Paper vs Penultimate

Commenting on Evernote’s acquisition of Penultimate, John Gruber says:

Penultimate is a great app, but I think it’s been eclipsed by Paper.

Having bought just about every note-taking app for the iPad, I have to say that Paper is not without its flaws.

  • It’s pretty useless without the full in-app purchase of around ten dollars, which makes it more expensive by quite some margin than the competition, though hardly a stretch given that most writers, myself included, won’t hesitate to shell out more for a Moleskine or three.
  • The performance leaves something to be desired, even on the new iPad, with initial strokes being missed or messed up.
  • It doesn’t work well at the edges. Try starting a stroke near the bottom and sliding up and the slide out tray keeps coming up. This means you get the illusion of a blank slate, but the behaviour of the pen is inconsistent across the whole page area.
  • The page turning that apes a BlackBerry PlayBook bezel gesture doesn’t always work, causing unwanted marks to appear.
  • The “rewind to undo” mechanic is flakey, when you don’t get this right, you leave a mark on the page, when you do, it’s not clear how much undo history you have and the granularity is tough to predict.
  • The orientation is forced to landscape. That makes it very hard to use without a stand. 
  • The centrefold is implicit, but sometimes, you really want it to be explicit to match up with the zoomed out view, just in case you are interested in writing on “both sides of the page”
  • Penultimate handwriting is always silky smooth. There is nothing more important than this, not even the admittedly beautifully thin strokes allowed by Paper.
  • Having to step out of the writing view to add pages to the end is a pain.
  • There are no templates. It would be nice to be able to write on lines.
  • There’s no image insertion, though I’m sure this will come at some point.

Paper tries to do things differently and follows the same minimalist school as Clear on the iPhone, but sometimes, this causes problems. With the IAP, Paper is a beautiful app and goes on the first page of my iPad, but Penultimate stays at position #1, at the top left.

Fitness Diary Comparison: Evernote vs Day One vs SImplenote

A few days ago I started keeping a “fitness” diary. This involves the entry of everything that goes into my body bar repeating medications. I recommend it for no other reason than it stops you reaching for that fourth Krispy Kreme because of the effort of updating your diary.

I’m keeping a Notebook in Evernote for this purpose, which also has proven useful in collating other information about improving my health in general. There’s only one problem with this approach, Evernote is slow. In fact, it’s unusably slow on an iPhone.

The iPhone, like most smartphones, is designed for reflexive, repetitive twitch use. So I pull it out of my pocket, fire up an app, do something and put the phone away. There is usually no time for waiting around. Evernote spends so much time synchronising that it’s pretty much a non-starter unless you’re sitting on a bus and have time to kill.

So I thought about using Day One, my favourite journalling app (which I use across iPad, iPhone and a couple of Macs of course) but the sync on that is flakey at best. I’ll make some updates at night on the Mac and the next day I’ll pull out the iPhone and iPad and despite syncing, they’re showing me two different versions of the file. Force-quitting and relaunching doesn’t help.

A less important issue on Day One is that Markdown formatting is supported on the iOS versions, but strangely, not on the Mac version, where I would find it most useful, but this is an issue that doesn’t have a bearing on my diary-entry problem.

Looks like I’ll have to stick with trusty old Simplenote, synced to Notational Velocity on the Mac. I recently paid for the Premium version of Simplenote and find it almost unbearably elegant. The only sync issues I’ve ever had with Simplenote stem from my desire to integrate my iA Writer documents with my Simplenote folders. Although the Premium version of Simplenote allows for Dropbox syncing, their site offers stern warnings against integration with other applications.

Once I’ve finished entering a day’s worth of data, I create a new note in Evernote and copy and paste. Not the neatest workflow, but a lot faster than using Evernote on the iPhone directly. The downside? Neither Evernote nor Simplenote display Markdown formatting, but I can live with that. The whole point of Markdown after all is that it doesn’t need to be displayed formatted.

In my ideal cloud, one folder on a server somewhere would hold my documents, which would be seamlessly mirrored to my connected devices, of which the Mac would be just one. Not long to wait for iCloud.