Search for previous posts

Blog History

10/14/21

The best Task+Note system

A little over year ago I was in great need of a Task+Note system to organize my brain. I was hypnotized, as many are, into thinking Notion would solve all my productivity problems, but found myself just getting really frustrated every time I used it. Whether it was a quick todo, or a seed of an idea that would need to be grown into a full doc, I realized I needed a system that enabled my brain to empty itself quickly, but then transform brain dump information rapidly and seamlessly to useful task or note without friction.

To this point, "productivity experts" claim that Notion shouldn't be used to do all this and that one should instead use multiple apps strung together with Automate.io or Zapier. I say that is a bad conclusion/strategy: too much gets lost in the shuffle of multiple sources of information. Furthermore I would argue that this is even more relevant with how we use mobile devices: we need something agile to capture and refine information without constant app switching. So, I had absolutely zero interest in multiple apps and I refused to think that no one in the productivity industry had figured out how to solve this problem.

As I decided to start researching, I also grew annoyed with these "productivity experts" in their videos spending 5 minutes clicking around inside of some note app and concluding with "this app is amazing but you need to figure out what works best for you". Or they had a massive video playlist informing you to "just need to download a thousand plugins/templates, spend 6 months fine tuning and then it will be good".

This doc/list is the result of me over the course of many months and late nights endlessly testing note systems. I hope it helps someone besides myself. A particular distinction I would like to reinforce: what I was searching for and needed was a great task management system that was also great at knowledge management. 16 systems (review notes below) failed to fulfill this requirement, but the one that did not fail was Amplenote.

Amplenote - The winner








Pros

  • I have two recent blog posts, linked here --> [worflow,tagging], that I made after using Amplenote since last year. They detail my workflow and tagging structure to maximize the effectiveness of the platform. Hope they are helpful!
  • Their Idea Execution Funnel enables seamless transition of daily jots/quick capture/brain dump into tasks or full notes. Absolutely the best part of this system, and the main reason I chose it as my productivity tool. I have absolutely zero interest in multiple apps. I have to use something that enables me to transform brain information rapidly and seamlessly to digital task or note. No other note system on the market does it like this
  • Android quick capture enables creating task or note immediately with zero friction
  • Truly unified task view, another Amplenote feature that no other note system does
    • Industry unique Task Scoring system, enabling dynamic task ranking based on urgency, priority and due date
    • Task view shows only the tasks boxes from notes so you don't have to hunt through notes to find actionable items
    • List of presented tasks can be altered via selecting tags, enabling dynamic prioritizing
  • Designed to work offline
  • Tagging strategy instead of restrictive folders. Allows notes to be organized/grouped into more than one area
  • Well executed real-time collaboration
  • Fast, clean design, albeit not as flashy as some would prefer. However I personally like their stripped down design
  • Being a potential calendar replacement is a huge bonus. Especially because it's not just a calendar replacement, it pulls tasks and calendars together into one platform. Extremely powerful. (However, see Con #2&4 below though)
  • MFA/2FA/TOTP - a mandatory security feature IMO
  • Email to note function
  • You can also forward SMS to the email address - helpful for long texts or pictures you want to forward to a note. (This will still show up as generic "from email" Rich note unfortunately)
  • Good dev interaction on feature upvote, Reddit, Discord
  • Thorough and updated help docs enable understanding of how Amplenote is intended to be utilized
  • Website features promotion/descriptions are simple and professional
  • Competitive monthly price for "Basic", no limit on notes.
  • Publishing option ($10/mo "Pro" plan), can embed page in your own website
  • Single note "Vault" E2EE option ($10/mo "Pro" plan). Best implementation IMO as it allows you to still collaborate/share for non-sensitive notes, but also to encrypt chosen private notes
  • OCR
  • Cool thing is Amplenote has a public profile page. This is sort of a mini social media wall where AN users can showcase things about themselves. Nice to get to see faces/personas behind a product, and how others use the platform. Here is my profile

Cons

  • No trash function
    • Please upvote this feature suggestion. Thank you!
    • Per Lucian: "Trash functionality also coming soon!"
    • Unfortunately this makes me very hesitant entrusting my invaluable and very important research and book writings due to me accidentally deleting an important note. Seems like a big oversight
  • No calendar month view on Android
    • Please upvote my feature suggestion. Thank you!
    • What's odd (credit to a commenter on my Reddit post) is that the mobile PWA actually does have the calendar view! Which is great that I at least have that option if I only have my phone, but really annoying that it is not in the native Android app. I can't use their calendar in this state
  • Search is pretty useless/frustrating IMO
    • There is no keyword highlighting, so you have no idea where in a note a phrase is at, forcing you to hunt through all of the notes returned when you searched for the keyword
    • Please upvote this feature suggestion. Thank you!
  • No Exchange/WebDAV/IMAP calendar support if you want your external calendar to display your scheduled tasks - only supports Google or Microsoft
    • Please upvote both of these feature suggestions: Exchange and calDAV
  • No shared tags (important for collaboration since there are no project folders to tie notes together)
  • No task hierarchy in Task view, only flat list (bad for projects, as you need to go to the project note for hierarchy)
    • On roadmap per Lucian: "Please upvote the existing suggestion here; we are aware of this one and it's on our to-do list to think of the best ways to implement this."
  • Only a single teal color scheme (I dislike greenish colors)
    • On roadmap per Lucian: "Custom themes are on the roadmap!"
  • No way to move tasks to specific note headings
    • Please upvote this feature suggestion. Thank you!
  • No 24 hour/military time
    • Please upvote this feature suggestion. Thank you!
  • No backup MFA codes
  • No native desktop apps, only PWA
  • No multi/bulk select of notes
  • Cannot @ mention a collaborator. Very important part of projects and tasks
    • Please upvote this feature suggestion. Thank you!
  • No automatic scheduled backup to email
  • Cannot move tasks up/down on Android
    • You can move the tasks, but only by pressing the "up" button above the keyboard. Wish it was more intuitive by just holding on a task and moving with my thumb either up OR down. 
  • No resizable pictures - I missed the tiny button on bottom right of picture
  • Cannot pin notes - Implemented October 2021!
  • No default tag color
  • Unable to edit rich text in note preview, forced to go into note. Especially pertinent without aforementioned lack of task hierarchy in Task view. Need a way to quickly find a parent task and clear child task without having to go inside of note
  • No enterprise/organization functionality e.g. branding, group perms, domain
  • Above average monthly pricing

Notesnook - Appealing, but falls short

Pros

  • Works offline
  • Clean design
  • Automatic backup to email
  • Great dev visibility and interaction via Discord
  • Completive monthly pricing
  • E2EE

Cons

  • E2EE means no collaboration
  • No unified task view - more of a notes app than a task management app
  • Notebook/folder based structure instead of tags
  • No MFA/2FA/TOTP
  • Instability of product, feels beta, customer data durability in question
  • Sluggish interface
  • Slow sync

Upnote - Potential, but too many cons

Pros

  • Fast
  • Clean design
  • Completive monthly pricing, lifetime subscription

Cons

  • No collaboration
  • "Task view" is a not very useful, just a static list of notes with tasks that you have to go into each note to view tasks
  • Does not seem like it is designed to work offline as company has very few FAQs
  • Notebook/folder based structure instead of tags silos/restricts note's flexibility
  • Runs on Google's Firebase servers (migrating my data away from the big companies)
  • No dev visibility, no company story, I don't even know who the team is behind the application
  • Notebook based structure instead of tags
  • No E2EE option
  • No MFA/2FA/TOTP

Supernotes - Potential, but too many cons

Pros

  • Unique design/function of linked cards instead of notes inside folders (Similar to Walling - notes below)
  • Collaboration supported
  • Great dev visibility and interaction on forums, feature visibility

Cons

  • No mobile apps, does not work offline
  • No unified task view - more of a notes app than a task management app
  • Personal preference: card hierarchy does not feel intuitive to me. Friction/confusion just to find the parent cards, and their restricting of allowing cards to stay in sidebar without opening said card is constricting to me. In fact, Tobias even says "this is annoying" in a YouTube walkthrough video (at relevant time in video) but justifies this by saying it keeps the sidebar from being cluttered. I completely disagree and dislike function restrictions like this: if I want all of my parent cards "cluttering" (IMO this is not true) my sidebar, I should be able to. Especially considering the price they are asking
  • No E2EE
  • Above average monthly price for "Unlimited", "Starter" only allows a measly 40 cards.

Others

  • Notion - Only online. Bloated and slow. Zero task management option without extensive, janky, manually built, sluggish database templates. Database exports not usable outside Notion. No E2EE option. Android data manipulation/editing severely limited in functionality. No MFA/2FA/TOTP
  • Obsidian - Powerful for knowledge management but needs a lot plugins to be useful aside from that. Not designed for real clean task management. No Sync collaboration (unless you consider sharing vaults with someone and encrypt each folder - not ideal)
  • Walling - No unified task view. Unique design/function of walls>bricks>sections but feels beta IMO, I am personally not a fan of the design (too busy), different size and color bricks with image previews distract my brain from actual data. Cannot drag and drop bricks to new walls (have to use menu). No backlinking or tagging to tie different bricks/walls together. Does not seem to work offline very well. Slow Android app. No indication of E2EE
  • Workflowy - Nested bullet based design felt cluttered/messy to me (especially annoying when trying to write a longish note/doc are broken up by endless bullets). Essentially non existent task management (no unified task view, no auto clearing of tasks after checking)
  • Dynalist - Forgot about this in my initial publishing, but thanks to this user on Reddit who reminded me. This app is similar to Workflowy which is not a good thing for me personally, but I spent more time trying it so I could ensure I wasn't missing out on a better platform. Here's some negative notes about it that kept me from spending any further time on it: 
    • No inbox on Android! Without mobile support, how is someone supposed to get their fleeting thoughts captured like Amplenote's mobile quick entry or daily-jots?
    • Encourages folder organization instead of tags for grouping notes (vastly inferior, and rigid, way of grouping notes). Dynalist tags are half-baked inclusion into the system IMO
    • Tasks do not clear when checked!
    • Editor menu hid behind bullet menu button, vs Amplenote that has a editor bar visible at all times
    • No pure text, always tied to a bullet like WorkFlowy (this is a con to me, but I know some people like this)
    • Plain text and OPML for export instead of Markdown and YAML like Amplenote
  • Organizedly - Looks very promising, but online only with no apps keeps me from even trying/considering
  • Evernote - I don't trust the company due to past decisions, online only unless paying for the product, too expensive for "Personal" plan, cluttered/sluggish design IMO, duplicate "tasks" and "checklists" are confusing
  • Clickup - Too many animations and color, cluttered and busy design, did not feel intuitive during demo. Relies too heavily on outside tools to be a complete solution. Too much social emphasis (just want a task+notes app, not a social network)
  • Taskade - Too many animations and color, cluttered and busy design, slow, did not feel intuitive during demo. Stupid annoying "Social" sidebar wouldn't stay minimized (just want a task+notes app, not a social network)
  • NimbusNotes - Data captivity, instant nope for me (Export notes only to PDF and HTML, import only from Evernote). No unified task view (only task list per note). They now have a task view, but it is only currently supported in the web client, making it useless to me personally. Also, even worse, they have "Tasks" as totally separate from checkboxes. Evernote is another offender in this regard. The idea of checkboxes being different than tasks makes zero sense to me. Didn't waste anymore time reviewing 
  • Standard Notes - Less powerful knockoff of Obsidian
  • Joplin - Ugly beta knockoff of Obsidian
  • Logseg - No mobile app, didn't spend anymore time reviewing
  • Simplenotes - Way too simple
  • Anything stupidly restricted to Apple e.g. Drafts, Craft, Roam, Bear ect I automatically ignore

20 comments:

  1. Lucian from Amplenote here!

    Thanks for posting this incredibly thorough review of Amplenote! Given our exchange of ideas on Reddit, it's very exciting to hear that you've settled in and found a workflow that works for you!

    Hopefully you've had a chance to try note embedding? Being able to edit blog posts straight from Amplenote is personally one of my favorite features.

    A couple small observations after reading your post:
    1. While editing a to-do list inside a note on mobile, you should be able to move tasks up and down using the toolbar above the keyboard.
    2. Inline images should be resizable on all platforms (the icon in the bottom right can be dragged to adjust size).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Lucian for reading and commenting here!

      I have tried the imbedding, in fact that was my initial thought to demo the feature here on my blog. However I had two issues:

      ---> The CSS on Amplenote's end conflicted with my dark and translucent theme here on my blog making it impossible to read for those without a dark mode extension. Kind of odd behavior, but from what I can read, there is no amount of me setting my theming to adjust for an embed: the embed will always trump the host style.

      ---> I decided to support Amplenote by purchasing the Basic plan, and in doing some lost my Freemium Beta privileges which as you know includes publishing and vault encryption. I wish you Pro plan wasn't $10 or I would have upgraded to that.

      In regards to your points:
      1. Resizing --> I totally missed that button. Glad to know that feature is not missing!
      2. Moving tasks --> I totally missed that button as well. At least there is that option, however it would sure be nice to just hold down on a task and move it up or down with my thumb. As it stands, the button only allows moving to the top.

      I have edited both of the above points in my post to reflect your reply. Thank you :)

      Lastly, do you know if any of these points will be addressed at some point?
      - No trash function
      - No Exchange/WebDAV/IMAP calendar support
      - No automatic backup to email
      - No backup MFA codes
      - No 24 hour clock
      - No native desktop apps, only PWA
      - No default tag color
      - No multi/bulk select of notes

      Thanks again for all your responses and help, really cemented my choice to pick and support y'all!

      Delete
    2. Also, what's really odd (credit to a commenter on my Reddit post) is that the mobile PWA actually does have the calendar view! Which is great that I at least have that option if I only have my phone, but really annoying that it is not in the native Android app...why the disparity?

      Delete
    3. Hey Isaiah. A bit of a late reply here, but I hope it will be useful nonetheless.

      Regarding CSS: check out this guide for using a custom stylesheet for embedded notes: CSS styled blog with Amplenote. I added a dark-theme-friendly version on there, which should be a good starting point.

      Regarding the Basic Plan: you should find that publishing and Vault notes should work for you even if you're not on the Pro Plan. Please reach out via support@amplenote if that's not the case.

      Regarding the differences between the mobile apps and the mobile PWA: we just didn't get to implementing them on mobile yet. It's definitely something we plan to remedy in the future.

      Delete
    4. Thank you Lucian! But I don't think this CSS guide will work for wysiwyg type sites, (like my blog that is powered by Blogger) where some of the underlying files are not visible to the end user.

      I was just going off of the pricing page (https://www.amplenote.com/subscriptions/new). It says in regards to the Pro plan:
      "All the benefits of Basic plus Vault Notes for sensitive content and Publish your notes as web pages" However after your comment I tested and can confirm that on my basic plan both features still are present. Nice to see that the basic plan has these features! Why the disparity with the pricing page though?

      Eagerly awaiting the future improvements of the mobile calendar!

      Thanks again for your replies!

      Delete
    5. Just to be clear - while Blogger itself doesn't give access to the underlying file system, your domain registrar or hosting platform should have a file manager you can use (e.g. Google Sites or the registrar you used for centifanto.net). This lets you upload a css file to a public path on your domain and shouldn't require support from Blogger.

      Regarding the pricing page - we've identified a sizeable list of opps for improving Amplenote, and restricting the features for each plan hasn't been among the most important items on that list. As we grow in user numbers, those aspects will be prioritized to ensure we're spending resources responsibly, and in the meantime we err on the side of advertising the pricing plans in their intended form.

      Delete
  2. On Amplenote I really miss one thing. And it's huge for me - on Android application there is no share to Amplenote possibility. OK, you can send it by email. But thats just not it. https://amplenote.featureupvote.com/suggestions/124213/android-app-add-share-to-amplenote-option

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment Matjaz.

      I agree, would be very nice to have this. The one downside currently with Android is the share menu is absolute garbage, making it hard to find the apps you want. For some stupid unknown reason, Google has not enabled one to pin apps in the share menu, and instead populates it with useless apps that you might never use. And to further excerbate the issue, they have blocked third party share extensions, like the awesome Sharedr (https://sharedr.rejh.nl) that I have used extensively!

      Sigh. Really wish Google would fix this, but it seems they don't give a flying rip per these threads:
      https://issuetracker.google.com/issues/189963397
      https://issuetracker.google.com/issues/178122249
      https://issuetracker.google.com/issues/183035750

      Delete
  3. > Workflowy - Nested bullet based design felt cluttered/messy to me (especially annoying when trying to write a longish note/doc are broken up by endless bullets). Essentially non existent task management (no unified task view, no auto clearing of tasks after checking)

    Each bullet has a text field under it, where you can store whole documents.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for the comment, good to know!

      Delete
    2. You can Complete tasks, an option that grays them and crosses them out with strikethrough (Ctrl-Enter), and toggle instantly whether to see or hide all completed tasks.

      I don't know what a "unified task view" would add, but in Workflowy I put all my tasks under a parent bullet ToDo right under the Home top level. The unified view is just zooming into that level. Other notes and research can be at other levels, but linked with ToDos by tags or explicit links. Or just by the ultra-fast Search.

      Zooming in and out of any level is instantaneous by clicking on a bullet.

      If I have long text, like paragraph length, I prefer it in the Note field (Shift+Enter), which easily folds to show either the first line only or the whole thing.

      Delete
    3. That's helpful to know, thank you! I went back and tried some of the suggestions you mention above, yet still standby by criticisms of the Workflowly platform in my personal workflow (pun unintended). However, that is not to say I think anyone else is wrong for liking it. Everyone has different tastes and requirements that help them stay productive, so I appreciate your comments, especially if someone reading this decides they like Workflowy better based on your clarifications.

      In response to "unified task view", the main thing that is so great about it is that I never have to search or organize tasks. When I hit the "Tasks" pane in Amplenote, every single task in every single note (or not if I decide to filter by tag), shows up and is magically prioritized based on due date, priority and urgency. It's so frictionless to see all of that in one place, especially entering in random tasks in many different notes. One of the most powerful features of Amplenote IMO.

      Again, thanks for stopping by and sharing your comments! :)

      Delete
  4. I wish I saw your post sooner. I spent about 2 weeks researching an app with just 3 requirements

    1- Backlinking notes
    2- Central task management
    3- 2 way sync with google calendar

    Your list is what I arrived at but there are 2 more additions:

    Legend app (no collaboration, apps for android and windows)
    Acreom (very new but promising. no apps yet but ability to input tasks using natural language)


    Funny thing is that TickTick has backlinking notes AND task management but strangely enough the tasks that you put into the notes do not show up in the task list. This is from an app that is mainly a task management app!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much for taking the time to read, as well as for your two additions and commentary! :)

      Delete
  5. Great list! You've got several apps in here I couldn't find anywhere else.

    Walling turned out to be great for me. What you see as "busy" is exactly what I've been looking for - I feel like most apps 'hide' my data by only letting me see one thing at a time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad to hear Walling worked out for you spiffytech! Everyone has different requirements/tastes for sure. I did give Walling a serious go as it definitely had potential. You can tell they took some time designing something unique.

      Delete
  6. Which is best? Amplenote or Obsidian? I can not decide.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting you have narrowed it down to those two, as incidentally so did I in my search! I really liked Obsidian. A lot. In fact I found it the most powerful tool for note taking compared to every other platform. It is the standard IMO.

      TLDR answer:
      Amplenote combines the best of note taking, quick entry idea, task management, and collaboration which is why I chose it.
      If you have no need for these four things, the go with Obsidian, which is the more powerful knowledge management and note platform.

      Expounded answer:
      Obsidian breaks down in task management. Sure, it has markdown checkmarks, which can perform rudimentary tasking. But that is the extent of it, unless you want to load up community plugins, which in my research either were unstable and slow, or even if they were good on desktop probably stood very little chance at translating smoothly to mobile.
      Which is why I decided on Amplenote. Not only did I not have to worry about plugins, but like I mention in my first comment, their Idea Funnel is fantastic! Especially for the mobile approach, which to add another point, was a large use case of mine as most of my ideas, tasks and notes come up when I'm not sitting in front of a computer. I need a tool that I could quickly ingest information and transform into whatever I needed later. Amplenote is the only app I found that did this perfectly.
      Also adding to Amplenote's superiority in task management is the Unified Task pane, where every task from every note (unless you decide to filter by tags) shows up and is automagically organized by due date, priority and urgency. Again, no other note app does this.
      One negative regarding Amplenote that Obsidan has is the ability for notes to be local Markdown files I have complete control over. However, for full collaboration this would be difficult to achieve I understand Amplenote's decision. Maybe one day there will be a platform that combines Amplenote and Obisidan!

      Hope this helps you make a decision :)

      Delete
  7. Thank you for this list! One option I was evaluating is Trilium. Did you ever get to play much with that? If so, how do you think it compares to the other options you tried?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi there! Thanks for taking time to read and comment :)

      Trilium looks very interesting! I had not heard of it before. But looking at the docs, there is no native mobile version, you only can visit the webpage of your own built server version....

      - https://github.com/zadam/trilium/wiki/Mobile-frontend
      - https://github.com/zadam/trilium/wiki/Server-installation

      And while my day job is Cloud Automation Engineering/DevOps, and I could easily build the server and infrastructure, I would prefer just to pay a company to build and maintain something for me so I can do other things in life, especially something like my Todos and Notes which are so vital to me staying productive and clearing my brain.

      Maybe when I have some free time down the road I can mess around with this. Thanks again for sharing!

      Delete