Note taking made simple

SOMETIMES, simple is just better.

For me, this is certainly the case for note taking applications, where I value three features most of all: 1) The ability to take and save text-based notes easily; 2) The ability to instantaneously locate and recall the ones I need from hundreds of saved notes; and 3) The ability to conveniently access these notes from multiple devices. In all three, Simplenote (http://simplenote.com) excels.

Like the heftier Evernote that I wrote about some months ago, Simplenote is an application that connects to a Web-based service so that you can access your notes from multiple devices.

For the last few months, I’d been trying to get into Evernote, a slick note taking application and Web service that allows you to include multimedia content—photos, audio and video files—in your notes. Although it worked well enough, Evernote seemed a bit of an overkill for my simple requirements.

This week, I installed Simplenote on my Macbook Air and my Android phone and found the simplicity and speed that I want.

Simplenote isn’t new—it was first developed in 2008 by Mike Johnston and Fred Cheng because they hated Apple’s yellow Notes app, writes Ellis Hamburger in The Verge. The program gathered dust for about two years, however, after the two decided to focus on Simperium, a syncing engine for apps that kept SimpleNote in sync across platforms.

In 2013, after their company was bought by Automattic, makers of WordPress.com, Johnson and Cheng got the green light to work on a new version of their note taking app, including a version that would work on Android devices. Matt Mullenweg, the founder of Automattic, turned out to be a long-time Simplenote fan.

“Fred and I will never forget the surprise Matt casually unleashed shortly after we decided to join forces,” Johnson wrote in a January 2013 blog entry. Mullenweg’s company had bought the simplenote.com URL from the people who were squatting on it so that the Simplenote creators could use it.

“How’s that for a vote of confidence? We finally own simplenote.com!” Johnson wrote.

The new versions for Mac, Android, iOS 7 and the Web were launched in September 2013.

You can sign up for a free Simplenote account or try out the program without one, although this will mean you won’t be able to sync your notes.

The interface is minimalist, presenting you at the start with a bare window with three columns. The first gives you the option to see All Notes or filter them using tags. The second is a list of notes that meet the criteria set in the first column, while the last shows you the note highlighted in the second column.

To create a new note, simply click (or tap) the plus button and start to type.

To search your notes, tap the search button in the Action Bar and enter any text. Simplenote will show you matching results fast.

If you have important notes that you will need to access often, pin them to keep them at the top of the list.

You can also use a single or multiple tags to organize your notes. If you add an e-mail address as a tag, Simplenote will automatically send it to that address.

On the Android app, you can share notes by tapping “Share” in the menu. No such item appears on the Mac client, however.

Deleted notes go in the trash. You can restore them if you want, or empty the trash to get rid of them forever.

To access your notes on the Web, simply log into your account at http://simplenote.com.

The minimalist interface hides some complexity, too. Simplenote keeps track of versions of a note, and enables you to roll back to an earlier version of it (choose History in the menu).

There is theoretically no limit to the number of notes you can save, or the length of each note, though Simplenote suggests you don’t make them any longer than several thousand words to speed up processing.

You can access and edit your notes even when you are offline; Simplenote will simply synchronize them with your other devices once you connect to the Internet again.

As yet, there is no Windows or Linux client for Simplenote but you can use the Web-based application on either platform. A Linux client may be in the works, however.

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