Notational Velocity, the popular open-source notepad for the Mac, has been updated to sync with Simplenote. This change addresses one of the major downsides to using the Simplenote iPhone app: the lack of a decent native Mac client to sync with. Instead of getting into a big old “wonder out loud” post about my ongoing […]
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Simplenote and Evernote – in a rather large nutshell [iPhone Apps]

Notational Velocity, the popular open-source notepad for the Mac, has been updated to sync with Simplenote. This change addresses one of the major downsides to using the Simplenote iPhone app: the lack of a decent native Mac client to sync with. Instead of getting into a big old “wonder out loud” post about my ongoing personal Evernote vs Simplenote debate, I figured this might be a decent time to write up on each of these note-taking services in the hopes of helping other users decide which, if any, cloud-based -Note service they might want to use. The services aren’t exactly alike – Simplenote only takes plain text and Evernote is becoming more of an “everything bucket” – but they’re both fantastic for keeping all of your notes in sync on your desktop (I use a Mac) and your iPhone.

Simplenote and Notational Velocity Combo (Mac client, web app, and iPhone app)
The Simplenote + Notational Velocity combo is pretty deadly, and it’s pretty unbelievable that you can enjoy it without paying a cent (the same goes for Evernote, actually). The free Simplenote app does feature one-line Fusion ads and a limit of 2000 API requests per day for non-subscribers, but neither of those limits is unreasonable. In fact, if I understand the system correctly, you could sync Notational Velocity with Simplenote every minute for a whole day and only use up 1440 API requests – leaving 500+ chances for you to sync your iPhone. If you manage to reach the 2000 API request limit, you’re doing some very, very serious writing, or some toddler is repeatedly loading your Simplenote app up (and you really shouldn’t have left him alone with your iPhone in the first place).

There is a web client for Simplenote, but it’s actually a little too simple for my tastes, and I’d much rather work with a native client instead. I haven’t noticed a “note limit” on any Simplenote account, but plain text notes are actually quite small and easy to sync for the most part, anyway.

I’m pretty new to Notational Velocity, but I already love it. NV never prompts you to save anything: changes are saved as you make them, and you can choose to sync with Simplenote every minute to make sure all of your notes are up to date. Note creation isn’t tied to any keyboard shortcut or on-screen button: the search bar up top doubles as the title bar for creating a new note, so all you have to do is enter a note name, press the return key, and start writing. If there’s already a note with a similar title or keyword within NV, you can just press the down arrow to select it, and press return to edit it. This multi-purpose search bar can take a little bit of getting used to, but I think it’s genius.

Evernote and, uhh, Evernote (Mac/PC clients, web app, iPhone app)
One of the great things about Evernote is that the same company is designing the mobile and desktop interfaces. There’s not much difference between the iPhone and desktop Evernote clients aside from the rich text editing capabilities available on the web app and desktop clients.
Free users see ads on the desktop apps (none on the iPhone) and are limited to 40MB of uploads per month. This is an upload limit per month – not an overall account limit, like on Gmail. If you’re just using Evernote for jotting down thoughts and quick iPhone pictures, then you’ll likely never hit that 40MB ceiling. However, if you turn out to be a real note-taking monstrosity, you can sign up for a Premium account and enjoy up to 500MB per month, as well as a few other extras (described here).

Simplenote and Notational Velocity: ultra fast searching, launching, and writing
I think Simplenote and Notational Velocity are fantastic for quick entry and quick searching. They can easily store hundreds – if not thousands – of notes, but Simplenote is a little limited by its search capabilities. Filtering notes is fast (results show up as you type), but it doesn’t seem to work with complex searches. I use a simple tagging system for JAiB drafts, and Simplenote won’t show me accurate results when I search for a tag and a keyword (i.e “GTA” and “-JAiB”).

I’ve been told by Simplenote that they’re possibly looking to add some form of metatags in a future version of the service, and I think this would be a real game changer, especially considering how Notational Velocity already supports file tagging. I’ve never been one to add tags to calendar events or tasks, but notes are often larger and more complicated than the former, and so tags are a huge help to me when I need to filter through my little black book.

Simplenote’s last, and perhaps least advertised strength, is its ubiquity — or, rather, the ubiquity of the data you store in Simplenote. Everything is stored as plain text, so you can copy and paste it into any program and preserve your paragraphs and basic formatting. That doesn’t sound like much, but I think that’s a really big deal.

Evernote strengths – a data omnivore; process and store anything
Evernote is a real beast when it comes to helping you organize huge stores of data. You can throw most anything into it: text, images, PDFs, and even files up to 25MB (when you have a Pro account). The service also features a robust set of metatags, optical character recognition for images and PDFs (pro only), and a very powerful search function that supports saved searches. Saved searches are fantastic as auto-filling sub-categories, similar to smart playlists in iTunes or smart albums in iPhoto. If that isn’t enough, Evernote can even filter notes via geo-location, file attachment, or the client (desktop or mobile) used to create said note.

The other big ol’ advantage that Evernote has is the robust set of clipping tools available on basically every desktop platform. Safari still arguably has the best clipping tool because it can create a perfectly preserved PDF replica of a webpage, but Firefox and Chrome have their own clippers as well. So not only does Evernote support a massive archive, but it provides free tools to help you fill your “external brain”.  Now there are other services that act as great “everything buckets”, but Evernote really stands out for me because it syncs beautifully with the cloud and also features an impressive iPhone app to help me take things on the go. The Evernote iPhone app is the service’s most advanced smartphone app, and it’s basically as powerful as the desktop version with the exception of rich text editing capability.

The only real downside to Evernote is the way that text pastes into other programs as a shapeless mass when you’ve edited a text note on the iPhone (more on this issue here). This is really only a problem for users who want to use Evernote as a syncing service for transferring bits of writing from computer to computer, or program to program. If you’re just using it for storage and you won’t be pasting info out of it, then this won’t be a problem.

Which one is for you?
I see Simplenote as a coat with a lot of pockets. It’s a simple endeavour to reach in with a quick word search and pull the relevant note out. However, Simplenote is really one of those services that you’ll have to get to know by feel if you’re to manage hundreds of notes without any metatags. In the same way that you know the specific shape and texture of your iPhone to tell it apart from all the other junk you keep in your pocket, Simplenote seems best for users who tend to remember the gist of what’s in their notebooks, but not necessarily the specifics (which is what that results-as-you-type search is for).
Evernote, then, is a trunk (tee hee, elephant) that you lug around with you everywhere. It’s got compartments and labels for everything under the sun, and even though you can use it for quick notes and thoughts, it feels like it’s designed for so much more. You can become an  information pack rat with Evernote and never really suffer for it because of the incredible power of the service’s searching and tagging features.

I’m going to stop writing…now
So that, in a rather large nutshell, is a breakdown of Simplenote and Evernote as I see them. You can try out either service on the desktop and your iPhone without paying a cent, and you can even keep using them for the foreseeable future for free – although it’s quite likely that you’ll end up paying for one of them if you fall in love with the service.
If you’ve got any extra thoughts about these two note-taking services, please feel free to share them in the comments.

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