The note-taking app Simplenote is a little different from the other popular options. It takes a minimalist approach. Instead of touting frills, features and add-ons, Simplenote is streamlined. It’s essentially black text on a white page that can sync across all your devices.
The note-taking app is built around the idea that sometimes more isn’t always better. When you have the basics that you need without the clutter, you may be able to stay focused on your classwork.
Even though Simplenote doesn’t offer many features, TechCrunch called it “the planet’s most useful piece of software.” It’s more lightweight than many other note-taking apps, but it can be used for “just about everything, from shopping lists to the Great American Novel.”
Let’s take a look at why something so simple can be so helpful in college and how students can make the most of Simplenote.
Can Simplenote Help You Focus?
Simplenote lives up to its name. It’s a simple note-taking app. However, there’s science behind why limiting choice can be helpful to students.
Scientists and researchers have found that too many choices can be overwhelming, tiring, paralyzing, and can prevent us from focusing on what’s most important. A famous example of this theory is how Steve Jobs wore the same outfit every day to combat decision fatigue.
Voluntary simplicity has been applied to app design, specifically to the user experience. Interfaces are built around Hick’s Law, which can calculate the ratio of how much longer it will take a user to make a decision when there are more choices available.
Because Simplenote keeps it simple, there is an opportunity for students to focus on what really matters.
When taking notes during class, you can pay closer attention to the topic of the lecture. You can use the app in random bursts to jot down project ideas or reminders, and its simplicity is helpful when brainstorming for your term paper.
If Simplenote’s bare-bones approach isn’t enough, the app also has Focus Mode which further strips down the interface into only the essentials. It’s a blank canvas for information and ideas.
Who Benefits the Most from Simplenote’s Note Taking Approach?
Admittedly, this streamlined approach to college note taking isn’t for everyone. Other note-taking apps offer high-tech features that really can make student life easier. For example, Evernote and Google Keep can transcribe a photo of a class whiteboard into typed text.
To compare note-taking app features and decide which note-taking you should use in school, check out our recommendations for the best note-taking apps for students in 2020.
For all students, Simplenote can be a great way to track the minutiae of life. However, when it comes to classwork, Simplenote is especially relevant for students in programs that focus on words and text. This can be majors such as history, English and computer science, for example.
On the other hand, Simplenote probably isn’t the right choice for your focus in college is on math, science or other programs that incorporate images or drawing. For these programs, students might get more benefit from an app like Apple Notes, which has some useful features for digital handwriting.
The Advantages of Simplenote Sync and Multi-Device Access
Like many other apps and platforms, Simplenote uses the cloud to provide multi-device access to your information. Just set up an account and you can access your class notes from your phone, tablet or computer. This note-syncing is an advantage over a plain text editor, where your notes live locally on a single device.
Simplenote has both mobile apps and desktop apps for iOS, Android, macOS, Windows and Linux. The support for Linux is especially helpful for computer science students who want access to their information without having to deal with a dual boot.
Simplenote also offers web access so you can access your notes without having to download any software. Plus, there’s an open API so you can use it to build what you need.
What Can’t Simplenote Do, and Are There Workarounds?
Unlike many other note taking apps, Simplenote doesn’t support multimedia. This means you can’t add images, voice memos, PDFs, Powerpoint slides or screenshots taken by a web clipper. There also isn’t optical character recognition or other high-tech tools.
Without the capacity for rich media, Simplenote won’t be a singular holding container for all of your academic material. It really is a minimalist writing app.
Instead, you can use Simplenote alongside a cloud storage system so you have easy access to all your class files. This could be Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive or any other favorite. Use Simplenote for your text, and then put any media files in cloud storage.
What Features Does Simplenote Offer?
With Simplenote, you’ve got basics like spell check. You can insert checklists and even do nested checklists for multi-level lists.
You can make an unlimited number of notes. The company does qualify that there are no limits “as long as you’re not abusing the system.” A good rule of thumb, however, is to limit notes to several thousand words to keep everything running fast.
Also, if you screw up, you’re probably okay. Accidently deleted notes are in your trash. There’s also note history that lets you use a slider bar to scroll back to previous versions. You can review them or revert back if needed.
Simplenote does encrypt notes when they’re being transmitted across the network. However, they don’t recommend using it for sensitive information such as passwords, bank account information or social security numbers.
There’s also the option to add a passcode to the app. This means that you’ll type in a four-digit PIN before getting access to the notes app.
You can share notes with other people by adding their email addresses as a tag. If the other person has a Simplenote account, they’ll be able to view and edit the note collaboratively.
You can also publish to the web directly from Simplenote. After clicking the Publish button, you’ll have a sharable link within seconds.
How Much Does Simplenote Cost?
Simplenote is free.
The app is owned by Automatic, the folks who make WordPress. They don’t charge a thing for it. There’s no advertising. There are no upsells or upgrades.
Some note-taking apps like Microsoft OneNote or Zoho Notebook only give you the free version or offer a free plan. However, Simplenote is free for everyone.
What Are Your Formatting Options in Simplenote?
Simplenote supports Markdown. This lets you add rich text formatting using text code, rather than toolbar buttons. One of the user advantages is you can get standard notes to look neatly formatted without having to waste time switching between the keyboard and the mouse.
Check out GitHub’s Markdown help page for a helpful list of basic syntax, or here are a few easy recommendations to try:
You do have to make sure that Markdown is enabled in your settings. Also, an advanced tip is that it is possible to use Markdown to embed images into your notes if the images are hosted elsewhere.
What Are Simplenote’s Organization and Search Tools?
Simplenote has a basic text search. However, the app also offers offline search. That means if you’ve gone fully off the grid to help yourself focus on your assignments, you’ll still have easy access to your digital class notes.
There’s also the option to pin notes to the top, and the option to sort notes alphabetically. It’s pretty basic stuff.
You can add tags to organize notes. This can help you categorize classes. Try tagging your notes using the course code so you’ll be able to keep your class notes organized throughout your four years of college. For example, the tag “20-SP-Bio101” indicates that the notes are from the 2020 Spring semester for Biology 101 class.
Unfortunately, Simplenote doesn’t offer folders, which can be especially helpful for students who are juggling so many classes and projects.
NYT has said Simplenote “is as close to a searchable pile of paper as you can get.”
The writer explained their approach: “I’m sure there are people who tag their Simplenotes, or otherwise think of them in some sort of structured way, but I just add them to the heap and then search for names or words and see what comes up. It has turned out to be a really nice way to annotate the frequently, and I think intentionally, disorienting experience of being online.”
Is There Another Way to Help You Focus in Class?
The back-to-basics approach of Simplenote can help you stay focused when you’re taking class notes. However, there may be a way you can have the information you need without having to do any note-taking at all.
With the shared class notes app, OneClass, paid note-takers are uploading class notes and study guides to the platform. This can give you the written information about what happened during class without having to do any typing at all.
Instead of acting as a secretary during your college classes, you could be focusing more on the professor’s explanations or engaging in discussions. Plus, in situations when you miss a class or you’re struggling with the material, the shared class notes can help you get up to speed.
Search for your school on OneClass to see what shared class notes are already available.
image attribution: SolisImages – stock.adobe.com