Figuring Out Notes
Over the last year plus, I’ve been trying to figure out the best way I want to handle my notes. I’ve been bouncing between apps trying to decide what app I want to use. I’ve been hoping I would be able to find a single app to handle both quick notes and longer form pieces like blog posts.
My requirements have been that I can sync notes between my MacBook, iPhone, & iPad. If I can sync with my Windows PC, that’d be an added bonus. But since I really only use my Windows machine for gaming, I’m not as concerned with Windows. My other requirement is that I want my notes to be in markdown. I don’t want any proprietary formats or anything of the like.
Let me list the various apps and services I’ve tried and used:
- Dropbox Synched Folder w/ Visual Studio Code & 1Writer
- iA Writer
Each one provided some benefits with different drawbacks.
Bear is an absolutely beautiful application. It’s available on MacOS, iOS, & iPad OS. Assuming you pay for the subscription, which is a very reasonable $30/year, it will sync across your devices (as well as other niceties).
The biggest drawback with Bear, is that while you can export your notes, your notes are in what I can best describe as a black box. Bear syncs them, you can download them no problem if you so choose, but you can’t view the file structure. While this was not necessarily a requirement for me, I wasn’t a huge fan.
I’ll fully admit I didn’t necessarily give Ulysses a full evaluation, but in the little bit I used it, it seemed like it provided a lot more than what I needed. The features it offered I didn’t dig super deep into, but it seemed to be good for more in depth writing rather than simple notes. I’ll admit I did play around with it as a tool for writing blog posts, but moved away from that as well.
For Notion, simple note taking seems like a waste of its abilities. Notion is a powerful application. Its database functionality is fantastic. I use it for maintaining my book backlog, site content, saving articles and bookmarks, and more. For note taking however, it didn’t work for me. It focused too much with online mode and would struggle if I lost connectivity. I use Notion, I love notion. For notes, it just wasn’t a good fit.
Dropbox Synched Folder with VS Code & 1Writer
This fixed the issue I had with Bear. Here I had a folder in Dropbox that I could view all the files it contained. Dropbox would handle the synching, and I could use various apps to view the notes. For my Mac & Windows, that was VS Code. While certainly a great development tool, it also provided some useful help with regards to markdown files. For iOS and my iPad, I found an app called 1Writer that could access Dropbox on my iPhone & iPad to allow me to view and edit all the files.
I used this for a while, but I think that while VS Code would allow me view and edit the files without issues, I lost some of the niceties of a note taking app I had gotten used to with apps like Bear. I could add tags to markdown files, and 1Writer would handle them, but VS Code just sorta shrugged, not knowing they were anything other than text. Not a complete killer, but it’d be nice to have a nicer way to group files by tags.
Obsidian had been getting a lot of praise in some of my social feeds. Checking it out, it reminded me a lot of VS Code, but one dedicated to note taking. It seemed to have a fantastic plugin collection and a large community. The iOS and iPad OS apps unfortunately didn’t support using a “vault” with Dropbox, so I decided to move my notes over to iCloud so that I could keep the notes synched with my iPhone, iPad, & Mac.
The app has a lot of neat features and I’m sure I didn’t get through half of what it can offer through plugins. I might go back and start playing with some of the plugins and see what they all bring to the table.
Side Note: One issue I had was that my Mac would constantly get “stuck” synching. It just wouldn’t sync for whatever reason and my only fix I could find was to either restart my laptop, or to run the command
killall bird in a terminal to unblock the synching. I don’t blame Obsidian for this, but unfortunately it became an issue.
I’ve heard quite a bit about iA Writer. I’ve seen plenty of people swear by it. Having used it for a bit, I can see why. It’s simple and clean. For writing, it provides a great no frills experience. You can add folders to it to provide easy access to your files.
After using it, it is great for writing. Writing drafts of my posts have been great. The focused look of the markdown is what I’m looking for. For quick notes, I’m not certain how good it is just yet. It also has the added bonus of being a one-time payment and no subscription.
Side Note: I could not get it to support my Dropbox notes folder on my iPhone. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong, but it’s why I’m using iCloud rather than Dropbox. It worked on my iPad so I figure it’s supported on iPhone as well...I just can’t get it to work. Oddly enough, despite it also using iCloud, the sync blocking hasn’t happened for me thus far.
Where I’m At Now
I’ve been using iA Writer for about a month now. So far I’m happy with it. Still need to figure out the quick, shorter notes, but it’s not something I’m super concerned about. I definitely want to give it its fair shake. If I continue to write more for my site like I intend to, it should be exactly what I want.
What is your writing & note system. Do you use a certain app? An organization system?