Simplenote: The Power of Plain Text

Over the past few months, there’s one web app I’ve increasingly relied on to keep up with everything I need to remember and write down. From blog posts to random to-do lists, the bulk of the things I write are saved in Simplenote. Best known as an iOS app, Simplenote’s elegant web app and the wide variety of 3rd party apps that work with it such as Notational Velocity make it work wherever you want. is one of the best examples of an app that’s gotten more features over time and yet stayed fast and simple.

At the heart of Simplenote is Simperium‘s high quality cloud sync engine. No matter what Simplenote-compatible app you’re writing in, your text will be seamlessly synced to the cloud so you can pick up writing from another device. It’s the promise of iCloud’s document sync, available today on almost every device. You can even use it to look back at previous versions of your notes, or share your Markdown formatted notes with the world.

Simplenote has an incredible number of features to be such a simple app, so let’s take a deeper look at its most advanced features, and how you can use it to keep your notes safe.

Simplenote, Everywhere

When you need to take notes, write a letter, or jot down some important fact or quote you’d like to remember, usually plain text is all you need. If your note app is too complicated, chances are you won’t use it as much. Evernote is one of the most popular note apps, but it can be quickly confusing with notebooks, various formats of notes, and apps that have a barrage of features.

Instead, Simplenote focused on making sure it was easy to save your plain text notes and keep them perfectly synced on all of your devices. Your notes are saved on the cloud, and the web app is just one of the many ways you can view, search, and add notes. But it’s easily one of the best apps of the suite. With a similar interface to Simplenote on iPad, Simplenote’s web app feels more like a native app than something running in your browser.

Simplenote's beautiful web app

If online apps aren’t your favorite way to write notes, no problem. In addition to the default web and iOS apps, there are many other apps that integrate with the Simplenote API so you can write and view notes offline on any system. With Notational Velocity on OS X, ResophNotes on Windows, and other apps on Android, WebOS, Windows Phone 7, and more, there’s an app for almost every platform and taste. These let you save your notes offline, but still take advantage of Simplenote’s cloud sync engine so your notes are always backed up and synced to your other apps. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, you can jot down what’s on your mind and sync it without having to even think about it.

ResophNotes in Windows 7 and Notational Velocity in OS X

Never Lose Anything

Simplenote can be your personal database of notes, no matter how long or short they may be. Whether you’re writing a novel or your store list, just write it quickly in Simplenote to make sure you won’t lose it. When you need to find your notes later, you can search through all of your notes amazingly quick. Or, you can add tags to notes, then sort your notes by tag and search within that set. This way, it’s easy to drill down and find what you need, without having to waste tons of time organizing your notes.

Search your notes and organize by tags, lightening fast

Sometimes, though, you might realize that you deleted that perfect sentence you were writing, about 5 minutes after you changed it. No problem. Just click the clock icon in the top right of Simplenote, and drag the slider back to see your note’s changes over time. You can copy the text from the old version, then go back to your current version. Or, you can just restore the older version of the note with one click.

Plus, if you’ve deleted a note, you can still locate it in the Trash until you empty it. Suddenly, it’s harder to lose text than it is to find it! This is why I write almost everything in Simplenote, so I don’t have to worry about losing what I’ve typed in.

Go back in time with a click

Formatting, the text friendly way

You can use plan text to write anything, but sometimes you might want to add more formatting to your notes so it’s easier to see what you’re writing about. Perhaps you want to mark a quote or format a list of items. Simplenote lets you do this with Markdown, a simple way to mark up your documents with dashes, underscores, number signs, and other standard special characters. You can then click the i button in Simplenote to mark a note as Markdown formatted, as well as see the number of words and characters in the document.

Activate Markdown mode to view your formatting

Once you’ve marked a document as Markdown text, Simplenote will show Edit and Preview buttons on the top of your note. The Edit button will show your original note, where you can edit the text and any Markdown formatting you’ve added. The Preview button will show the rendered HTML version of your document, with any headers, links, quotes, and more you added with Markdown formatting. It’s an elegant way to get formatted text without much trouble.

Beautifully formatted text in Simplenote

Publishing, the simple way

Once you’ve written your notes, you can use Simplenote to collaborate on them with others or share them with the world. To add someone as a collaborator, just enter their email in the tag field. They’ll be sent an email with a private link so they can see and edit the document with you. Or, if they already have a Simplenote account, they’ll see the note in their Simplenote and can edit and view previous versions right there.

Simplenote is also a great tool to quickly publish your thoughts to the web. Perhaps you want to say more than you can fit in a tweet, or want to share a blog post with colleagues before publishing it on your site. Either way, the Live Publish tool is a handy option. Just click the sharing button, select Live Publish to Web Page, and you’ll get a unique link to share your note. Your shared notes will show a broadcast icon on their entry in the left menu, and you can turn off sharing from the Sharing menu the same way you activated it.

Share notes privately, or publish them to the web

The shared public notes are rendered with any included Markdown formatting, and look great. While most of your notes will be stuff you want to keep private, this is a great way to quickly share your thoughts with the world, or your lecture notes with your class, or anything else you need.

Published notes look elegant with Markdown formatting

Make Simplenote Work for You

Simplenote’s default settings are great for most purposes, but you can tweak the web app to suit your needs even better if you like. You can change the order notes are sorted, the number of lines you can see in the note preview on the left, and turn on or off support for using the tab key to indent lines in the editor. It’s features you’d expect in any desktop app, but they’re especially welcome in a web app.

Make Simplenote Web work like you want

While Simplenote’s default free version would meet most of everyone’s needs, you can get some extra nice features with a premium account. The premium account costs $1.99/month or $19.99/year. Once you subscribe, you can sync your notes as text files to your Dropbox account, send new notes to Simplenote via email with a unique email address, and subscribe to an RSS feed listing changes to your notes. If you’re collaborating with others on notes, the RSS features can be especially nice. The email option is also a nice way to keep up with important info you receive in emails throughout the day.

Simplenote Premium gives you more ways to save and keep up with notes

If you own an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad, one of the more interesting premium features is an option to view your notes as a list in the Simplenote iOS app. Then lets you quickly create lists, drag items to rearrange them, and swipe over a task to mark it as completed. When your task note is synced to the cloud and your other devices, it will show up as a Markdown formatted list, and competed notes will have an X in front of the task. It’s yet another great example of how much you can do with plain text!

Simplenote Premium task lists in iOS

Conclusion

With all of these features, there are so many ways you could put Simplenote to use. Sure, you can just write your plain text notes, and it works great for that. But with rich Markdown support, note sharing and publishing, and premium features such as RSS feeds, you can do much more with Simplenote. It’s simple enough anyone could figure it out, but advanced enough that power users can use it for anything they need.

Simplenote is a great example of a simple app that’s incredibly powerful and versatile because of its simpleness. That’s the kind of apps I like best.

Try out Simpnote Web Today!


  • Spreng

    Simplenote is indeed one of the best note taking/writing web apps out there. I used it far more than any other app or tool I have for school posts, papers and projects. It comes in handy!

  • Colby

    theres a great chrome extension for simplenote which i find myself using most of the time: syncpad for simplenote. definitely worth a try..

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      I haven’t tried it yet, but I have heard good things about it. I’ll have to give it a shot!

  • http://colemanfoley.com/ Coleman Foley

    Another simple but powerful notetaking app is Workflowy (http://workflowy.com/). Basically, it allows you to organize your whole life using lists. It has a very minimal interface that works really well. You just make broad categories like “To dos,” ‘Projects,” and “Links”, then make subcategories underneath those.
    It’s a much more visual way of organizing notes than tags. Notes are related to each other spatially, which is much easier to picture than tags.

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  • http://alphaefficiency.com Bojan

    Is there any way that I can sync it with the iOS native notes app?

    • AMAR

      This is how I use Simplenote and Dropbox to keep my notes in sync on phone, pc and web.

      I use Resoph Notes on PC which syncs with Simplenote and generates/stores/reads the text files in a folder which I have placed in Dropbox.

      I use Epistle on Android to take notes and sync it with Dropbox. So eventually my notes are synced everywhere. Till now I have not faced any issues like duplication or so.

      I guess this strategy should work with iPhones too.

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