Reviewing Notes Applications — Part 3: UpNote

UpNote is relatively new application to me. I think it has been around for a few years but is gaining traction. I first discovered about 6 months or so ago. I fell in love and it prompted me to write this review.

If you read this review, I think my love for this application comes across. Someone commented on that review that whilst they agreed with most of what I have said, in their view UpNote was not ‘there’ yet. After using it for 6 months or so, I am inclined to agree. In so many ways, this is the perfect notes app for me, and I do still love it. It is a work in progress and they are building the app’s feature base fairly consistently so I remain hopeful that some missing features are in the pipeline.

UpNote

UpNote at first glance will appear as if it is similar to Evernote 3 years ago. In fact, this similarity and the recent lack of updates to Evernote followed by a flurry updates taking the app in a different direction is probably the source of UpNote’s recent rise in prominence. It feels very similar with a few key differences to Evernote which, I believe make it a better straight and simple notes applications. Plus, there are some little touches, which whilst not really important, are actually quite beneficial for the experience of using the app.

Functional Criteria

As previously mentioned, a notes app has 4 basic functions, and against these we look to measure any contenders.

Capturing notes — getting stuff into it

Quick Capture

Currently UpNote is improving at this. On Android (sadly I don’t know about iOS) you can have a new note widget which means you can quickly create a new note from your home screen. This is a really good feature, though you cannot at present create a new note from within the fixed app bar at the bottom. On computers there is a global keyboard shortcut to create a new note. Previously, this switched to UpNote and created a new note which whilst fast, did interrupt your work flow. Now, it brings up a new note in a small box on your screen that you can type in and then dismiss so it’s much better. Overall, this is really good.

Web Clipper

This is middle of the pack at the moment. It does a good job of clipping text and links within pages and is lightning fast meaning it is very useable. However, you have to have UpNote installed for the web clipper to work. This meant it wouldn’t work on my ChromeOS Flex device. I would say that it is good, but needs a bit of work to bring it up to the standard of Evernote’s web clipper.

Other capture methods

The big downside of UpNote at present is that there is no way to get e-mails into it save copy and paste, with all the associated weaknesses of that. If you use a web based e-mail app, you can use the web clipper to save a link to the e-mail into UpNote, but that is about it. For me, at present, this missing feature is UpNote’s biggest weakness.

Editing and formatting — actually writing, formatting and laying things out

UpNote’s editor is currently a work in progress. Honestly, it is pretty good with better functions that Evernote, though some of the functions work better in Evernote. Let me explain. The code blocks in UpNote are much better than in Evernote, but the Tables are better in Evernote. The Table’s in UpNote are fine, as long as you don’t try to move information around in the table or from one table to another. It’s not easy to do and the only way to do it is cell by cell by selecting the contents and then copy and pasting. And then you lose all formatting. But UpNote has things like block quotes and collapsable sections, which Evernote doesn’t have.

The big plus point, I will elaborate on later but it is ease of linking to other notes and inline tags.

The big downside is that the editor feels like it needs some work to be polished. I plan to e-mail the developers or more detailed outline but the short version is that entering and formatting stuff is fine and works well but if you try to move anything, things can start to go wrong and be a bit difficult.

The other downside for me is the lack of columns in the editor meaning you have to use a table and as the tables suffer from a few foibles if you try to change what is in them, it can get a bit frustrating.

I like the editor a lot. I think it is probably the best of it’s kind with a few bugs to iron out. This being said, the editor in block based applications is probably better from my perspective.

Organisation — how things get sorted within the app

For me this is where UpNote excels. There are many ways to do this and a lot of flexibility, without being so flexible that you easily can get lost, or lose things.
You basic structure is the folder, but these can be nested, many layers deep and your notes can be in more than folder. This is really helpful as I have one or two notes that really benefit from being in more than one place. You then have inline tags written with a # that can be in the note title or the bidy of the note.
Notes can be linked using the [[ shortcut and using this, new notes can be created as well if the note doesn’t exist. The note also gets an ‘information panel that has back links and a list of tags used in the note.
For me, this is the big plus. There are many good options for organising things, but it has some boundaries meaning you don’t spend your life tinkering and losing things in the ‘aether’

Retrieval — finding things again down the line

Overall, finding things manually is pretty straightforward as the organisation is so good. The search is good too. It is not as powerful as Evernote but is better than Microsoft OneNote. It is useful but could do with a bit more work. You can save searches as well for future use.
You have a shortcut to search within the notebook you are in and then another to search all notes. Once you have searched, you can impose a filter but the options are quite limited (updated today, contain to-dos, not in a notebook, shared with others or containing a specific keyword) Though the keyword one can be used to find a specific tag, or notes that contain more than one specific tag, but at present I cannot find a way to filter by one tag OR another tag.
The search works. It does its job. But it needs more work to become as good as Evernote’s

Technical Criteria

In addition to the functionality of an application there are some key technical things of these applications that can be the making or the breaking of them.

Accessibility — where is it accessible and what limitiations are there on portable devices like phones etc

UpNote is available everywhere, save there is no web app. So, you can’t use it on Chrome OS Flex. Some Chromebooks let you install Linux apps and so I believe this will be available for some Chromebooks.

Privacy & Security — How secure is your data and are there any issues with privacy

UpNote has a fairly good privacy policy. You can use the application’s free version without an account, meaning all your notes are stored locally. If you have an account the data is synced to a firebase server in the USA and is encrypted in transit and at rest.

Speed of the application — load times for the application and notes etc, sync speed between devices

The application is lightning fast. Fast to open, fast to sync. So far, of all the apps I have used, UpNote is the fastes.

Offline support

I have never encountered any issues accessing any of my notes whilst offline. This is again, one of the best.

Export options — how easy is it to get data out of the app and in what format

Export from UpNote is one of the developers key priorities. So notes can be exported as plain text, markdown, html or pdf. You can do this for individual notes or any number of notes all at once. When exporting multiple notes, you can either export them as one single document, or separate documents for each note. This is a really strong point for the app.

Bugginess — are there any bugs or issues that are either frustrating or risky

The app is developing and so doesn’t feel as polished as some others. I have never encountered any bugs that I would consider risky, but there are a few that are frustrating. These are largely to do with the editor and things not moving well, copying and pasting in tables. None of these things tend to affect the basics, it’s more when you are doing stuff within some of the more complicated format options like tables and collapsible sections. It’s frustrating, but on the whole I am learning how to do what I want so I avoid these issues.

Conclusion

On the whole, as a notes application, I believe UpNote is the best and a lot of the updates that are coming are just making the app better and better. I have high hopes. With a lot of other apps wanting to become all-in-one productivity platforms, I am thankful there is an application that is working hard to be the best dedicated notes application it can be. I cannot bring myself to give it 9/10 due to the missing features and little bugs however.

To score the application — 8.5/10

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