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NoteSuite could replace Evernote, Skitch, Reminders, PDF apps and more

NoteSuite is available for Mac and iPad, and despite the lack of an iPhone client it is putting a number of apps on notice. In particular, a lot of the stuff I do with Evernote just got replaced by NoteSuite -- and I don't have to pay a subscription to do any of them. NoteSuite is a suite, in a way, but also a tightly integrated application with a ton of well thought out, useful and efficient tools. Imagine a PDF annotation app, note-taking app, reminder app, drawing app and outliner rolled into one. While there are a number of "multi-tool" note apps out there, a few features put NoteSuite far ahead of the competition.

Taking notes

Almost everything you need to take notes in NoteSuite is there: typing text is a breeze and the drawing tools are executed flawlessly. I liked being able to easily slice up an image. If you like annotating images, you can do this easily and there's a "handwriting" mode that allows you to draw words but keep them shrunk down, just as you'd see in Use Your Handwriting (a simple to-do app my daughter seems to love). It's a clever solution to the problem of handwriting on a digital screen. Little touches like drawings and handwriting remaining connected to text make a big difference in everyday use, and reduce the frustration of keeping your notes the way you like them.

NoteSuite could replace Evernote, Skitch, Reminders, PDF apps and more

While apps like MagicalPad offer mind mapping tools in addition to text and drawing tools, NoteSuite focuses more on metadata. You can tag notes, add links between words in notes (much as you would do in VoodooPad), or let NoteSuite's AI look for relationships between words. Everything can be sorted and filtered in ways I've not seen before in such an app.

The outlining tools are impressive, although I can see these getting slightly more robust with time (think OmniOutliner). Items can be easily re-arranged in a list, and you can drag and drop bullets, which can expand and contract when needed.

In addition to drawing and text, you can import photos, do some light editing or lots of annotating (although it's still not quite as robust as Skitch). You can record audio notes and put them in your documents.

As with some other note apps, you can easily throw these various elements together in one document, so photos, drawings, text and audio all coexist happily in your notes, plus it's easy to move outlines and to-do items around in your documents, meaning action items are no longer off in another app. Linking tasks and notes in such a way is a powerful feature!

NoteSuite could replace Evernote, Skitch, Reminders, PDF apps and more

There's also a great web clipper, allowing you to grab a stripped down version of a web page or the entire page itself, handy for research and design.

Data is king

Most note-taking apps offer some limited search tools. NoteSuite makes search a fundamental part of your workflow, as there's AI built in to look for keywords and link them accordingly. You can turn this off or add your own links as well. Plus there are "Active" folders, which work a lot like smart folders on the Mac, keeping related items in one place. Between tags, these intelligent folders and a robust search engine, you will likely never lose a note ever again. A lot of the intelligent filtering and search tools remind me of the best parts in DEVONthink, which is pretty amazing given the power of that software. You can also create plain old folders and cram whatever you like into those.

Also, with notes and tasks and outlines all in one app and the AI in NoteSuite, making the connection between research and "what to do next" has never been easier. Power users are going to be thrilled that they won't have to keep switching between apps, and duplicating effort when trying to turn data into action items.

GTD inside

NoteSuite's creator told me it is "fully GTD compliant" and while I haven't fully tested his claim, I can say all the things you'd need are there. You can set reminders, create start and due dates by using natural language and even consolidate to-do items. Yes, you can assign priority levels to items as well.

NoteSuite could replace Evernote, Skitch, Reminders, PDF apps and more

There are some limited collaboration tools, but they are largely limited to one-way communications. This isn't a project management tool, but if you are working in a small group the basics should suffice.

NoteSuite won't replace OmniFocus for me, but having my research and related tasks in one place is useful. I can also send to-do items to my calendar, create repeating items, and using NoteSuite's powerful search tool, look up all related items quickly and easily.

Sync without subscriptions

The iPad and Mac versions use iCloud to sync. As the creator told me, you should own your own data. That means changes occur almost instantly across platforms, and you always have offline access to your notes.

The downside to iCloud is how Apple has chosen to silo your data. iCloud isn't really a collaboration service, like Dropbox can be. The NoteSuite team might be considering other sync services, however, so keep an eye out for updates if you must store your stuff elsewhere.

Who needs Office?

If you work in an environment where you're getting Word and PowerPoint documents, get ready to smile. NoteSuite allows you to embed slides in notes. Office docs are converted to PDF, and can be annotated just like any PDF in NoteSuite. iWork files do the same.

PDF tools

There's no shortage of PDF tools out there, so NoteSuite didn't try to include every single feature of every single app out there. Instead, the features in NoteSuite are carefully implemented and work great.

You can create comment balloons, bookmarks, a table of contents, and of course draw on a document, highlight and underline text and so forth. A handy feature: excerpts of highlights, so you can quickly jump around to the places in a PDF where you made notes. You can sign documents, and flatten the document for sharing. While I'd like to see more revision support for collaboration, you can duplicate notes so you keep an original and have a marked-up version for sharing.

Collaboration

The only chink in NoteSuite's armor would be collaboration. While these tools aren't as robust as the impressive data tools, annotation and note creation tools, there are some there. You can assign tasks to colleagues via email, for example. By adding a task to your calendar you can also collaborate. Being able to flatten and send PDF's is an obvious win for collaborators, but services like Evernote still have a slight advantage in the form of shared notebooks. I think these features will expand in future versions, so be on the look out for updates.

Design that gets out of the way

The thing that has caused me to abandon more note apps than anything is a kitchen sink mentality to features, and a cluttered interface as a result. While I love the tools in MagicalPad, for example, there's a lot of "mystery meat" buttons and in general too many tools distracting me from what I'm doing at any given time. NoteSuite pays close attention to what you are doing, and presents the tools you need for that task.

NoteSuite could replace Evernote, Skitch, Reminders, PDF apps and more

Never mind that the design is exceptionally well done. The icons are beautiful, and everything is logically arranged on the screen. The Mac version even allows you to hide the sidebar, so it looks more like Pages than Evernote. This is a good thing. Evernote on the Mac is three panels at once, and they are always there. NoteSuite lets you work in a document before going into a side panel to look up notes, organize your work or otherwise mine data. It's a refreshing approach, really.

Not only does less clutter help you focus, but NoteSuite's modes hide the tools you don't need. I realize some users might like to have everything at their fingertips at all times, but I found switching between text and drawing modes to be a refreshing way to think less about what I was doing and focus more on doing it -- a neuroscience-approved method for getting a lot of stuff done.

Conclusion

I've only scratched the surface of NoteSuite's power. Individually, PDF annotation, text linking and task management tools maybe aren't such a big deal. Putting all of those tools together and then some? That's a big deal indeed. If you've ever been frustrated by having to bounce among several apps to get your work connected to your research, you will be thrilled at NoteSuite's powerful toolset. The tools in NoteSuite are wrapped in a clean, uncluttered workspace, making it all the more powerful. And with a Mac and iPad app that sync in the background, you can take your data wherever you go. I'm hoping NoteSuite adds an iPhone companion at some point, because I still use Evernote as a capture tool, and I think even a stripped-down version of NoteSuite would be handy for this purpose.

Considering the low cost of NoteSuite (the iPad version is currently on sale for $1.99, the Mac version is currently a mere $4.99) and the focus on getting things done, I can't imagine most users would be unhappy with the software. NoteSuite is simply one of the most powerful, well thought out applications I've seen on Mac and iPad in a long time.