Quick, think of a great app for organizing notes and photos, that’s available just about anywhere. If your first thought was Evernote, we’re on the same page. But Evernote isn’t the only game in town, with free service-cum-application Springpad giving it a run for its money. In fact, we’ve even done a visual comparison of Springpad vs. Evernote, but that was for their respective Web interfaces.
Today I’m here to take a look at the Springpad project management Android app – because many times, the most important notes we need to make are not when we’re in front of the computer.
Unsurprisingly, the first thing you’ll see when you launch Springpad are two buttons, letting you either log in or sign up for the service. An account is a must, just like with Evernote. This makes sense because these apps are all about making your thoughts and data available to you anywhere.
Once you log in, any notebooks you already have on the service will be synced to your device:
Having multiple notebooks is important for keeping your notes in order, but you’ll need some way to differentiate them at a glance. Long-tapping a notebook opens its properties screen, letting you configure its name, category, tags, and its visual theme:
This last one is particularly important for being able to pick a notebook out quickly from the rest. Being able to assign notebooks to categories makes fine-grained organization possible: You could have “Well-being” as a category, with separate notebooks for “Fitness,” “Food,” and “Inspiration.” You can also collaborate on notebooks with others.
One of Springpad’s most touted features is the fact it doesn’t just save your content, but tries to understand it. For example, look at this recipe I clipped from Allrecipes.com using Springpad’s bookmarklet:
Springpad understands it’s a recipe, and intelligently parses it into an ingredient list, a number of servings, and directions. The ingredients view looks good, but the directions aren’t well formatted:
This is a shame, because with better formatting, this could be an invaluable tool in the kitchen. Just clip a recipe on the Web, then cook with your phone. But showing all steps as one large blob of text really misses the point of parsing, at least in this case.
Creating New Notes
When you tap the “+” icon, Springpad immediately wants to know what sort of a note will you be making:
You can opt for one of no less than sixteen note types, some of which are quite similar (“task” vs. “check list”). Even so, the icons are clear, and the icons are sensibly laid out – generic ones on top, then entertainment, then food, then “stuff to do”. Still, in a rush, you may not be able to quickly track down the icon you need – at least not when you’re still new to Springpad.
Now, let’s say we’re in a bookstore (with physical books, made of dead trees) and want to make note of a book we want to read. Should we tap “scan” or “book”? I’m going to bet on “book:”
This lets me quickly search for a book, but not scan its barcode label. Searching works fine, but since I have the book right in front of me, I guess “scan” would have been the right choice in this case. This is what a scan looks like:
Absolute fail, basically. I was holding a book in my hand (one printed in the US), and Springpad took it for a bottle of tea tree oil (not even another book!). I repeated this several times and got the same result over and over again. Manually searching took a bit more time initially, but got me the right result for the book I was holding (“A Son of the Circus” by John Irving).
So this is a very different workflow than the Evernote one, and a significant different between both platforms. With Evernote, you just save stuff; with Springpad, you search for it first, then save it.
Here’s what the book record looks like:
And once saved, it looks like this:
I get a large image of the cover (which is not the cover for the book I’m holding, incidentally), and I can mark it as “Favorite“, “Want” or “Read“. There’s also some metadata pulled in from Amazon, such as the author, publication date, and the book’s description – once again, formatted as a narrow vertical block of text that’s not very easy to read:
Of course, if you want to keep things simple and go the Evernote way, simply saving a photo, you can definitely do that:
Out of all context-sensitive options, this seems like the quickest way to go about saving a quick snippet of info when you’re in a rush. Just take a photo and think about it later. Sadly, unlike Evernote, Springpad doesn’t support OCR. This means if I search for “John Irving” in Springpad, the image above doesn’t come up in the results – Springpad can’t read the text within the image.
Lists & Memos
Another common type of note we need to make while on the go is just bits and pieces of text. Groceries to buy, things to do later, and so on. Creating a new text-only note is straightforward:
You can also add a checklist, thought the interface is a bit clunkier:
Were Springpad an Android-only app, I might be somewhat disappointed with it at this point. But Springpad’s true power is in its cross-platform nature – bookmark something on your PC, and it’s there when you’re in the bookstore. Find a page to read when you’re using Twitter on your phone, and read it later on the PC (by putting it in a “to read” notebook). Even though its mobile interface isn’t the most streamlined I’ve ever seen, this ubiquity lets Springpad retain its place on our Best Android Apps list: It is very useful, especially when taken as a suite and not just a single app.
Do you use Springpad project management yourself? If so, what for? Do you use its mobile client too, or just its Web interface? Let me know below!