A long time ago I used Google Notebook for managing all my notes. It was perfect for my needs. It had rich text, managed folders, multiple notes, blah blah blah. About the time Google released Docs they announced Notebook would be discontinued. I guess they felt there was overlap in the services, who knows. While similar, they are distinctly different. Docs is meant to be an online Office suite and it fills that role nicely enough, but it doesn’t manage notes (documents) into notebooks (folders) very well. Docs != (not equal) Notebook.
The let you keep Notebook for some time but you couldn’t use it if you didn’t already have Notebook service. At any rate there would be no more improvements to it. So I chose to migrate away. You can’t use it all now: Google Notebook FAQ.
I’ve tried a number of different solutions over the last few years, but none have felt quite like Google Notebook did. Evernote is close, very close, but not quite the same. I ended up migrating to Evernote after trying a couple of other solutions, including Simplenote and Microsoft OneNote. Simplenote did not have folders, only tags, but did manage notes fairly well. Simplenote also fell short in the way it implemented rich text markup. OneNote had all the features I need, but I don’t like the desktop application – at all. I still use OneNote at work and only to store material that cannot be stored anywhere else due to policy, but that’s it – no sync anywhere. I still dislike its interface.
Over time Evernote has grown a lot through company acquisitions and feature enhancements. With that growth it has become slower and bulkier. Their iPad application is a giant poo fest as well.
A few months ago I discovered Catch. It’s a note application that is geared toward efficient use on mobile devices (ie: not the desktop or web). They have a decent web front end with only a couple of minor annoyances, but overall it’s a pretty slick service.
The iPhone and iPad apps are very nice and intuitive as well.
The iPhone Spaces menu:
Browsing notes within a space on iPhone:
The function menu on iPhone. Add reminder, picture, note, voice memo, or checklist (which is implemented well).
I replicated all my notes to Catch and decided to use it for a while and see if it fulfilled my needs. So far, so good. In place of notebooks you get spaces. With the free version you’re alloted so many with the ability to “earn” more via referrals. You can also buy more.
What I really like:
- Nice interface on all platforms (web, iPhone, iPad). Pleasing to use and look at.
- Speed. It’s faster than Evernote, especially the web version.
- Search. It’s good and simple. It’s on par with Evernote thanks to their use of tags.
- Color Coding of spaces. I set colors based on type of topic which makes it easier to find things.
- Sharing and collaboration of notes.
The only real complaints I have are:
- Web interface locks the width of notes to a pre-set size. Making your window wider wont help you.
- There is no ability to mark text up richly (ie: bold, italics, bullets, etc). Clever use of CAPS and symbols (-, *, etc) helps but really isn’t a substitute.
- Note names are taken from the first line of the note. For me, I find myself setting the first line into text that breaks into two sections (section – subject). See my usage notes below.
What would I like to see, aside from the above three complaints:
- Sub-spaces. This would enable the division of a notebook into sections of related notes. The tagging system coupled with clever note naming mitigates this to some extent, but it would still be nice.
- Ability to paste images into a note. Not huge, but would be nice on those occasions when a picture is worth a thousand words.
Here are some usage notes that make working in Catch efficient:
- As mentioned above, setting the first line of a note into two sections to form the name. Example: “ITM6 Info – Port Usage” where this note is in the space “IBM/Tivoli”.
- Proper use of tags. For the note in the example above I set tags to make finding it easy: ITM6, Ports.
Now when I want to find it I can open tag search then:
a) Select ITM6 and browse the names until I see “ITM6 Info – Port Usage”.b) Select Ports and browse the names until I see “ITM6 Info – Port Usage”.
I will likely continue to use it because the mobile application interfaces are so stellar. But I will probably still be looking for that perfect “Google Notebook” as a low priority.