Note-taking and productivity apps are a dime a dozen; in fact, there are so many of them, I’ve reverted to using a pen and paper for planning out my day (really). But a part of the problem is that many of them keep trying to outdo each other with features and complexity – online sync, Google Tasks sync, password protection, handwriting support, photo and audio notes…..the list goes on.
Don’t get me wrong, these are good features, and the apps I just linked to are superb at what they do. But not everyone wants this level of power and complexity – sometimes you just want a simple way to keep some text notes on your device. I found a couple of really simple Android note taking apps that let you do just that, but with the lovely Holo visual flair. In other words, they’re both flat and simple, and look right at home on an Android device running ICS (Android 4.0) or Jelly Bean (Android 4.1-4.2).
For To-Do Items: Hashnote
Hashnote has a deceptive title. It’s not for notes: It’s for to-do items. Each “note,” or item, can’t be more than a single line. But it does make judicious use of hashtags and at-signs to help you filter through your tasks.
First, the overview screen:
Simple, beautiful, and colorful. Every hashtag gets its own color, and @mentions (people) also get colors. This is the default screen shown when you start the app, and it’s most of what you have to know. There aren’t any deadlines, and no priorities, either. There’s just a single swipe gesture, for popping open the filter sidebar:
Tap a row in the sidebar, and the list filters to show just those items (say, #groceries). You can tap another row to filter by AND logic (so, #groceries and #birthday yield all lines marked both with #groceries and #birthday).
Adding a new note looks like this:
Yes, it looks like there’s room for adding an extra field, but that’s just blank space. Tapping it does nothing – you can’t write there. Of course, you can make your note very long if you so desire. The # and @ buttons just enter those symbols – I expected auto-completion for existing tags, but that didn’t happen.
Bottom line: Hashnote is great for managing to-do’s, if you just need quick filtering, no sync, and absolutely zero fuss.
For Longer Notes: Note L!st
Now, if you’re looking to write longer texts on your device (but are still not interested in automatic sync), Note l!st might fit the bill. It comes with several predetermined categories, and a slim font.
Here’s a full-width crop of the first screen:
There’s an ad at the bottom which you can’t see above – you can remove it with a $2 in-app purchase. I’m not a fan of this particular model (I prefer apps that offer a free and paid version right on Google Play, because you at least have a 15 minute refund window). Tap the “add note” button, and you find yourself in the new note screen:
Here the slim font is particularly noticeable. I like that the developer didn’t stick an ad into this screen – makes it easier to focus on what you’re trying to write. Tap the down-pointing arrow, and the title expands to let you enter some metadata about your note:
The stars denote priority (which you can use to sort notes), and you can mark a note as Completed, in case it’s an actionable item (I’m more prone to writing journal-style meandering thoughts, but to each his own). When reading the note (after you’re done composing it and save out of the editing mode), the banner ad makes its appearance:
A bit distracting, but if you use the app, $2 isn’t a hefty price tag. And finally, let’s take a quick look at the few settings available for tweaking:
So basically, you can shell out to remove the ad, toggle between light/regular fonts, add a shortcut to your homescreen, and read a little about the app (changelog and credits).
These Developers Have Their Priorities Straight
Both of these apps have one thing in common – pursuit of aesthetics rather than tacking on another feature. To me, that’s encouraging. Features are alluring because they’re so easy to quantify – “my app does 1, 2, and 3.” Visual appeal is far more subjective, so for a developer to go for looks first feels brave to me.
I’m not saying these apps are perfect as they are, feature-wise. But in their current state, these Android note taking apps fun and easy to use, and with a solid user experience in place, I feel both Hashnote and Note l!st can now carefully add more power. I wish more mobile apps took a similar path.
Will you be using one of these, or are they too simple? And in general, where do you stand on the looks-vs.-features question? Do you like your apps beefy (even if ugly), or would you choose a pretty app over a powerful one?