I'm a big fan of Google Keep. I use it every day, for so many things. However, there are times when Keep is just too much. The sheer amount of notes I've made can be a bit overwhelming and the nature of the layout requires me to make use of the filter/search system, thanks to the ridiculous amount of notes I've stored. When that occurs, I long for something simpler. Something without all the bells and whistles, so I can just get my work done. When I need that level of simplicity, but I still need to be able to keep my notes in sync with all of my devices, I turn to a little tool called Simplenote.
Simplenote works on Android, Linux, Mac, Kindle Fire, Windows, and from any browser. With it you can take simple notes (as the name would imply), share those notes, tag and search notes, make use of an ingenious version control system, set a PIN lock for the app, enable markdown for notes, and not pay a penny for the software.
The combination of simplicity and handy features makes Simplenote that one app I keep promising myself will someday take over from Google Keep. Once you start using Simplenote, you'll appreciate the focus on only the features you need and nothing more.
Let's install and use Simplenote.
My combination of usage is between Android and Elementary OS, so I'll focus on that. The first thing you must do is sign up for a free account. Once you've done that, download the installer for your platform. Since I'm installing on a debian-based Linux, I'll download the .deb file to my ~/Downloads directory and do the following:
- Open a terminal window
- Change to the Downloads directory with the command cd ~/Downloads
- Install the app with the command sudo dpkg -i simplenote-XXX.deb (Where XXX is the release number)
- Type your sudo password and hit Enter
- Allow the installation to complete
Once installed, you can launch the app from your desktop menu and then sign into your Simple Note account.
Installing on Android is even easier. Here's how:
- Open up the Google Play Store on your Android device
- Search for simplenote
- Locate and tap the entry for Simplenote by Automattic, Inc
- Tap Install
- Tap Accept
- Allow the installation to complete
Once installed, launch the app and login with your account.
As you might expect, Simplenote is incredibly simple to use. In fact, it is so easy to use, there's little point in walking you through the process of creating and editing a note. I will, however, show you two of the features that you might otherwise overlook (or not quite understand how to make use of). The first is the brilliant "version control" system found in Simplenote. It's not actually called a version control system. In fact, the only name I can find for the feature is Go Back In Time. That name is apropos.
With each note you'll see a small clock icon at the top of the window. When you tap that icon, a slider will appear at the bottom of the screen (Figure A). Drag the slider to the left to revert to any of the previous iterations of the note. Once you've found the version of the note to be restored, tap the RESTORE button.
Simplenote running on the fantastic OnePlus 3.
If you take a note back in time, fear not, the previous incarnation still exists. Just tap the clock icon and drag the slider back to go back to the future.
The next feature I want to illustrate is markdown. Markdown allows you to format your notes with things like: heading1, heading2, italics, bold, links, and lists. In order to use markdown on a note, you first must enable the markdown feature in Simplenote settings. To do this, follow these steps:
- Open the Simplenote desktop app
- Click File | Preferences
- Click the Writing tab
- Enable Markdown by clicking the slider (Figure B)
- Click Done
Enabling markdown for Simplenote.
You can now enable markdown on a per-note basis. By default, each note will not have markdown switched on. To take care of this, open up a note, tap the info icon at the top of the window (the "i" in a circle), and then tap the Enable markdown slider (Figure C).
Enabling markdown for a note.
Now that you've enabled markdown for a note, here's how you use it.
- For header 3, place ### before text
- For a link, surround the link text with [ ], followed by the link and surround the link with ( ) (Figure D).
- For a bullet list, start each list item with *
- For a number list, start each list item with a number
A markdown sample.
For a more detailed list on what you can do with markdown, check out this official Wordpress quick reference.
Once you've formatted your note with markdown, tap the Preview tab to see how it looks (Figure E).
Markdown in action.
So simple, it's easy
Beyond that, you shouldn't have any problem using this incredibly simple tool for keeping and syncing notes across all your platforms. After using Simplenote for a while, you might find its ease of use so appealing, you won't want to go back to the competition.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.