate our ever-rising flood of information. I used it for everything from napkin-back scribbles to highly-annotated lists with thousands of items. I am _still_ paddling my way through the various OS X content managers … Tinderbox, DevonThink, The Brain, OneNote, OmniOutliner, Ulysses, Bear, and so on. I am an inveterate outliner — but I need tools that keep me afloat. Crashing and taking my words to the bottom of that wine-dark sea is a deal-breaker. Here’s a second basket of hopes that NoteTaker 4 quickly patches its leaks.

        Thank you for sharing your expertise.

      2. Kirby, I feel your pain. Aquaminds has already released five updates to version 4, so they are apparently working hard to “patch” the leaks.

        Thank you for reading my blog and for taking the time to comment.

  2. Discovered NoteTaker 4 when I happened upon this review and immediately decided to buy a copy. I used Circus Ponies Notebook before it was killed, but had forgotten about the Aquamind version. I’d been casting around for some time to find the right outliner to map out a complex nonfiction narrative and to index my notes. Years ago tried OmniOutliner and never took to it. I’m confident NoteTaker 4 will serve my needs. Am still new to the program — downloaded it today — but like you haven’t been able to figure out how to use tags. Very little in the instruction guide about them. Makes me wonder if they’re a real feature with true utility. Have you ever figured out how to use the tag feature? Thanks, by the way, for your review. There seems to be very little written about NoteTaker, which is a shame.

    1. Hi, Patrick. Unfortunately, I haven’t made any progress in figuring out the Tag feature. Prompted by your comment, I am going to send a note to the developer and see if I can get an answer. Thank you for reading my blog!

      1. Thanks for checking with the developer — it’s good for Aquamind to know that users value tags in NoteTaker. I’ll keep following your blog!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s