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UpNote Review

I have been using todo lists and taking notes of some sort for a long time, since the primitive days of Notepad, all the way up to today with modern tools such as OneNote, Todoist, Notion, etc.

For a while I was hooked on the Goolge suite - Google Docs and Google Keep. It worked, but I found it a bit messy for keeping notes and keeping track of tasks.

I’ve been on and off with using Todoist, but have been making very good use of it in the last few years, there are so many times it’s helped me remember things and helped me keep track of things to do, where other tools would not have been as good, or without these tools altogether, I would struggle.

So, personal task management is pretty sorted, with Todoist. But, as for keeping longer notes, I have had a much less straight-forward experience..

As said, I started with Google Docs and Google Keep. Which were ok, but not really well suited for keeping a “notebook” of sorts where I might want to group several notes together in categories. For example my projects, some recipes, and notes on work clients.

Then I stumbled across OneNote for Windows 10. I quickly “fell in love” with it for a lack of better terms. It really sold me on it, as well as using Windows as my main OS, just to have such an excellent user experience on my PC. The user experience of OneNote is the best of all note-taking apps, I will explain more as why, but basically it just has a very polished UI, well thought-out layout, touch and stylus friendly, and it’s also free! Probably one of the best free programs out there in my opinion. It compares with Evernote, which costs a bit.

But I am writing this review mainly from UpNote.. So the tables have turned!

I really enjoyed OneNote, but started to look for alternatives, mainly because I kept hearing about the alternatives, plus I had some reasons to want to leave OneNote. Those reasons were:

  • No way to export all notes (turned out there was but not in the desktop app, the web app.. I later found this out after switching to another note taking app)
  • No way to export notes to MS Word document, or quickly to PDF
  • Web clipping is horrendously slow..
  • No native Linux client (I still use Linux sometimes..)
  • A very big one - no way to copy and paste code snippets with syntax highlighting

So I ultimately moved on to Notion for a while, with a Markdown-based WYSIWG editor, that is kind of like a personal wiki/database. Which was okay, but I found it to have a finnicky small UI, plus lots of unnecessary features, where OneNote had better UI and more relevant features (except code snippets). So I then moved on to Joplin for a fair while. Joplin is open source and has a Linux client which was very satisfying to know. It’s UI reminded me a little of OneNote, but with better sub-notebook layout. You can have notebooks within notebooks within notebooks, etc etc. Which was ideal for some of my use cases. OneNote is not quite as flexible. It served me fairly well, but every now and then I fired up OneNote and was reminded of the far, far superior user interface which was a joy to use in comparison. I feel that for productivity and lifestyle apps/programs, user interface design is paramount to the success of the app. And well, OneNote is king.

But then, out of the blue, I discovered UpNote! I saw a Tweet from OMGUbuntu, that said that UpNote was now available for Linux. I keep up to date with Linux news, and this was interesting. I hadn’t heard of UpNote.. Even though I had been on the hunt for note taking apps for a while. So I gave it a try and explored all of it’s features. I quickly discovered that it was not only much better than Joplin, but was still better than OneNote for me, as I needed that code snippet support, which UpNote has..

I wrote down a comparison of features, UpNote vs Joplin:

UpNote

  • Code snippets - using tilda but does not handle copy and past that well
  • WYSIWYG editor like Notion!
  • OneNote style layout
  • Clean and usable like OneNote (and better desktop app than Notion)
  • Nested notebooks like Joplin
  • Tables (paid, inc. Windows/Linux)
  • Instant sync test (fairly fast - ~5s)
  • Rich text editor which is as good as HTML embedding
  • Web clipper (basic - could be better, but works ok - very fast)
  • Note export to markdown, html, PDF
  • Export all notes
  • Notebooks can be manually arranged
  • Native text colour
  • Does have tags, and pinning, quick access
  • Proprietary but has free option and cheap price for premium features
  • Notes search
  • Todo lists get prioritised up top
  • Stylus/drawing input!! (for iOS at least - but not Windows)
  • Touch screen support on Windows mixed - works on notes but not well on list of notes, though Windows app feels touch friendly..
  • Syntax highlighting for spelling errors
  • Photo preview in note on list of notes
  • No collaboration (unlike OneNote and Notion)
  • No web interface for sharing public notes easily (onlike OneNote and Notion) - but planned?

10 good, 10 neutral, 3 bad

Overall

A lot like Joplin crossed with OneNote and has lots of much wanted improvements over Joplin.

Costs a little but much worth it.

Still not as good as OneNote imo - but OneNote does not have code snippet support! So it can’t be used for my work.

I think if I switch to this, I will get back to enjoying note taking, like I did with OneNote. Joplin has kinda been a functional and necessary note dump app, very utilitarian, but not very elegant and particularly enjoyable. This is just as functional and necessary, but also looks fairly enjoyable, woo!

Shame about the lack of stylus support and poor touch screen support on Windwos, but that seems to be the standard affair on electron apps on Windows :( Again, OneNote is far superior here. Electron apps feel like a hate-crime on my Surface Go. But, still a better option than OneNote for my work-related purposes..

Joplin

  • Code snippets - using markdown tilda keys
  • Markdown editor and slightly dodgy WYSIWYG editor that sometimes breaks markdown
  • Similar to OneNote but more compact
  • Alright interface but not amazing
  • Nested notebooks
  • Tables (free)
  • Slower filesystem sync to Nextcloud (but free) - manually press control-s to sync
  • HTML embedding
  • Web clipper (good, html)
  • Note export to markdown, html, PDF
  • Export all notes
  • Notebooks are sorted alphabetically (so I use numbers to arrange them - an ugly hack)
  • No text colour unless using tricky HTML
  • Tags! but no quick access or pinning
  • Free and open source!
  • Notes search
  • Has todo lists, but does not have quick access to them
  • No stylus input
  • Touch screen support works, but not really designed for touch
  • No syntax highlighting - have to be a good speller
  • Very basic notes list, no preview of any kind in notes list
  • Theme-able, but no really good themes..
  • No collaboration (unlike OneNote and Notion)
  • No web interface for sharing public notes easily (onlike OneNote and Notion)

3 good, 11 neutral, 10 bad

Overall

Not bad as a free/OSS option, but the other proprietary options just excel in many ways. Notion is ok but I find it just as awkward to use as Joplin so I may as well use Joplin. But now I’ve seen this app (UpNote) it’s like Joplin but better in a lot of ways, including usability, where Notion does not have that strength quite as much.

Sad to likely move away from FOSS but I think the advantages in this app will lead to better note keeping and better “quality of life” for me which is why I liked OneNote.. Which I can no longer use.

So as you can see, UpNote smashes Joplin in comparison. 

A few things I really like about UpNote:

  • Great editor - Text with colour!
  • Pretty good UI
  • Fast so sync notes
  • Very quick web clipper (especially compared to OneNote..)
  • Stylus support for pen notes! (on iOS) Wow!
  • Syntax highlighting

A few things I dislike about Joplin:

  • Horrendously slow to sync, plus you have to press Control+S if you want to sync faster.. This isn’t 1995.
  • No colour text in Markdown
  • The WYSIWYG editor is broken. It will corrupt Markdown occasionally. It should be fixed and the default editor. Instead, most of the time I write notes in split view, which is a fair waste of screen real-estate..
  • No way to view notes on the web (easily) - I hear this feature is coming in UpNote

So yeah, technically UpNote is the note taking app I should be using, as it does the most things I need a note taking app to do. Including Linux support! Which is fantastic. I have paid for it, but it’s very cheap. Cheaper than Evernote, Standard Notes, and a Microsoft 365 subscription. A very good deal.

My main complaints still, about UpNote are,

  • It could have a better UI. It feels a little cheap and crude, but still better than Joplin overall.
  • It needs a lot more default notebook images to choose from (or more relevant ones)
  • Better touch screen support in Windows 10/11 would be nice for Surface Gos/Pros/etc - this definitely works for OneNote
  • And in addition to above, stylus support for Windows, to compete with OneNote, that’d be epic, give Microsoft a run for their money..
  • Some way to share notes easily, or even collaborate, like in OneNote would be nice, but not essential for me.
  • Copying and pasting Markdown doesn't automatically format it in the editor which means quite a lot of editing to fix things, annoying copying notes from Joplin..

But really, all that OneNote needs to do to win me back completely is to add code snippet support. Then I’d be back on-board 100%. In the mean time, UpNote is my main note taking app for the foreseeable future. And it’s alright.

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