Simplenote: A free service to sync notes across all your devices

SimplenoteHave you ever lost an idea or email address you wrote on an obscure piece of paper? Are you constantly emailing yourself to keep all your notes “in sync”? May I introduce Simplenote: A better way to manage information in academia that even poor grad students can afford (it’s free).

Integrating all your devices with each other is a big focus here on academiPad. You can sync your task across iPad, Mac and iPhone via Wunderlist, and minimalist writing apps like ByWord and iA Writer let you sync your writing projects over the cloud. But what about pieces of information that are not really a task, and which are not really something you want to clutter your writing environment with? What about all these little notes academics constantly write down? Are these forever lost on post-it notes or the backside of envelopes? Nope…

Simplenote is a place not only to store all your little notes, but also to access them from all of your iOS devices, Mac, web browsers, and most other digital devices you can possibly think of. You can sign up for a free account on the Simplenote webpage, and this is also the place where you can manage your notes via the web. If you head over to the downloads section, you will find links for the free iOS app as well as a ton of free third-party apps for Mac (I use Justnotes because I like how it lives in my menu bar), Windows, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7, Android, and many more.


What can you do with Simplenote?

The goodness of Simplenote lies in its name: it is maybe the simplest way of handling your notes. Unlike for example Evernote, Simplenote does not bother with loading a large client that can support all kinds of file types. Instead, it focuses exclusively on text notes. It lets you tag your notes, share notes, and format your notes via markdown language,… but thats about it.

Simplenote is therefore not suited for all your notes, but it works well especially for these little bits of text you have to push around in your eco-system. Here are a couple of examples how I use Simplenote:

  • I use the Simplenote iPhone app to write down the email address of a potential interviewee I talked up on the street. Once I am back at my Mac, I can pull the address from Justnotes and send out my standard recruiting email.
  • I look up the call number of a book on my Mac and store it in my running list of books in Simplenote. In the library, I pull out my iPhone to find the book.
  • I sometimes use the class room PC for integrating twitter into a lecture or workshop, and the Simplenote webpage lets me access all the tweets I want to send out.

As you can see, the great thing about Simplenote is how versatile it is. Syncing notes occurs instantly through Simplenote’s own cloud, and you can use it across all your Apple devices as well as other popular mobile devices such as Blackberry, Android, and Windows Phone. And lets not forget, the basic version (which covers all my needs) is completely free to use.

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Simplenote Features

What’s the catch? Nothing really. Yes, you have to endure advertisements in the iOS app, but you can easily ignoring the small banner that is placed at the top of your list. Or, you can pay $20 per year for the Premium version of Simplenote to hide all ads, store up to 30 versions of each of your notes (standard is 10), and other additional features.


How does Simplenote fit into your notes workflow?

One thing you have to sort out is whether and how Simplenote fits into your notes workflow. If you are already using Evernote or another note-syncing ecosystem, you might find little additional value in Simplenote at first sight. But think twice! I don’t consider myself a hardcore user of Evernote, but I think that it is still totally reasonable to have Simplenote and Evernote running together:

Evernote has much more features than Simplenote (folders, images, and much more) and might be better at storing your notes long-term (its an elephant, after all). Simplenote’s strength, on the other hand, is that it is a much faster way of writing and syncing quick textnotes. By the time the Evernote Mac client has fully loaded on my Mac, I have already written down the call number of that super important book in Simplenote and am half-way over at the library. In terms of speed, there is nothing that can beat Simplenote. 

How are you incorporating Simplenote into your workflow, and what is your favorite Mac client? Please share your tips in the comments section.

Disclaimer: All images by Simplenote.

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  1. Bryan says:

    Would recommend both Notational Velocity ( and nvALT ( as Mac clients for Simplenote. I’ve been using SimpleNote for a long time have have found it to be one of the easiest ways to sync text notes across multiple devices. I have found however that as the number of notes increases the speed of the sync seems to slow down a bit.

    • Jo says:

      Great Tips, Bryan. Notational Velocity is one of the most popular clients, that is true. It has some neat Edit In feature built in, so you can quickly take your writing into your favourite distraction free writing app if your idea turns out to be longer than planned.

  2. complectrum says:

    FastEver is a very quick and efficient way to get those kinds of jottings into Evernote from your iOS device. There’s also a third-party beta desktop add-on called Evernote Sticky Notes that syncs directly with Evernote. Its main current drawback is that you can’t dismiss or hide notes without deleting them.

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