Notella: Compiling Your Notes Databases

I’m a huge notetaker on my iPhone. I find I often have too many notes that I’m taking, and I can’t always remember where one is stored. Between the stock Notes app, Simplenote, Evernote or even Dropbox, I’m often a little lost. And I don’t think I’m alone.

So I’m a little interested in apps that can compile all these document sources and make it easy for me to find what I’m looking for. This is exactly what Notella claims to do. Notella is a clever little app that manages your Evernote, Dropbox and Simplenote accounts from one little location, allowing you to search through them and edit or compose more notes. Read on for my thoughts on the app.

Setting Notella Up

The first time you open Notella, you’re going to be taken straight to a new note. I quickly typed something up. The app’s initial interface is interesting, and not unlike a typewriter in the sense that your cursor is always going to be centred on the screen. As you complete a line of text, the line moves up and you begin writing the next one. Byword has a similar function, but only in the Mac app.

This is Notella.

This is Notella.

Notella also doesn’t have a Back button, relying instead on swiping right from the left edge of the screen. This is a nice touch that fits right in with iOS 7. It’s a bit of a shame that there isn’t even a setting to display the Back button, because I could see that coming in handy.

You can set up all your accounts in the Settings.

You can set up all your accounts in the Settings.

Speaking of Settings, this is where you’re going to spend the first few minutes of the app. From here, you can log into Evernote, Simplenote and Dropbox. Unfortunately, there’s no integration with Notes.app, but I’m not sure there’s a way for Notella to get around Apple’s limitations with that. Setting up the other three accounts is easy.

When you're done, it should look something like this.

When you’re done, it should look something like this.

The Dropbox setup requires a little explanation, since the app deals primarily with plain text. You can give Notella root access, or you can create your own folder inside Dropbox/Apps/Notella. I elected to give Notella root access. Notella lists any folders without plain text documents as having zero notes, and searches only the content of text files. It’s a convenient and easy-to-use system.

The Interface

When you’re done setting the entire thing up, what you’re left with is a long list of folders for easy access to all your folders. Most of the time, this is easier than just launching the other app. Dropbox and Evernote, despite their many awards and accolades, are both still pretty slow services. This app is faster.

Simplenote is the only part of the app that might be faster to launch into without Notella.

Simplenote is the only part of the app that might be faster to launch into without Notella.

It’s not quite faster than simply launching Simplenote though, but Simplenote is plainly the exception here and not the majority.

The app also has an inbox for its own notes that are stored locally on your iPhone.

In Dropbox, Notella only displays plain text files.

In Dropbox, Notella only displays plain text files.

The interface strikes me as being somewhat similar to Mail. The folders are structured similarly to the way mail folders are structured in Mail.app, and Notella is using the same Back button. That being said, what I find slightly irritating is that the Back button is present at all. Why doesn’t the Folders interface work the same way as the note-taking interface does? There shouldn’t be a Back button in the file list unless there’s also a Back button in the notes themselves.

Also, it’s impossible to swipe to go back while browsing through notes and folders — another inconsistency. This isn’t make-or-break, but it’s a bad design choice.

Writing Notes

Gratefully, the app makes it easy to create new notes or folders wherever you are. It works just great when you’re storing documents locally, and Simplenote changes are quick and simple, as are Dropbox.

The search function works well.

The search function works well.

One of the things that I really like about the app is the support it has for Search. It’s quick and easy. Just pull down from any menu, search for your word and tap on whatever note you want to edit. It doesn’t just search tags and keywords, but it also searches the entirety of any note, which is insanely useful.

When you’re writing in the app, you’ll have the typewriter feature with the centred cursor unless you’ve turned that off. I really dislike that approach, so I turned it off in the Settings. You’ll also find that the writing experience is very customizable, with loads of fonts, colours and even page colours you can choose from. That’s a nice twist on the usual note-taking apps that are all vying for simplicity.

There are tons of customization options for your text.

There are tons of customization options for your text.

And for the most part, despite that additional functionality, adding or finding a note is really easy and fast. Editing the note doesn’t bring a lot of features — for instance, there are no Markdown previews — but it is easy for simple note taking. It’s hard to complain about it if that’s what you’re looking for.

This is more competition for Simplenote than it is for anything else, but the handy ability to change lots of the interface’s colour and easy search options for Dropbox and Evernote are appealing.

Evernote is sort of... Broken.

Evernote is sort of…broken.

On the topic of Evernote, I’m afraid I can’t recommend Notella for it. Notella doesn’t correctly parse the text, and it simply looks ridiculous. There’s only a few words displayed onscreen at a time in Notella, which is frustrating and ugly. I’m hoping this is just a fixable bug that can be squashed in a future update.

Final Thoughts

Notella is certainly far from perfect, but it’s another contender in the note marketplace that will be perfect for people who just need simple on-the-go note-taking. My mother would probably like the app, since she has no idea where her notes are and just wants an easy way to find them.

But tech geeks who are using Markdown all the time and already have a fairly sophisticated file hierarchy are going to feel like Notella is a missed opportunity. Its design isn’t always well thought-out (although its customization features are welcome), and its Evernote integration is simply broken. At the end of the day, Notella is a fine app, but it’s nothing to write home about.


Summary

Notella is a fine note-taking app for those who just need a quick way to access the majority of their notes, but it's nothing to write home about and its Evernote integration is broken.

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