I was affected by the Great October 2020 Evernote Disaster. The rollout of Mac Scrivener 3.2 (which quickly became 3.2.1, and the numbers are still spinning) didn’t help. To top it off, my poor Macbook Air 11 is in intensive care (surgery for its failed battery is scheduled at an Apple Genius Bar next week.)
Nonetheless I managed to chug through 5 chapters. Onward!
Nimbus Note is a serious competitor to Evernote, particularly the latest (as of 21 November 2020) versions of Evernote’s clients. It is faster, and has 90-95% of Evernote’s feature set available. However, it does not possess nearly as many integrations as Evernote, neither to web apps nor to Mac/iOS apps. If a stand-alone note database works for you, Nimbus may be your Evernote replacement. If you depend heavily on Evernote’s many integrations, however, you may need to search further.
Feature Comparison between Nimbus Notes and Evernote:
(Reference: Nimbus v. Evernote Comparison on the Nimbus website, as well as Compare Plans, from the Evernote site. I’ve left off business plans and free plans—the free plans are closely comparable, save Nimbus has no device limits, preferring to limit the total number of notes in its free plan. So this table compares individual paid plans—apples to apples, as it were.)
Executive Summary: Nimbus has clearly built its feature set around competing with Evernote. Its table has an exhaustive list of tiny features which it has but Evernote does not, but unaccountably misses some features Evernote has that it lacks. (I’ve dropped a vast number of lines from the table that simply said Evernote-Y, Nimbus-Y.) Here are the high points:
Nimbus doesn’t support handwriting indexing. This is a bummer for me, but Evernote’s handwriting indexing is hardly of any use if I can’t use Evernote.
Nimbus does not yet support PDF annotation. Of course, that’s why you have Evernote Skitch…
Nimbus has more restrictive upload/traffic limits than Evernote, but then it’s also cheaper.
Nimbus has more table support than Evernote, and table-based database capabilities which Evernote lacks.
Nimbus “folders” are equivalent to Evernote “notebooks.” Nimbus can nest folders, but Evernote can’t nest notebooks.
If you want to share a thing that was a notebook in Evernote without sharing your entire database, you’ll have to put it into a separate workspace in Nimbus.
“Nimbus Capture” is a browser-based technology. At least on Mac, the equivalent is “Evernote Helper” which is accessed via the menu bar. Evernote Helper is easier to access, but is more limited in what it can capture.
Nimbus can embed video in a note, which Evernote can do only by attachment.
In general, even at the individual paid level, Nimbus is more oriented towards collaboration than Evernote. Collaboration features that in Evernote are reserved to Business accounts are available in the Nimbus Pro Plan.
The editor differences boil down to “Nimbus has block editing and Evernote doesn’t.” This is no longer true with the new Evernote clients, but since those clients are unusable as of this writing, who cares?
I find the web clipper browser extensions comparable, despite Nimbus’s bragging about how theirs are better.
The “Sharing and Security” differences add up to some of those collaboration features I mentioned above.
Nimbus’s table to the contrary, Evernote has many key integrations in the Apple and Web universes that Nimbus simply lacks.
Nimbus supports several education privacy compliance standards that Evernote evidently does not.
Okay, Evernote lost its widgets and Watch app with the update. But if you haven’t updated, these features are still in Evernote. They might return to the new clients! And Nisus doesn’t have them at all. ↩
Nimbus will embed a lot of file types that Evernote will add as note attachments. ↩
Nisus doesn’t support handwriting recognition and indexing, which Evernote does. ↩
I wrote about considering Nimbus Note as an Evernote (EN) replacement in my last post, and you’ll get the detailed review I promised in my next post. I gave it a thorough trial, but I didn’t neglect to test other possibilities. I tested Ulysses, OneNote, and Bear as well. Somewhat to my own surprise, I’ve settled on Bear.
As an ADHD non-student adult, I have some different needs for a notes app.
My primary need in a notes app is not writing-related. As long as typing doesn’t suck, I’m fine. But everything—everything—goes into my notes. Research. Project planning. Grocery lists. I take photos. I scan documents. I clip from the web. I use Siri dictation. I handwrite and scan the images. I seldom actually type a note. In short, I need a lot of different ways to get information in, plus fast, legible retrieval.
I’m poor at categorising. I use big obvious buckets—”Recipes” “Writing” “Everything else”—yet sometimes I still miscategorise (I found a chapter outline in my Recipes folder yesterday.) Search needs to “just find it,” fast, no matter where I put it.
I have vast amounts of data—2,200 notes and counting, a total of about 2.5 Gb.
I need it all the time.
With these priorities in mind, here’s how the candidates stacked up:
Nimbus Notes: Web, Mac, PC, Android, iOS. This is the one I ought to have liked best, based on my research prior to testing. Its editor is not bad for a block editor. And it was fast (or faster than EN is now—a pretty low bar). Its price point was apparently lower than Evernote. Nonetheless,
Its pricing is based on total traffic rather than simply on upload traffic. With 2.5 Gb data and three devices to sync, I blew through 5 Gb of traffic fast.
Several of my transferred notes clipped from Wikipedia were illegible, with images overlapping text. I don’t have time to pretty it up just so as to read my research.
Getting stuff into Nimbus Notes was a pain. Its client apps are just not well-integrated into either the Apple universe or the Web app universe. I could have dealt with one, but not both.
OneNote: Web, Mac, PC, Android, iOS, and probably others. I gave it a go. It does have handwriting indexing, after all.
It connects well, but only to the Microsoft universe. I visit Microsoft Universe as little as I can.
OMG, its editor sucks! You tap or click accidentally in the middle of the page, and you start typing right there. This is the crap I left Microsoft Word about. Not an editor for someone who prefers Markdown.
Complex Web clippings were also not legible.
It’s very hierarchical. My system of big buckets with minimal differentiation would be hard to implement there.
Ulysses: Mac, iOS. I already pay for a subscription, and it’s often mentioned in note apps lists. It will use Dropbox, to which I also subscribe. I love its writing environment. But…
Ulysses is very writing-focused. Getting anything other than writing into it is a pain.
It’s pretty darn hierarchical, for all its tag system.
It’s less well connected to the Apple universe than you’d think. In particular, it has no Shortcuts actions pre-supplied.
Bear (Mac, iOS):
I didn’t want to like it because it uses iCloud sync, which I despise. Yes, I’m an Apple customer and was an Apple developer off and on for 25 years and I loathe iCloud. There, I said it. Not sorry.
Yet, Bear uses a real database back-end. Wow! The Bear folks don’t try to roll their own. Further, they don’t try to hide their technology from the Unwashed Masses. Already I’m impressed.
Its editor… is nicer in some ways than Ulysses’ editor, mostly because it sticks closer to Markdown. It could be a bit more flexible about colour and font, but overall a B+.
All my old notes are perfectly legible (even though tables I use a lot will get some cleanup.)
Its tag system is more flexible and less hierarchical than even Evernote’s.
Retrieval is fast and accurate. It slows down some on my iPhone, but that’s understandable with 3 Gb of data to troll through.
It’s well connected to the Apple universe. I’ve had no problem getting stuff in.
Is Bear perfect for me? No. Nothing’s perfect. Old Working Evernote would be closer (because I’ve spent 7 years leveraging it) but I’m not likely to get it. Given that, Here’s my Bear wish list:
An alternate cloud service, either their own or Dropbox. Probably not practical, but if iCloud stops working (as it did last year for a few weeks when Catalina was released) there’s nothing the folks at Bear can do about it except try to keep the customers calm and wait for Apple to… uh, stop being distracted and fix it.
Search inside images and PDFs.
iOS search inside notes. My web clippings are often l-o-n-g. Mac Bear does this already.
Connection to web automation services like IFTTT and Zapier.
Just a smidgen of collaboration. The ability to share a single tag with one other person would do.
What is this obsession with block editors recently?
Everybody and their sibling is rolling out a block editor with great fanfare. They slice, they dice, they make julienne fries…
They deny the concept of plain text, nor do they use OS-level rich text support, so they’re slow. (Nimbus Note concedes the possibility of plain text, but puts it in a code block. Seriously.) They purport to be rich text but severely limit the options of rich text, which doesn’t seem to make them any faster. You can move blocks around by dragging, which… what? Saves you the step of selecting before dragging? And like any modern rich text system I’m familiar with, the formatting codes (Which are there behind the scenes. Believe me.) are hidden, making it difficult to control what formatting I want to use.
I’m sorry. Give me Markdown in whatever flavour instead.
What did they do—again? They completely re-wrote an app that was working fine and made it unusable, while losing features.
When did they do it before? Their handwriting note app, Penultimate, was re-written in 2014, rendering it almost unusable and losing some functionality permanently.
… And what have they done now? In October, they released completely rewritten versions of their primary Evernote client app for every supported platform (see Unlocking Evernote’s Future.)
iOS is unusable. It takes 20 minutes to display a (large) plain-text note. Mac is unusable. I can’t select more than 50 notes at a time (I have a database of 2200+ notes. No more than 50? Really?) The iOS version no longer has a widget. The iOS version also lost its Watch app. (Full disclosure: I don’t own an Apple Watch. But if I did, I’d be furious.)
If the history of Penultimate is any guide, the apps will actually be usable by about April 2021. But it may take longer. I can’t do without my writing research, my personal notes, my brain that long. And some functionality may never return.
So I’m moving on. Enter Nimbus Notes. It’s fast. It has many of (old) Evernote’s features. It’s half the annual subscription price. It can import notes from Evernote, if you export them in .enex format.
The problem is that exporting Evernote notes in .enex format only happens in the Mac/PC Evernote apps. And at 50 notes at a time, exporting would take forever (see above.)
So I uninstalled the New Broken Mac Evernote, and went back through my Time Machine backups (you do use Time Machine on your Mac, don’t you?) and restored Old Working Mac Evernote. I’ve exported my notes, and will be building my Nimbus Notes database today. Expect a Nimbus Notes review soon.
I read your post about using the adonit pixel with an ipad 6th gen!
I’d like to buy this gen ipad for notetaking @ school. You mentioned this pair worked fine (despite not being listed on adonit’s site as a compatible apple device)
I was wondering if you could describe what it likes to actually write notes on a notetaking app? it would help a lot with making my decision on whether or not to just chuck my pixel for the apple pencil.
First, my disclaimer: I’ve never actually used my iPad for note-taking in class, nor do I use anything else. I’m the world’s worst classroom note-taker. I survived my university experiences by borrowing others’ notes, reading classroom handouts, or by reading the text. Just reading, not taking notes. Occasionally, I’d use Post-its to mark important passages. My ADHD makes it difficult to learn from listening; if I try to actually take notes at the same time the result is that I learn nothing. My primary learning modes are reading and hands-on. I will make notes during hands-on exercises, though.
So given that my experience is 95% based on creating background notes for my novels, any note-taking app will work with the Adonit Pixel; turn it on and it will act like a plain capacitative stylus, or your finger. The problem is that if you want to be able to use its pressure-sensitive and palm-rejecting capabilities, you’ll need to use a note-taking app that supports those. Adonit have a list of apps that support these features with the Pixel on this page.
What’s more important, in my opinion, is choosing a note-taking app that works well with your method of note-taking. If your system works well with, say, Apple Notes, then use Apple Notes. Same for Notability, Goodnotes, or my personal favourite, NoteShelf. There are many others to choose among. I chose NoteShelf for its flexibility and its superior integration with Evernote, but Evernote integration may not be important to you. If the note-taking app which works best for you doesn’t support the Pixel’s pressure sensitivity and this is important to you, by all means go get an Apple Pencil.
Bullet journalling is a popular concept now. Be creative with your personal information system! Free yourself from the tyranny of electronics! My ADHD brain said, “Oooh! Something new and shiny!” So I bought myself a beautiful journal and expensive pens, and started in.
Fortunately, the experiment didn’t last too long.
Bullet journalling works on the same principles as the old Franklin-Covey paper system I was taught in the 80’s—and the principles have probably been around a lot longer than that. Write things down on they day they happen, or are supposed to happen. Write an index for them every month. Refer back to related things as you write. They work for many people—but not for me.
Paper doesn’t beep, you see.
Paper is cool, it’s sensuous, and I can spend lots of time and money finding just the right journal and the perfect set of pens for my stuff. I’d love to handwrite all my organisational notes free-form on paper, but… I have to have an alarm set to remind me to update them or look at them. And I can’t find things that I need as reference, because I can’t remember what category I filed them under or when they happened, so I have to search all the index pages, and then all the other pages, too. I can scan them into Evernote to make them searchable, which begs the question: Why bother with paper at all?
If I want the benefits of handwriting and a free-form personal info system (with elaborately decorated F-bombs in) I can use an electronic free-form notetaking app such as my favourite, Noteshelf, which is searchable online (when connected to Evernote) and can be tied in to various automatic cattle-prod-zap systems I’ve already set up so as I won’t neglect it. And Evernote’s search functions mean that I don’t ever have to try to write indexes, or try to find something via a handwritten index. (Yuck.) Seriously, categorisation is difficult for me, as it is for many with ADHD. Remembering when something happened is also difficult. The beauty of Evernote is that I can search by anything I remember about a note, without having to wonder what category I put it in, what tags I stuck on it, or when I added it. (I found some writing notes under “Recipes” recently. No, they weren’t about food. I don’t know how they got there.)
I do better with creating a structure that’s both external and automated, so that once I decide to do a thing and get it into my system, it periodically punches me in the face. Eventually, it will get done, or I decide not do to it, and delete it. Meanwhile I have rewards (via Habitica) and punishments (via Beeminder) built-in to help me keep on track.
So no, no elaborate paper tracking systems for me—at least not until they make paper that beeps.
Of course, GTD itself is just a discipline for gathering stuff to do, prioritising stuff to do, and getting it done in decent order. Implementation method is optional—and I’ve gone through several iterations (as shown above) on how to make it work for me.
My problem with my implementation up until this week was that I’d stopped using it. I was using automation to stuff everything into Trello, using it as my collector. But I’d stopped looking there on a regular basis, and had started using Habitica’s To-dos as my collection point—not by intentional design, but by, well, laziness.
Habitica has many virtues. Being a collector for possible things to do is not one of them. The least productive (things that I should just decide Not To Do), the hardest (high-value things to do that need to be broken down more), and medium value but non-urgent things to do all end up at the bottom of my Habitica list, getting redder and redder, their experience points getting higher, and breaking the game by providing experience points, gold, and mana all out of proportion to their true value if and when I finally get them done. I find this horribly demotivating in terms of getting the high-value items (like finishing my novel draft or making an appointment for a physical) done in a timely fashion.
I’m not the only Habitican who’s noticed this problem—and the Habitica developers are considering several different approaches to making this more motivating for prompt attention to to-dos and working better with outside to-do systems. In the meantime…
I’ve cut out the middleman. In order to do my weekly GTD review, I once had to open Trello, and open Google Calendar, and consider where to put my Trello cards on the calendar once I’d decided to do them this week. I then had a rather elaborate and failure-prone protocol for putting the lucky Trello cards into a special column so that Zapier would automatically place them on the Google calendar on the chosen day. Then I had another Zapier automation which would stuff them into Habitica just before they were due.
Now I collect things to do on my calendar. I actually have four calendars in my Google account—one for real, timed “Appointments,” one for “Scheduled” to-dos , one for raw, “Unprocessed” to-dos, and one for “Processed”, prioritised to-dos that have not been scheduled (this is also where I put time blocks so I’m sure to leave enough time for writing and exercise.)
Note that I don’t use the Google Tasks thing. They show up off to one side. I need to see my things-to-do stacked up on the day I plan to do them, as in my illustration. The to-dos are the all-day items.
I’ve convinced IFTTT to dump raw to-dos from iOS Reminders and Evernote into that “Unprocessed” to-dos calendar and make them nominally due on the next Monday. On Monday I do my GTD review. I take anything undone from the last week, delete its to-do from Habitica and stuff its calendar item back into Processed and re-prioritise it. All the Unprocessed to-dos are either deleted or given a priority. Anything that is priority 3 or above is moved to an appropriate day in the “Scheduled” calendar. (I never put more than six items/appointments due on any one day, including writing and exercise—if I don’t have room for something, then either it or something else goes back into the Processed calendar.) I then move leftover Processed to-dos to the following Monday. Zapier then takes all the items added to Scheduled and stuffs them into Habitica at 00:01 am on their due dates.
This way, no to-do hangs around in Habitica for more than a week, growing more and more evil. Monday morning I don’t have to open both Trello and my calendar, because everything lives in my calendar now. Zapier doesn’t have to try to parse Trello cards and stuff them into the calendar, just stuff the scheduled calendar items into Habitica later.
Okay, I admit it. Programming all the automation is—dare I say it?—fun. And eliminating the Trello collection step makes it a lot simpler. So, onward to Getting Things (like more writing) Done.
You’ve installed Scrivener for iOS—and you decide to make use of Scrivener’s research facilities. You’ve found a web page in Safari that has exactly the information on 19th century animal control practices you’re looking for. You tap the export (share) button…
And don’t find Scrivener listed. What the heck?
The fact is that you can’t do this in desktop Scrivener either. For the most part, Scrivener has only ever been able to import a file that already exists as a separate thing. The web page you’re looking at isn’t a file, exactly; it’s a set of instructions on how to display information that lives in several different files at its web address, the URL.
“Nitpicky geek!” I hear you say. “What does that have to do with anything?”
On desktop Scrivener, you’d copy the information, and paste the (text) portion into a file in Scrivener. Or you’d copy the URL and then in Scrivener’s Research Folder “Add Web Page” to save the page as a .webarchive file, and then save that file in your project. Possibly, you’d print the page, and use the “Save PDF to Scrivener” option (I don’t know if that’s available on Windows, but it’s a common Mac dodge.) You might save the text to Scrivener’s Scratch Pad.
There is no way to print to a PDF on iOS, and iOS Safari doesn’t save .webarchive files. There’s no resource in iOS for other apps to use to create .webarchive files. Scrivener for iOS doesn’t have a Scratch Pad. You can still copy the (text part of the) information and paste it into a text file in Scrivener. But if you want to keep the formatting, images, etc. you’re going to need to take a separate step or two, and use some extra apps.
The most convenient way to stuff research into iOS Scrivener is by creating a PDF from a webpage. You’ll send the URL from Safari to an app that can translate the page, and save it in PDF form, and from there export it to Scrivener. There is even a benefit to the intermediate “create a PDF” step. At the point before adding the PDF to Scrivener, you can stop and edit or markup your PDF with any of several PDF editors. I personally don’t use any of these and so can’t recommend one, but you do have the option to add this step to your workflow.
The following three workarounds are available free, and result in a PDF that you can add to your research folder directly, or after markup if you so wish.
If you’re not a Dropbox hater, you may like my current favorite,
First, be sure you’ve installed the Dropbox app on your iOS device (the app isn’t necessary for Scrivener syncing, just a Dropbox account, but the app is needed for the rest of this research capture method.)
When you tap on that share button in Safari, select “Save to Dropbox.” (If you don’t see this, tap the “More” button on the bottom row of actions, and turn it on.) Select a folder on Dropbox. Any folder. It doesn’t have to be your sync folder; in fact, it’s better if it isn’t. I have a folder set up quite separate from my sync folder, named simply “Scratch Pad,” that I use for this. Dropbox will save a nice PDF, with a header including date and URL, and return you to Safari.
When you’ve finished your research, import the files into your Scrivener project from Dropbox by tapping the Import icon in the toolbar beneath the Binder.
You don’t have to open another app to get your research into Scrivener; just Safari, and Scrivener.
It’s academic-friendly. Your PDF will have a header with date and URL, needed for academic research.
If you’re using Dropbox to sync with, you already have a Dropbox account, so adding the Dropbox app to your device is the only prep you possibly need to do.
Well, it’s Dropbox. Some people don’t like Dropbox. De gustibus non est disputandem.
The iBooks Method
When you tap on that share button in Safari, select “Save PDF to iBooks.” The page will be saved, with a neat footer detailing the URL for the information and when you downloaded it (again, important for academic research.) Then go back to Safari and continue with your research, saving PDFs to iBooks as needed.
When your research session is done, go to iBooks and email each PDF to yourself. In Mail, open each attachment, and tap the Share button. Now, you should see “Copy to Scrivener” as an option. Tap it, and the PDF will be added to your open Scrivener project. If you like, you can now delete the original PDF from iBooks.
Always available on every iOS device
Capture includes date and URL
This interrupts your research by taking you to the iBooks app; you have to switch back to Safari.
Requires using two different apps besides Safari to get the document into Scrivener.
If you are an Evernote fan, have Evernote on your iOS device, and have both Evernote and Scrivener on your desktop machine, you may like
When you tap on that share button in Safari, select “Evernote.” Evernote will clip the page and save it to Evernote in its usual fashion. When you have access to your desktop machine again, print the note to “Save PDF to Scrivener.”
This method also captures date and URL.
The information is saved in Scrivener for use while writing, and in Evernote for other uses. If you’re an Evernote fan, it’s a plus.
The information is duplicated; if you mark up or add information to the document one place, you’ll have to remember to update it in the other as well.
It requires getting access to Scrivener on desktop or laptop, which may not be practical.
This used to be my favorite, BIS (Before iOS Scrivener), when my research had to go into Evernote in order to be available on iOS, but I’m re-thinking that now.
There are tens of little apps, free to cheap, whose purpose is to stuff things like web pages into PDFs. More pop up on the App Store all the time, like mushrooms after rain. It may be worth a dollar or two to you to avoid the iBooks hassle, if neither Dropbox nor Evernote is to your liking.
When choosing such an app, be sure it will show up in the Safari actions menu so that you can seamlessly save your finds. It also needs to support “Open in…” in order to get your PDF into Scrivener smoothly.
$0.99 USD. It’s just what it says. Turn this on in the bottom row of your Safari export options. When you choose it, you’ll be taken to the URL2PDF app, where you have a lot of options to format your PDF output to your taste. ( It does interrupt your research to go format the PDF, though.) Convert in the app. Export from URL2PDF to Scrivener (or your markup app.)
PDF Converter – Save Documents, Web Pages, Photos to PDF by Readdle
$3.99 USD. It has the capability to convert URLs and much else besides to PDFs. This extra flexibility comes at the price of no formatting options, unlike URL2PDF. Your research will NOT be dated and URL stamped inside the generated PDF.
Turn this on in the bottom row of your Safari export options. When you choose it, your page will convert; you’ll have a choice of returning to Safari or continuing to PDF Converter. Open PDF Converter to export to Scrivener (or your markup app.)
I have a regrettable tendency to over-complicate my productivity systems. Generally, this takes the form of adding new tools, in some cases better tools, to my system by “integrating” them, which means not abandoning superceded systems. Net result — I spend so much time updating my systems that I get nothing actually done unless I completely blow off said system. Sometimes, I dig into detail — so much detail that, as before, I spend a ridiculous amount of time maintaining the system, and get nothing actually productive done unless I abandon the system.
Take the UNESCO World Heritage site to the left, for example. I no longer remember which site, or even in which city it was (I’m reasonably sure it was in Germany, though) — at this point, a week or more into my river cruise of central Europe in 2014, I was so burned out on eighteenth century architecture that I didn’t even bother to take a photo of the interior. When you’ve seen one palace with every available surface decorated, painted, carved, or gilded, you’ve seen ’em all. (By the way, a lot of them were done by the same architect. Popular dude.)
My productivity systems are just about at that level of baroque-osity. Damn.
Right now, I am dying on the hill of my Google calendars. They exist primarily so that a) I don’t try to do everything at once, and b) stuff to do gets automatically fed to Trello. I do not need to tag every single thing in them as done, cancelled or whatever; that record exists in Trello. It possibly also exists in Evernote if the thing to do came in that way. But nonetheless, I mark them, and take a screenshot of my mostly-completed weekly calendar to put into Evernote, as if it were a Franklin Planner page.
But I no longer take notes on my calendar, not really. I type them directly in Evernote, or handwrite them in a Noteshelf notebook which is automatically uploaded to Evernote. In extremity I will scribble on a Post-it which gets photographed and uploaded to — you guessed it — Evernote. There they are all searchable by the date I uploaded them, the calendar item that was going at the time, the location I was in when I made them, any other tags I care to add, and the digitized, scanned, and interpreted content gleaned from the scrawled handwriting within.
I don’t NEED those weekly calendar screenshots, and in fact could dig back through my Google calendars if I needed to see them in a week-calendar format. But in thiry-plus years keeping the stupid things in various formats, I’ve had to dig back farther than last month maybe once or twice a year. I don’t need those screenshots; they are the last remnant of the Franklin Way, and I need to drop them.
Then, too, there are the charts I keep in the Hacker’s Diet Online. I am reluctant to stop updating them because of years of weight history charts (mostly up) and exercise charts (mostly blank.) But Beeminder will keep that data for me, automatically, and even spank me when I have a tantrum about watching what I eat and getting exercise in. I need to drop that rock, too.