Searching for Notes Application Utopia

Does anyone use multiple notes applications for their personal notes?

I’m torn between OneNote, GoodNotes (on iPad with Apple pencil), and Apple Notes. Each is good in it’s own way, but I would really like to move to one if I could find the perfect application.

I use a Windows computer for work (including all MS Office applications), which necessitates Windows compatibility.

Here are my biggest issues with each:

OneNote:

  • Flexible, but complex notes organization system
  • Inconsistent features supported across platforms (Windows version is most robust; no templates on Mac or iPad)
  • Not the best experience with Apple pencil

GoodNotes:

  • No windows support
  • No hyper-linking (e.g., to other pages, applications, or websites)

Apple Notes:

  • Limited Windows support (only through web browser)
  • Limited hyper-linking (although better than GoodNotes)

I’ve started to use specific applications for specific notes purposes, which is maybe the best I can hope for:

  • OneNote for work notes
  • GoodNotes for planning
  • Apple Notes for general personal notes repository

Does anyone else run into similar issues or workarounds?

Ideally I could set up some automation that could export notes from any notebook/application into another format/application that could handle text conversion.

I’m coming to the realization I may just have to live in an imperfect, klugy world.

1 Like

I think it’s fair to say that in the note-taking/note-making sense, no one app is perfect for all things. And the more specific our needs become, the more likely it is that we’ll only find something that’s an approximate good fit, rather than a utopian match.

Two contrasting thoughts:

  • I celebrate your drive to reduce things to the simplest possible expression of your needs; the more complex our systems are, the more fragile they likely are and thus more likely to fail under pressure…
  • there’s undoubtedly a lot of good advice and solid methodologies out there, but ultimately, we need to do what works for us; if three different apps work well enough for you, maybe there are good reasons for embracing the kludge.

That said, I’d be surprised if at least a few forthcoming replies didn’t contain suggestions for apps that might serve as suitable candidates for that “perfect” application you’re looking for…

I couldn’t quite determine what you’re referring to into this context when you mention text conversion here. From what to what?

2 Likes

Thanks for your comments – I think what you say is insightful. Keeping things as simple is always a good rule.

To clarify on text conversion, what I meant was converting hand-written notes with the Apple pencil to actual computer text. So, for example, I could select text in GoodNotes, export them to OneNote, and at the same time convert them to computer text. Alternatively, maybe I would want to copy over the hand-written notes instead of converting to computer text. It would be nice to have that option in the automation (as a flag setting).

I use multiple notes apps, and generally use them for different things.

But I mostly use them with the same set of notes, because I only use apps that use plain text files, one per note.

The exception is Drafts, which I use to create notes and then save them as plain text (markdown) to the right folder. (If it would only use a folder of text files, Drafts might be perfect for everything.)

The current lineup:

Drafts (Mac and iOS)
: creating and taking notes

nvUltra beta (Mac)
: searching, modifying and sometimes creating notes

Obsidian
: reviewing code snippets, editing and viewing notes with mermaid.js, Kanban and a few other things

Tot (Mac and iOS)
: quick, ephemeral notes, copy paste, etc.

1Writer (iOS)
: searching and modifying notes

The Archive (Mac)
: as nvUltra above

1 Like

Not sure if this helps but if you create a template on Windows version in OneNote, when you create a note in OneNote on iPad it uses the template. I have one for meetings.

1 Like

Why not Evernote? I’ve no idea what the state of Evernote’s handwriting tools are, but they were pretty good five years ago.

2 Likes

I have not found Notes Application Utopia. I thought that Drafts might get me closer. Now I think it might be more than I need. I’m trying to get away from lots of different apps and am trying to focus on what I really need. I’m not saying other people’s systems don’t work for them.

I’ve read and reread Leo Babauta’s
https://mnmlist.com/minimalist-mac/

1 Like

Started reading and stopped right away. I can’t take seriously anything that advises against using Time Machine.

4 Likes

I have gone on a journey through a lot of app, but have returned to Evernote which has improved greatly…

With ios15 though , and tags, I am considering just going back to Apple Notes…but for now am all in on Evernote

1 Like

I didn’t see a date on that article, but it is at least 12 years old. He talks about MobileMe, Safari 4, and other software relics. I expect he could have a different opinion about Time Machine today.

1 Like

Good find. I took the article as it was recommended to us, today. Time Machine always worked fine though and advising against it has never made sense.

My personal notes are in iA Writer.

For work, I take all of my notes in Noteplan. Since Noteplan stores notes as a folder of Markdown files, I also index them in DEVONthink and can open the folder as a vault in Obsidian, but I only use those apps for search/retrieval.

Is pencil support just for writing or do you need to be able to sketch in the application? What are you trying to use this note taking system for? That might help us make some suggestions.

Do you do any web clipping? Do you need rich text or markdown? Do you care if you can access it offline? Is being able to export your notes important (some will let you export but only in formats like CSV)? Do you need templating abilities? Do you can about the folder structure or tagging abilities? Do you want back linking?

Any other information about your workflow would be helpful too.

Wiki Comparison of Note Taking Apps

Although the current version doesn’t have a date, it looks like a version of Leo Babuata’s minimalist mac webpage was published in September of 2009. I think the general philosophy is still worth considering and recognize that I’m not as minimal as he suggests.

  1. No clutter.
  2. Keep the system lean.
  3. Simple, single-purpose apps.
  4. Simple formats.
  5. Don’t fiddle.

I am fortunate enough to be 100% Apple. I don’t say this as a dig against windows and Android – many people prefer those and that’s OK. However I prefer Apple, and it’s helpful I think to stay within one ecosystem if you can.

Obsidian is currently my primary notetaking and document management application. I am slowly and without any urgency transitioning off Devonthink.

Are use apple Notes for a small but important category of notes that I want to be extremely easily and quickly accessible on my iPhone. These range in importance from our favorite pizza order to my wife”s medical history.

I use drafts for quick notes, which end up somewhere else as soon as I get around to it. I know some people use tot for that kind of thing, and I’ve heard so many good things about it that maybe I’ll give it a try at some point.

1 Like

I have come to accept that different applications work for different purposes: Apple Notes for quick reference, Devonthink for articles, tiktok videos (!), GoodNotes for Lesson planning (I go between that and Notability) and Papers for scholarly research. It helps orient my thinking for those purposes when I’m in the designated environment.

This site offers a useful comparison of many notetaking apps. https://www.noteapps.info/

1 Like