Bear: Beautiful Notes for iOS and Mac

I’ve been using iCloud Notes for about a year now.  In general, it works well.  After using Day One, however, I’ve been bitten by the Markdown bug, and I wanted to find a new text app that supported it.  Markdown is kind of like pseudo-HTML formatting.  It’s simpler to type than standard HTML, and it’s definitely faster than all the tapping involved with formatting in the Notes app.  I also liked the idea of organizing things with tags rather than folders.  Tags are better than folders because you can put a single note under multiple tags if you want.  These criteria led me to Bear.


The first thing you’ll notice about bear is that it’s absolutely beautiful.  The colors and typefaces are amazing.  Bear’s simple interface is exactly the same on iOS and macOS, which is awesome.  The editor is clean and distraction free, and shows Markdown output as you type.

But Bear goes beyond just writing text.  You can add images inline, or any other type of file as an attachment.  It’s also very easy to export all your notes and attachments from the Mac app (I’ve been burned by iCloud Notes here before).  Tagging is as simple as adding a hashtag anywhere in the note.  You can also use #tag/subgroups or #multi word tags#.  These are all automatically detected and can be found in the sidebar, or you can simply search for them.  You can also use other special search operators such as @attachments or @untagged.

Bear uses a subscription model for its pricing.  It’s $1.49/month or $14.99/year, with a one week or one month trial, respectively.  This subscription covers iPhone, iPad, and Mac.  This is great, since I’ve found many reasonably priced iOS apps have absurdly priced Mac counterparts.  At first I was put off by the subscription model, but I’ve since warmed up to it.  I realized that I would happily pay a flat $15 for Bear.  However, I move around between apps like this somewhat frequently, and in a year, I may have found something else.  If Bear still fits my needs in a year, I’m willing to support the developers by paying again.  Longevity and adaptability are worth paying for.  ••

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New Workflows from 2016: Notability

Two weeks ago, I started writing a post detailing some new apps and workflows I’ve started using over the past year.  It was originally going to be one post, but it quickly became clear that 2Do was going to need a post all to itself.  So I’ve decided to make each new workflow into it’s own post.  Today, I’m going to talk about Notability.


Easily the biggest new app I’ve started using this year is Notability.  Notability can technically be used as a text-based note app, but it’s really designed for use with a stylus.  I’ve officially given up paper in the classroom in lieu of taking notes on my iPad.  I’d messed around with this app before, but never actually gone all in with it for school.  However, my girlfriend and her sister both swear by it, and they convinced me to give it a try.  A week or two before fall semester started, I picked up a decent stylus on Amazon, and created a folder in the app for each one of my classes.  I’ll never go back to taking notes on paper ever again.  From the ability to use different colors, to the straight line tool, to copy and paste, Notability is simply a better way to take notes.

Notability offers many features that make it a fantastic experience.  First of all is the fact that I can write and highlight in multiple colors.  No more muddied diagrams with way too much information penciled in.  I can now draw or highlight different parts of a diagram with different colors, and then explain each part with the corresponding color ink elsewhere on the page.

Speaking of diagrams, I can import pictures and even entire powerpoints and documents into my notes.  If a diagram is too complicated for me to draw well (or if I’m just feeling lazy), I can simply insert the one my professor used on their slide.  In class, instead of wasting time trying to meticulously copy diagrams, I can actually focus on what the professor is saying (novel concept right?) and write that down, and then just leave a blank space in my notes to paste the graphic in later.  This makes my notes a lot more coherent and useful.

The final big feature of Notability is that I can record an entire lecture and my notes sync with the recording.  This means that I can play a recording back and watch my notes replay in real time.  I can also tap on a specific part of my note and the recording will jump to that spot.  So if I miss something my professor said, I can just put a big star in my note and easily come back to it later, I don’t even have to bother noting the time.

Notability is $9.99 for the iPad and iPhone version, and then another $9.99 for the Mac app.  However, I’ve been able to get by without the Mac app.  I’ve set notability to back everything up to Dropbox in PDF form, so while I can’t edit notes on my laptop, I can at least view them, and that works for me.  If you do a lot of writing on paper, you should really give Notability a try.  You may not think you’ll like it – I was adamant about the superiority of paper notes for a long time – but trust me: this is the 21st century.  There are much, much better ways to take notes.  ••

November App Review: Evernote

App: Evernote
Developer: Evernote
Price: Free
Platforms: iOS, Android

I’ve mentioned Evernote several times before, both while talking about iOS widgets and Mac apps, so it made sense to write a full app review of it.  Evernote is an app I use every day, for all kinds of things, and it’s good at what it does.  I’m going to focus this review on the three things I primarily use Evernote for: memos, working towards being paperless, and school.


The reason I originally got Evernote was just for a simple alternative to the iOS Notes app.  I was generally happy with Notes, except that syncing took place through my IMAP email account, so that meant that changes didn’t carry over to other devices immediately.  I got tired of this and decided to give Evernote a try.  Honestly, if this is all you use Evernote for, it’s a little overkill, and the Notes app is actually simpler and easier to use.  However, it works well enough, and by downloading the app I was found out about its other useful features.

Like the document scanner.  I’m not a paperless fanatic, but I often find myself with a sheet of paper that I will most likely never need again, but I can’t quite bring myself to throw away.  I’ve taken to snapping a picture of these and putting it in Evernote, and then I can throw away the paper and stop worrying about it.  But here’s the cool part: Evernote’s camera isn’t just a camera.  If you take a picture of a document, Evernote will process the image, making the page white and the text darker.  It even does a pretty good job of removing your shadow on the page when you took the picture.  On top of all that, it attempts to OCR the documents, so that you can search them later.  I’ve found the searching to be hit or miss, but it’s still cool, and the scanner is great even without it.

The last thing I use Evernote for is for school documents.  Up until this semester, I was really just using Evernote for the two things above, barely tapping into its potential.  About a month into this semester though, I found myself staring at my Dropbox documents folder.  It was littered with all kinds of things – syllabi, teachers’ powerpoint slides, as well as documents I’d done myself to turn in as homework.  There was no organization.  I know I could’ve done that with folders, but it just didn’t seem as nice.  So I decided to throw all that stuff into Evernote, and I’ve been really happy with the results.  It’s great, because I have a pretty good mix of files from teachers, papers to scan, and just plain notes, and Evernote handles all of these together with ease.  I’ve got a notebook for each class I’m in, and Evernote makes it easy to keep everything all in one place.

Obviously then, I really like Evernote.  But I’ve been eyeing something else lately, the new iOS Notes app.  Notes finally are simply stored in iCloud, instead of on your mail server (an outdated system), so that fixes my aforementioned syncing problem.  The Notes app has also been updated to support documents, nicer looking links and pictures, and even drawing.  Not to mention, the Notes app interface is more straightforward than Evernote’s.  So I’m intrigued.  I’m not sure yet whether I’ll make the switch; I’m thinking I’ll try it next semester (instead of moving all my current school stuff over now), and see how it goes.  Even if I end up switching, though, I still think Evernote is a great tool for keeping things safe and organized, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for something a little more robust than the stock Notes app.  ••