Ever since I had a Palm, I would write stuff down in notes, which Palm called Memos. Memos were very simple, but you could categorize a memo and filter the list of memos by category. No formatting, just a title and the content and a category. I think they were actual txt files, but maybe it was a database. Every time you would sync the Palm, the notes were backed up on your computer. In Palm Desktop you could edit a note and sync it back to the Palm. I ended up with something like 500 notes.
Then the Palms went away and I got an iPod Touch. After much searching (here, here, and here), I found NoteMaster. You couldn’t sync with iTunes because iTunes doesn’t work that way, but notes could sync with Google Drive or DropBox. Also you could password protect a category, so I had a secure category for things like web passwords. Notemaster allowed some very basic formatting which made for nicer looking notes.
Now I am on Android and there is no Notemaster app. So I’m back to looking at dozens of apps and trying to figure out which one can do the pretty basic things I want. It is complicated because some people want To Do lists, some want to scribble a note with their finger, some want to make audio notes, or picture notes. Some people want sticky notes for their desktop. I don’t want any of that.
Meanwhile, it turns out that Notemaster was storing all of the notes in a docx format, so I can’t just download all the text files and import them into some new app. I may be able to convert them (and found a free program from PDFzilla just called Zilla that will convert an entire folder of docx files at once). Then I need to be able to import them. So the app would have some way of importing those files rather than me typing or pasting them one at a time.
A lot of programs will sync with Google Drive, but I would prefer DropBox for security. Since I am almost always logged in to Google, my Google Drive is wide open from my computer or phone. DropBox is rarely used and therefore always requires a password.
So here is what I want:
- Hundreds of notes
- Categories or folders
- Backup or sync
Here is what I would like:
- Some formatting
- Secure notes
- Sync with DropBox automatically
- Search text of notes
Google Keep – Free from Google, some people really like this program. Seems to be more of a sticky note app for notes, lists, and voice rather than a categorized memo app.
OneNote – From Microsoft, also is very powerful and can sync to many devices via OneDrive. Maybe too complicated.
Evernote – Very powerful and does everything I want, but it seems to want to push me into paying a monthly fee. They have a free version with no ads, but it isn’t clear I can keep all of my notes on my phone ready for offline use without the fee. I don’t mind paying for a good notes app, but I have no intention of paying monthly fees or being nagged constantly to upgrade or look at ads.
Colornotes – Popular but this is more of a sticky note app and doesn’t do categories. It lets you do notes in different colors, but they are all dumped into the main view.
ClevNote – Has folders, syncs, nice interface, but stores everything in a SQL Lite database which isn’t easy for me to deal with. Not sure how I would import existing notes.
GNotes – Not sure why I ruled this out. It looks like it works okay, but it is kind of expensive. Syncs with Google Mail and notes show up as draft emails in a Notes folder, but I’m not crazy about that. Also people complain of monthly or yearly fees.
Super Simple Notes – Allows category labels, but doesn’t filter the notes, just groups them together while looking at the entire list.
Keep My Notes – Kind of a do everything app in that it lets you write text, scribble or record voice memos. Can add folders and make backup copies, but does not sync to online services. $0.99 per year for the paid version.
While looking for apps, I found a review of several apps that used markdown, which is a way of adding formatting to text files by using simple tags like asterisks and underlines.
MarkdownX – People like this because it syncs with Dropbox and allows images. Saves each note as a .md file (still a text file). But it hasn’t been updated since 2015 and Dropbox says the developer has not updated their access to Dropbox and they may not be allowed to sync for much longer.
Epsilon Note – Seems to be more of a markdown editor than anything else, but allows folders. Stores everything to txt files, but doesn’t connect to any online services so would have to back up notes manually (can possibly have Dropbox independently sync the folder where the notes are stored). However, that also allows editing them on a computer. The markdown is a little clunky: I have notes with a series of items with a hard return at the end of each line but in markdown to get a hard return you have to leave two spaces at the end of the line, which I didn’t do. So it just removes the line breaks and makes it all a paragraph, which is terrible. Also you look at a note and it is rendered correctly (and looks great, with a couple of styles available which apply to all notes), but then you have to click edit to edit and then save to get out. Allows encryption of notes so people can’t just read the memory of the phone and get the content, but doesn’t have a password in the app. Premium version is $4.99
Jotterpad – Supports markdown, but only if you upgrade to the paid version. Actually without markdown it kind of works like Memos so I don’t have issues with linebreaks. However no way to format anything without markdown enabled. And syncs to Dropbox. If you scroll down in a note, the menu disappears, then to get out of the note you have to press the back button which makes the menu appear again and then you can press the back button to get out. Very few options or preferences so I don’t think there is a way to stop the menu from disappearing. Premium version is $4.29
Writer Plus – Kind of an interesting take on markdown. Writer Plus allows folders and stores everything in text files, allowing very basic markdown formatting, but rather than show you the formatted note without the markdown tags, it just includes them. So you just see the markdown tags (which are minimal), but it looks correct like you would see italics *like this* and headers will have the pound symbol in front of them. Even though it is basic, if you look at this page, the only formatting in use is headers, bold, and lists, and Writer Plus can do all of that. The nice thing is it is completely free, no ads, but you can donate. The goal is to keep it simple, which it is. If you don’t want to use markdown, you can just use it like Palm Memos. It doesn’t sync by itself, but you could sync the folder on your own. The author has another app which syncs to Google Drive, but some reviewers say it doesn’t work.
iA Writer – Similar to Writer Plus in that it shows the markup in the note, but it adds some menu bars for doing headers, italics, etc. Can sync to Dropbox or Google Drive. Has folders. Uses .md extension but has a setting for .txt. Has a preview mode to see the note without the markdown and can then be exported to PDF or Word. Looks great in preview mode, but it isn’t that useful since it is an extra step.
I was able to use Zilla to convert all of my docx files from Dropbox (all of my notes from Notemaster) to text files. It was a little slow, but worked perfectly. All I had to do was recreate my directory structure of 10 or so folders, and maybe I could have done it all at once.
Then if I was going to use Epsilon Notes markdown, I needed to do a find and replace on all of those files to put two spaces at the end of any single hard return, but not the double hard returns that break up paragraphs and/or skip a line. My old, old HTML editor, Homesite, would do this, but I hadn’t installed it on either of my laptops. So I dug up those disks and installed it on my one laptop that has a CD drive (the one in the Dell stopped working, so I removed it). But it didn’t work, I think because Windows 10 doesn’t like old programs. So I went looking and came up with FAR from Source Forge that would do Find and Replace, but once it was installed it turned out it needed Java Runtime Environment, which I have happily been able to avoid, but I went ahead and installed that and tried FAR. Didn’t work. Found another Source Forge project called Find and Replace Tool (fortunately not known by its acronym) which at least didn’t give me an error but also did not work at finding returns. Some people said Notepad++ could do find and replace in files and subfolders, so I downloaded that. It seems like a nice text editor (since Homesite doesn’t work) and it worked great except that I had to find both the carriage return and new line characters (a hard return consists of those two ASCII codes), so after replacing the double returns with “zzz” and then the single returns with two spaces and a single return, then replacing all the zzz’s with two hard returns, I was in business! I moved the whole directory structure over to the phone and opened up Epsilon, and there were all of my notes. No formatting yet, but I can learn markdown as needed. Epsilon has encryption in the full version, but not password protection of notes. I may find a program that is specifically designed to store all of my web passwords instead of putting them in a note. Then the only thing Epsilon would know about is my notes, not even my Dropbox account. I’ll try it out this week and see how it goes. It is very simple to use and browse notes. Editing is not as much fun because it uses a big monospaced font, but the settings let me change to a smaller font.
Really I think what would be ideal is a program that lets you do markdown by hand if you want, but would also let you use WYSIWYG editing (with menus for bold, italic, headers, lists, etc.) and handle the markdown in the background. So that way you can still get formatting, but be dealing with txt files. If I want to add a comma to a note it is kind of a pain to click the edit button, which puts you at the top of the file in edit view, find the spot where the comma is needed, add it, then click save to close the edit view. In Notemaster I just put the cursor there and added a comma. When I left the note it automatically saved the changes. Maybe a hybrid would be easier to program where you could do simple WYSIWYG changes like adding a comma without edit view, but if you want to change formatting, you would have to go to edit view.
Because of having to click Edit and Save, plus adding two spaces to tend of lines with a single hard return, I gave up on Epsilon and have switched to Writer Plus for the time being. I don’t like either as well as Notemaster, but they both avoid putting files in docx format like Notemaster did. Maybe if markdown allowed some kind of hidden tag that would store text styles and background colors or images, you could get the same result as Notemaster in a markdown file, but the simplicity of markdown for now means notes just aren’t going to be very fancy.