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A ramble about various note-taking applications

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Posted by Stephen Zeoli
Jun 12, 2023 at 05:09 PM


We live in a golden age of note-taking applications, which is to say we have way more than we need. If you’re anything like me the myriad choices sap my productivity through my undiscipline hopping from one app to another. To try to make some sense of this, and because there hasn’t been a posting on this forum in a while, I thought I’d throw out some of my half-baked impressions of the apps, presented here in no particular order.

Obsidian. A great app, but it gives me the heebee jeebies to put so much reliance in plug-in developers with no real motivation to keep developing/supporting them other than their good will. Local storage is nice.

Roam Research. Credited with creating the genre, though I’d give that crown to Connected Text. Still, Roam set a standard that people have been copying. Too expensive (though the rising cost of these apps has reduced that gap) and the developer is kind of an asshole, or so I’ve read.

Notion. This is one of the apps (along with Tana) that I would call a DIY app. By that I mean to get the most from it you really need to invest time and creative juice building your own system. I don’t have the patience (and perhaps not the brain power) to do this.

Tana. As mentioned above, Tana is a DIY app, To get the most from it, you need to build your own structures with its supertag feature.

Remnote. I’ve used Remnote and like it. My main hesitation about adopting it fully is that they put a lot of development effort into the student-centered features, which I have no need for. But Remnote offers offline access to your notes, which is a nice benefit.

Reflect. Probably the least feature-rich app on this list, which is likely the reason I find it offers the least friction for capturing details. But some features really are missed, such as the ability to focus on a single node. They did recently add the ability to drag and drop nodes around (long overdue, but welcome), so there is hope. They are also, supposedly, working on a task module.

Amplenote. Speaking of task module, Amplenote feels like the whole thing is a task module… and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just not the focus I want. And, I find the UI to be cluttered, as if I can’t see the trees because of the forest.

Capacities. I fee like Capacities straddles the line between the DIY apps and simpler apps, like Remnote or Reflect (and for the record, I’m not equating the Remnote to Reflect, the former being far more feature-rich). It’s a tempting choice for me, but I would really need to get used to its object-oriented approach, which doesn’t feel intuitive.

Walling. I’ve called Walling, Notion with training wheels. Like Notion, it allows you to put a lot of different types of resources on its walls (which would be pages in Notion). And it has built in options for structuring the walls, with sections and display options (boards, calendars, etc.). It is a very sophisticated app, but its UI is just too busy to make it intuitive for me.

xTiles. Kind of a Walling-lite. Very attractive though. xTiles feels more like a scrap book. But it is neither fish nor foul. That is, it doesn’t have enough features to be a project management option, nor a place to drop most of your notes.

Scrintal. Developing nicely—if slowly. Scrintal is a highly attractive app, a collection of white-boards on which to pin cards that connect through links. I have used Scrintal for thinking through and connecting ideas and information for some specific projects, but it doesn’t feel like the go to app for collecting all my notes. And it doesn’t do tasks yet.

Heptabase. While it feels a little less refined than Scrintal, Heptabase actually is more powerful. It does mind maps and allows you to label the visual links, so it can handle concept mapping. And it stores your files locally. Still, it doesn’t feel like it can be my go-to app for all my information.

This is probably a long enough list. I have ignored older apps like Evernote and TheBrain. Workflowy, Dynalist and Legend could have a place on this list, but they are generally outlining apps, so I’ve left them out too. I’ve undoubtedly missed other apps.

If you have thoughts on these apps, or if you have other apps you believe belong in this discussion, please talk about them. I welcome contrary views.

I am using Reflect as my main note taking app, and I’m relatively pleased with it and am hoping that it will grow.



Posted by NickG
Jun 12, 2023 at 06:57 PM


I’ll add Anytype - it’s just on the point of moving to an open beta. Like Notion, it needs investment to get the best from it. Its main selling point right now is that it’s E2E encrypted and will (later this year) allow for self-hosting.


Posted by Daly de Gagne
Jun 12, 2023 at 07:51 PM


I appreciate your list, but am curious why you did not mention Logseq - which is often referenced in the same breath as Obsidian or Roam. Thanks.



Posted by satis
Jun 12, 2023 at 07:51 PM


For open-source and free (though with pay versions available in the Mac and iOS app stores) there’s FSnotes


Apple Notes continues to be rock solid, cross-platform and with a web version, able to handle thousands (if not tens of thousands) of notes, and continues to be developed (new version coming this fall includes document linking).


Agenda continues to be a very nice, well-supported app, and I’ve been using it for some things. Dev participates in the Discourse forum. Price/performance is terriffic, as is its unique freemium pricing model.


As a hardcore outliner I want to use Logseq more than I do (which is barely). I prefer its design and plugin philosophy over Obsidian’s, and it is approaching version 1.0


If I want to bang out some text I’ll sometimes reach for BBEdit, which I’ve used literally for decades now.


But if I want to quickly work in Markdown I reach for MWeb Pro, which I picked up years ago for less than $5 (it’s now $20 on the Mac and $9 to unlock the nice iOS app).


My longform text processor and repository on macOS/iOS remains Ulysses, but I don’t use it for notes.



Posted by Stephen Zeoli
Jun 12, 2023 at 07:55 PM


I meant to say, but forgot, that I didn’t include Logseq because I haven’t tried it.

Daly de Gagne wrote:
I appreciate your list, but am curious why you did not mention Logseq -
>which is often referenced in the same breath as Obsidian or Roam.
> >Daly


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