Review: Simplenote for iOS 7


Ever since sometime in 2008, I've been a user and ardent fan of Evernote. Over the years, it's been the place where I've dumped just about everything I possibly can — interesting articles from the web, recipes, tutorials, project ideas, blog drafts, purchase receipts, shopping lists, inventories, gift ideas, bits of inspiration…the list goes on and on.

It was my Everything Bucket — my external brain. And for a while, it was a pretty good one.

Unfortunately though, things started getting a little out of hand with all the crap I was tossing in there, along with my (admittedly) overly-thorough tagging structure. My database became slower and more bloated all the time, because of stuff I never revisited and/or didn't even really care about to begin with.

It could've been more accurately described as a Garbage Bin than an Everything Bucket.

So, I've been breaking down my Evernote data into its core components, moving things elsewhere as needed:

  • Any blog posts, news articles, or bits of inspiration I want to revisit later are now saved in Pinboard. Rather than saving entire pages (images, stylesheets, and all), I just copy the quote or other portion of text that I feel best represents a given piece, and put that into each bookmark's description field. This way, I can easily peruse all the most important content right there from the main Pinboard page, in plain-text form.

    Since I've also upgraded my Pinboard account, all my bookmarks are completely and automatically cached offsite anyway, so it doesnt matter if any of them disappears from the internet.

  • My blog drafts now live as simple text files in a Dropbox folder I've labeled “Writing”. Any text editor worth its salt these days can hook into my Dropbox account, so my drafts are always available to me wherever I go.

  • Recipes will be moved to Basil on my iPad.

  • Evernote will continue to hold things such as receipts, tax information, instruction manual PDFs for the various household items we own, and any other important paper documents I could possibly scan into the app. It will be more of a Paperless File Cabinet than an Everything Bucket.

I say all of this to point out that I'm still in need of an app for all those little things I like to jot down from time to time — the grocery lists, the random ideas I want to capture quickly, and so on. I've used Drafts for such things in the past, and it certainly gets the job done, but it's also become more complex a tool than I really require anymore.

I just want something that helps me quickly get my thoughts out of my head, and maybe lets me organize my notes in a basic way. It should meet these three criteria and nothing more:

  1. It's fast.
  2. It's minimal.
  3. It's searchable.

Enter Simplenote. It's always been one of the more popular apps amongst my internet friends, and yet, for whatever reason I've never really given it a shot.1

This pattern actually might have continued unabated, had it not been for Shawn Blanc's recent post about the brand-spanking-new Simplenote apps for iOS 7. He finally sold me on the thing this time2, so I immediately downloaded it on my iPad and iPhone, then I set up an account for syncing purposes.

A few days and a dozen notes later, I'm already seeing what all the fuss was about.

With a Quickness

The first thing I notice when I open Simplenote is how blazingly fast it is. From cold-open to my notes list takes about two seconds, with note-sync taking maybe another second afterward.

Navigating around the app feels just as fast. Tap on a note, and *bam* it's instantly open.3 Swipe right on the notes list, and the sidebar immediately appears. Tap on one of your tags in that sidebar, and the notes under that tag show up with no noticeable delay.

Simplenote's search feature – something most people rave about in their own reviews – is also lightning-quick, I'm delighted to say. As I type, it begins narrowing down the search results in real-time, even as it highlights my search terms in each result.


As the name would suggest, Simplenote has a very…well, simple interface. The main screen looks like this with no notes:

Simplenote Main Screen - Empty

Not very complicated, is it? The only things visible are the sidebar button, the search field, and the 'add note' button. There's no pull-to-refresh even, since the sync service is running at all times and will push new data to your other device(s) instantly.

Now let's see what it looks like after a few notes have been created:

Simplenote Main Screen - Full

Still no shortage of white space here — as you can see, the only visible aspect of each note is its title.4 No ratings, no folder names, no locations, no other cruft to speak of.

When you create a new note by tapping the '+' symbol at the upper-right, you'll notice that there's not even a field for entering a title. That's because the first line of each note is considered the title, and will be displayed in a slightly larger font for you.

At the bottom of each note is the area where you may (optionally) tag the note. Just tap the 'Tag…' button, type in whatever you want, then press Return or the spacebar, which will save that tag and allow you to type a new one if you wish. If you begin typing the letters of any tags you've already created before, Simplenote will display them above the text field and you can just tap one to add it.


The Little Things

Despite its simplicity, Simplenote manages to delight in little ways. The animations used throughout are a perfect example.

As you navigate around the app – opening notes and closing them, tapping and cancelling the search field, etc – the words, icons, and menus whiz around the screen in a playful manner. These animations also give you a very real sense of where you are in the app and what exactly is happening as you interact with things on the screen.

While viewing a note, if you tap the little 'i' symbol at the upper right and then tap the 'History…' button in the menu that appears, the note fades into the background and a toolbar pops up at the bottom of the screen to show you a swipeable timeline of all revisions you've made to that note:

Simplenote History

As you slide the timeline left and right, you'll notice that the center selection area labeled 'Version' acts like a sort of magnifying glass. Items come into focus as they enter this zone, and fade out of focus as they exit.

Together, these kinds of whimsical little details really make the app come to life. The Simplenote team did a fantastic job.


Simplenote has become the perfect note-taking app for me. It allows me to very quickly and easily jot down whatever's in my head before I forget it, which is hugely invaluable to me. On top of that, finding anything I'm looking for from previous notes couldn't be easier. And of course, the app is minimal enough to stay out of my way, yet manages to be beautiful and playful in its own way.

There are other features I haven't gone into here, namely with the collaboration stuff, but Shawn covered those items very well in his recent post so you should go check that out.

The app is totally free, so if you're like my past self and you've not given Simplenote a chance yet, go pick it up from the App Store and give it a spin. I really think you'll dig it.

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  1. This seems to be a recurring pattern of mine — I don't know if it's stubbornness or what, but I'm often the slow one to adopt even the most popular apps. 

  2. He's been writing about Simplenote for years. See? I should've listened. 

  3. With Evernote, this alone could have taken several seconds. I know it sounds like a small amount of time, but it really adds up, especially in concert with all the other aspects of Evernote that lag by a second or two. 

  4. If this is a little too spartan for your taste, there is a setting – in fact, it's the only toggle in the entire app – that allows you to have an un-condensed note list, where each note shows the first two lines of the contents within. I prefer the condensed version myself, but your mileage may vary.