Suggestions on the ideal note taking and data storage app?

There have been a lot of threads discussion various note taking and document storage apps. I’m trying to find something that is the closest to my ideal app, and wondering if anyone might have some thoughts to help guide me.

I’ve used Evernote for a time (I liked it, but it grew to be so cumbersome and hasn’t seen any growth in a long time). I have a license for DEVONThink Pro Office. I liked it too, but frankly the weird way it sort of uses tags as groups and as non-group tags, plus some other glitches and the limitations of the DT To Go has caused me to move away from it, perhaps only temporarily.

I have GoodNotes and Notability for note taking as well.

What I presently have is basically a mishmash. I have moved pretty much all of my notes into Apple Notes. I like it for its speed and easy syncing via iCloud, and I don’t mistrust Apple all that much, and I don’t put any highly secure data into it.

I also use Synology’s CloudStation, and there I store all of my documents, primarily in the form of PDFs, Pages and Numbers and Keynotes documents, and similar files. Tagging helps me to find things a bit faster, but mostly I use a file system hierarchy that goes 3-4 levels deep at most.

I have a separate database on my home server that stores those documents that I don’t need to have as readily available (all my old back statements, insurance policies, etc). I can get to them via a VPN connection to my home network and mounting the server drive, but I don’t need them often enough to have them synced to my laptop (which is my home and travel computer) all the time.

When I am taking notes, say in a meeting or while working, I usually do that in Notabiliy or GoodNotes if I need to write via Apple Pencil, and then export as PDF to the CloudStation file storage. Notes in other contexts are typed into Apple Notes.

I would really like to consolidate things to a much greater extent. There are too many different things going on!

Ideally, I need an app that let me do the following:
— Store everything (note, pdf, file, etc) in the file system which makes it easy to backup and access if the app itself dies for any reason;
— Allow me to file documents and open them easily their native app and then sync the changes back into the app when done (Evernote and DevonThink both do this really well, btw);
— Make new notes by typing with good support for tables (Devon’s tables really suck, btw) AND with handwriting, and allow a note to have everything mixed in - handwriting, typing, embedded documents
— Sync easily between Mac and iDevices
— Ideally, support download on demand on iDevices so the whole darn thing doesn’t have to be stored on my iPad and iPhone and eat all available storage space
— Allow at least 3-4 levels deep of folder nesting (Evernote, I’m talking to you)
— Allow all the data to reside on my own computers (sorry, Evernote, but I’m not putting the scans of my bills on your servers, and I don’t want to deal with the hassle of having to put them in an encrypted DMG so stick them in one of your notes).
— Markdown support would really be nice. DevonThink does have it, although it’s not that great for editing, but it does work.

Any suggestions / ideas would be most appreciated. Thanks.

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If you decided not to use DEVONthink for creating/editing documents – just for collecting, organizing, and curating them across platforms – and used “open with…” to invoke whatever text / markdown / O365 editors you want – then you already have your solution maybe? Index your documents in DEVONthink instead of importing?

DEVONthink’s editors are bad for anything but simple tasks. So avoid them?

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You have a starting point, Apple Notes. You are comfortable with it. What other app do you need? Notability …for pen? Then what other tasks need doing?

You recognize there is no ideal app that covers all your wants. …but two, three, or four apps. Hang in there. Keep trying for the right personal fit.

That’s a thought. I could have Devon use a database that is located on the server for the less needed documents and then index those folders.

Of course, I wonder then. Maybe just keep using the folders and have Hazel do all the sorting. And keep notes in Apple Notes, and maybe create text and markdown in BBEdit.

Maybe so. Just use handwriting in notability or GoodNotes, export to a pad in the file system OR in NOtes as appropriate.

Documents 5 with PDF Expert Purchase. iCloud or whatever storage as your data storage. You can hand write, type, download, and have file structure all together.

I have a set of folders with documents that go back a few decades. I store them in a volume on an external hard drive. I indexed the volume in DevonThink Pro.

The caveat is, the indexed files are only available in DTP when the external hard drive is mounted. When you need to work on the document off-line from your server using DTP, you will need to import the documents not index them.


@Jeremy: thanks! Documents is up to version 6, and looks like a great tool. At a price of “free,” there’s no reason not to try it out!

@DrJJWMac: Thanks, I already have the folder hierarchy. I’m thinking about using DT for indexing as you describe for ease of navigation, and keeping the folder hierarchy so the files remain easily manageable through Finder and Hazel.

There is clearly no one app that does it all, at least not yet.

I have similar use cases and input sources as you (I think). I am careful to use Evernote as my everything box so I do not have stuff spread everywhere. I don’t think there is a single app that does it all.

My simple workflow objectives:

Frictionless capture - easily capture all of my inputs quickly no matter what I’m doing or where I am

Quickly find - find my stuff without hunting… find it fast the moment I need it

With that, I’ve found Evernote to be my best option for the “Everything Box”. All of my inputs end up in Evernote:

Handwritten notes on iPad - GoodNotes. When finished, I export to Evernote. I have a Workflow that I use to supplement the export with information from the Meeting invitation (if applicable)

Paper - either Scansnap to Evernote or Scanner Pro (with auto workflow to Evernote)

Typewritten (while on Mac) - typically directly into an Evernote note. Again, I have some automation to pre-populate note template with Meeting invitation information

Typewritten (while on iOS) - typically Drafts. Actions move notes to Evernote. I use a “Meeting Notes” workflow for typed meeting notes (handles reminders, etc)

I’ve found this system to work very well for me for many years. Easy input in any setting, but one place to find my stuff.

Glad to elaborate on any of this, if useful. — jay

@jayelevy:Very helpful as well.

My biggest concern with Evernote has been that my data is then stored by “someone else,” and also that they do not allow hierarchical folders, although I have read a number of blog postings talking about how people overcome that with a hierarchical tagging structure, which I think would work fine for me as well.

I can also make a backup with an AppleScript to export all of my notes to an archive folder on a periodic basis (I did that once before when I was using Evernote).

I actually otherwise like Evernote, and its ability to download on demand on the iOS apps is very helpful to avoid storage bloat on the iDevices.

I would be very interested if you could elaborate on the workflows that you created. If I go back to Evernote or decide to use DT on the Mac, I might well want to adapt those workflows for creating content and sending to DT instead of Evernote.

If I tag those notes that I create, I could likely automate the filing of those apps once in DT via scripts on my Mac Mini.