If there is one thing we Dads tend to take pretty seriously is our productivity, face it when you have as many kids as us, you really need to be able to get your act together to get things done. We all find little GTD hooks and life hacks to make our tools work for us. For me, the iPad has totally replaced the paper notebook and up to a certain degree my real notebook computer. One of the things I tend to do the most these days is attend meetings and capture information of all sorts and the most important thing is to capture as much info as I can the first time and never have to worry about having access to it on my other devices or should I ever misplace my iPad.
Being a former web developer, I used to keep all my stuff in TXT files and sort them into all kinds of folders initially on key fobs and then via DropBox: the Internet’s USB key. When I first got the iPad, I really fell in love with PlainText and SimpleNote because neither one of them screwed around with my files. These are all the same reasons I still prefer to use TextMate on the MacBook when I am mucking about with code. However the problem with that is that I just don’t code all that much anymore. In fact, the v6.0 refresh was the most amount of code I have touched in almost a year. Most of what I actually do is capture information, and when dealing with integrators, architects and technical analysts that also means diagrams, tables, clippings and pictures of whiteboards. Which is one of the main reasons I also fell in love with Evernote, it’s a great dumping zone for your brain allowing you to get really close to David Allen’s original idea of the Everything Inbox: a digital version of that desktop tray on your desk, essentially a “vide-poche” for your mind.
The problem with Evernote is that, although it has really good searching power, OCS and finally better RTF support and a client for just about every platform you can imagine including the web, none of the clients have been very good and on many occasions the features have not been universal. Evernote has become more of a platform than a note taking client. In fact the client is so poor that the one thing it really needs is for someone else to come in and overhaul it. This is pretty much what Awesome Note has done. Now before you start, yes Awesome Note is much more than just a front end for Evernote, it can actually sync up with Google Docs as well even though this should never ever be done if you already have a strong library of Google documents. This is exactly why I had to try Awesome Note. The idea of having my ToDo lists, clippings and rich text formatted notes all in the same place was really appealing however the biggest issue is still the fact that Awesome Note doesn’t do anything awesome. Sure it looks great, and has a lot of added visuals, fonts, stationary, but it really doesn’t do anything “awesome”. It’s an average editor with some clever additions such as cursor arrows and undo buttons for the on-screen keyboard, there is no actual list feature whether it be ordered or un-ordered in fact, apart for image and hand writing support there is real RTF support at all.
When you first start the app, it look impressive because there its already all set up with loads of demo data. Although being really good at showing off the capabilities, this is also one of the most annoying features around, especially since you can’t NUKE the demo data and start over all fresh. Starting over is another issue, when you go from the LITE to the FULL version, you can only migrate the data if you back up and restore via iTunes. I found myself having to do a lot of work-arounds just to try and replicate some of the Evernote features like manually moving older items into the [aNote] just so that they sync up with the app. Syncing is also a chore and very much of a manual process, there is no real autosync feature although this might actually be a limitation of Evernote on the iPad itself. Sadly the few advantage of having a GTD app also be my note taking tool, were not enough to make up for all it’s non-Awesomeness. If you are going to name your App or product after a very positive adjective, you really HAVE to make it as positive as your name. And at $5 for the iPad app and another $3 for the iPhone version, the only thing truly Awesome here is the way you get ripped off.
Demo Video of Notability 4.1
This is especially true when you compare it to Notability, a very capable $0.99 app that does just one thing very well: take notes. Notability is a rich text editor that also allows you to add photos, web clips and even hand drawn image either as movable and scalable images or straight on the page itself. In fact Notability also allows you to record audio straight into your note, although I don’t use the feature very often, I would have loved this feature in University lectures. Note searching is very easy and the default layout is very clean and open, making searching even easier, this can also be customised to show thumbnail if you prefer. Then you can organise your notes into custom folders and topics which really make the notes easy to search. However the folder/subject structure doesn’t translate to folder/subfolder, only the subjects become folders in DropBox. Not only does Notability autosync to DropBox, but it can also do the same to iCloud and any WebDav service. And that’s not the only way to get your notes out, sharing features are very powerful and include: email with attachment, desktop, print, and the iOS Open In (GoodReader, DropBox, Kindle, iBooks and even Evernote). It can also easily annotate PDF file, which can even rival GoodReader in ease of use. It’s important to note that GoodReader still takes it for PDF handling on its incredibly powerful sharing with summary feature.
Notability is not all pros either, over the year that I have used it on and off, it has become slow to load in its 4.1 release on the original iPad and the new auto-correct feature has made typing a little laggy at times too. And then there’s the obivous drawback of its rich media handling, due to the image and drawing inclusions, the default file format is proprietary to Notability and not RTF or TXT. This also create issues when exporting, as it must be done via PDF to preserve the WYSIWYG look. Using Dropbox is great for backing up the notes, yet the lack of a desktop client relegates Notability to a note capture tool and not really a tool for document creation, any page layouts needs made in Notability can only be preserved if they are exported in PDF format. And while we are on the subject of portability there is no iPhone version and no desktop editing tools for the .NOTE file format. Folder sync isn’t always two ways either, restoring Notability to a new iPad does not bring the back-up notes back. You have to bring them down manually via the DropBox to have them restored, which is not really restoring or syncing either.
I’m still not sure which system I prefer, but one this for sure that when I want to take serious notes, I tend to rely on Notability. Yet when I’m running about iPad-less I snap and capture away in Evernote, but not nearly as much since the addition to Photostream which makes the photos you took on your iPhone available everywhere including your iPad without not thought involved. I’m not a huge ToDo list user, but I think that I could probably get by with iOS Reminders syncing into Exchange for a while until I make a clear decision on either one of these two tools. The one thing that I can tell you about these two is that they are well worth the time you invest trying them out and making up your own mind.
Awesome Note vs Notability & DropBox