iPad native productivity with Projectbook

Will Kelly reviews Projectbook, a new iPad productivity app that combines note taking and to-do lists.

Projectbook is a new iPad productivity app that combines note taking and task management. Theory IO Corporation is betting that iPad users will spend $6.99 (USD) for a powerful organization tool that isn't dependent on a Wi-Fi connection. After all, spotty Wi-Fi or cell signals make it hard to retrieve documents and other bits of information in the cloud.

Let's take a closer look at Projectbook, which I've been testing for a few weeks now.

Information capture with Projectbook

Projectbook makes some interesting design decisions with its information capture tools. The challenge remains for future versions to remain competitive with other apps that are cloud-based and multi-platform.

Emailing notes and tasks into Projectbook (Figure A) requires that you configure an email receiver with an IMAP cloud-based email account like Gmail that you must setup for Projectbook. Some security conscious enterprises may take issue with this feature. Figure A

After configuring the email receiver, you can intake email directly into Projectbook.
You must configure a web receiver, using your Instapaper (subscription version) or Pocket account (Figure B) to import web pages into Projectbook. Unfortunately, if you do a lot of online research and capture web pages, you'll find Projectbook lacking. In my experience, these third-party solutions are unreliable. The web receiver drags down an otherwise great first app release. Figure B

Projectbook uses Pocket or Instapaper to capture web pages.

Browser-based web clipping isn't promised until this fall. They're going to have to get it right, because apps like Evernote have web clipping down with browser add-ons like Evernote Clearly and the Evernote Web Clipper.

Of course, you can import Word and PDF documents from a Dropbox account directly into Projectbook. The feature is very clean, but PDFs take longer to upload than Word documents.

Note and document management

An early strong suit in Projectbook is notes management, especially if you use your iPad to capture ideas. The note-taking features are actually quite robust for an early app version. The design also gives you a feel that all of your notes are accessible in one place (Figure C), which -- at least for me, as an inveterate note taker -- is important. There are a variety of fonts, and you can mix it up in your notes with pictures, handwritten notes, and sketches. Figure C

Projectbook's note-taking tools make it a standout app.
Projectbook accepts handwriting input for note taking by using a zoom box that fits your text on each page. It was even able to understand my poor handwriting (Figure D). However, with styluses and iPad apps like Bamboo Paper and Penultimate that offer users a fuller screen for writing, the handwriting box might seem old school. All said though, the mixing of input methods is a nice feature, and it's something I look forward to seeing mature in future releases. Figure D

Projectbook supports sketching and handwriting.

The sketching tools are off to a good start. They are definitely usable if you include rough sketches with your notes like I do as a technical writer when meeting with programmers and engineers.

The outlining tools are easy to use, with drag-and-drop and options to use bullets or checkboxes. Most users will find this feature a low maintenance option for organizing notes.

Search and organization tools

Projectbook has some search and priority management tools. The Live search feature is fairly robust. It searched through both organized and unorganized notes I had in Projectbook with the help of key phrases.

The Keywords feature took me a while to get used to, and I'm sure it performs better when you have a large amount of data in Projectbook. You can even tap on keywords that Projectbook creates to bring up related notes.

Projectbook also lets you organize notes, to do lists, and action ideas by folder tags or dates. It also organizes files into folders automatically, but that seems like another feature that shines when you have a more content.

To-do list management

The all-in-one model of Projectbook works well when you want to add a to-do list item when taking notes. Personally, I've shied away from combining my note taking and task management, but my testing of Projectbook shows me that I might be missing something.

Lists are also an area where personal tastes and productivity approaches come into play. Projectbook accommodates sub-lists and organizing lists by due date or any order you prefer (Figure E). Reminders and repeating to-do lists are also available if you need them to stay on top of your tasks. Figure E

Projectbook is strong in to-do list management.

Final thoughts

Projectbook had some idiosyncrasies -- like the email and web receivers -- that could make some users bypass this app. However, at v 1.0, I'm excited to see how this app matures. The developer is promising desktop and mobile versions later this fall, which will hopefully include some enterprise-friendly features.