In a recent episode I compared the note-taking app Evernote, with Apples' own Notes application, and whilst they compared relatively well, I remained an Evernote user, purely because I’ve been using it for over 10 years.
However, their recent release of the new, what I hesitate to call ‘updated’ Mac and iOS apps has meant I’m once more looking for a replacement.
The newly released versions of Evernote have been in beta for a while; I was in that Beta programme and gave my feedback, feedback that appears to have been ignored!
The new versions are a backwards step, with functionality removed, and I really don’t know if I can continue with it.
So, I’m looking at Bear, to see how it compares.
First of all, Bear is only available on iPhone, iPad and Mac, so isn’t cross-platform, yet! This is a shame, but doesn’t impact me personally.
A web version is in the works, although no time-frame has been given for when it will be released, but when that happens, it will become available for everybody.
If you’re a big notebook user in Evernote, then you won’t like this. Bear doesn’t make use of notebooks. Instead, if you want to organise your notes, this is done through tagging.
It works well, especially as you don’t need to think which notebook to use, and you can have more than one tag per note.
In using tags, you are creating virtual notebooks; and because you can have multiple tags, in one note, it makes it easy to find.
You can nest tags too - which means you actually do have a sort of folder structure. But rather than the note being in only one folder, you can add more tags, and it will appear there too.
Finally, on tags, you can insert them anywhere inside a note, and they are clickable, which means you can easily display the list of all notes with the same tag.
All notes are stored in iCloud, and sync seamlessly - and so much quicker than Evernote. In fact, in the latest release from Evernote, they removed the ability to manually sync notes, and it’s not possible to see if that’s happened - I recently ended up with a number of duplicate notes because of the speed.
So far, with Bear, this hasn’t been a problem. It’s very lightweight and syncs in seconds.
It’s also possible to lock individual notes, something that’s lacking in Evernote.
One feature of Evernote that I have used lots is the web clipper - in fact, it’s one of their best features.
Bear offers a web clipper extension too. It’s not quite as intuitive as Evernote, but I like the fact that you can pre-set tags for these clippings, so it’s easy to see what you’ve clipped.
You can choose to save the entire page, the heading, the URL, a selection from the page, or a mixture of them all. On the MacBook it seems to work well - although I’m not sure why it needs to open the app whenever something is saved.
On the iPhone, I’ve yet to make it work - in fact I can’t even share to Bear, even though this should be an option.
For those of you who use templates, you’ll be a little disappointed.
Unlike Evernote where you can create pre formatted templates and call on them when needed, with Bear this isn’t possible.
I’m not sure if this is a deal breaker for you. Personally I haven’t used templates with Evernote, although I have created them to see what they’re about.
However; it is possible to create a template in an external app, such as Drafts, and then use automation, like Drafts actions, or iOS Shortcuts, to generate the template in Bear.
I’ve tried this, and it works well.
Just on another couple of features that Evernote has that aren’t available in Bear...
The ability to record audio directly into a note isn’t there and you can’t scan a document directly into Bear. That’s one feature that I use quite a lot.
Of course, you can add images and documents to notes.
On the subject of images, whilst it’s possible to add them, it’s not possible to resize them; but you can set them as thumbnails. This works, sort of, but it would be nice to be able to resize them properly.
It would also be nice to set this on a note by note basis, rather than being a global setting, but that’s just nit-picking.
Bear uses markup to for the formatting of text. In reality, for those not used to it, it’s no great deal, but it does help to quickly create documents - short or long. You can add formatting without needing to take your hands off the keyboard.
There are many different in-line styles:
There are the standard formats for bold, underline and italics.
You can also use Heading styles throughout.
You can include URLs for websites. Either creating them yourself, or copying them from the browser address bar.
Ordered and unordered lists are catered for, and if you need a to-do list (and we all know how much I like to-do lists) then these are available too.
You can add code, or code blocks, and you can also use a highlight too.
All in all, this is a fully featured app.
Although; there’s always a but isn’t there?…. tables are not possible, yet.
I understand they are on the way, but at the time of recording, it’s not possible to add tables. Which is a shame as this is something I have quite a lot of within Evernote.
In a similar vein to the Evernote note links, Bear also offers cross note links; so you can link to other notes within notes.
Ideal for creating a table of contents or just a simple link to tie a couple of notes together.
You can use these note links outside of Bear too. For example, I add links to my comments in Todoist, then when I click on it, it takes me straight to the note. It works both on the MacBook and iOS.
Being able to configure an app is sometimes key to making it work the way you like it, and Bear certainly doesn’t disappoint here.
Changes you can apply include:
Setting Markdown compatibility - meaning you can use the standard keyboard shortcuts to access formatting; such as CMD+B for Bold.
You can sort the order for notes; by modification date, creation date or title
The tags sort order can be set by title or the number of notes
You can even choose how you want to start your new notes; with either a header, the date, the date and time or just leave it empty.
Within the Editor, you can select from 7 fonts, and set the size, line height and paragraph spacing.
You can toggle whether you want the Tags and Note Titles to be auto-completed.
When it comes to importing or exporting your notes, this is also customisable:
For importing, you can choose to use the first line as the title;
Use the filename as the title.
You can import from Evernote, Day One, Drafts and Vesper.
I’ve tried importing from Evernote, and it works well, although since the latest Evernote release, this is a little hit and miss, especially where there are attachments!
Exporting allows you to decide to keep the tags, export attachments, export images as Base64.
There are 11 different formats available to export into.
There are some settings specifically for Pro users
There are 20 themes to choose from, so there’s bound to be something to suit how you want the app to look.
Also within the Pro version you can password protect individual notes. This is something that isn’t available on Evernote and whilst I don’t usually use it, I am aware of many others who have called on Evernote to build some form of protection.
In Bear it’s a simple case of selecting the three dots at the top of the note and choosing “Add Password”.
There is also the ability to disable sync on specific devices.
Staying with the note menu
You’ll see you can pin the note at the top of the list, so it’s always there, if it’s a piece of work in progress.
You can duplicate it, delete it or archive it.
Archiving a note will remove it from the list of visible notes.
An archived note is not searchable unless you are in the Archive.
You can export the note into any one of 11 formats; copy it in 5 formats.
If you need the note identifier, for use in x-callback queries, then that’s there too.
There is so much control.
Bear in mind (excuse the pun) that functionality presents itself in different ways depending on whether you’re using an iPhone, iPad or MacBook.
With the information icon on the note you can view the word count, character count, which device was last used to edit the note along with the creation and modification date and time.
There is also a guide for how long it would take to read the note. Ideal if, for example, you want to see how long it would take to record a podcast episode.
Bear doesn’t support coloured text - there is a highlight option if you need to bring specific text to attention.
Whilst you can’t use colours for your text in Bear, it is possible to add a small swatch of a HEX colour code.
For example, typing ff8900 will add a small orange coloured dot within the note (alongside the actual Hex code).
Finally, before we look at the cost.
It’s worth noting that attachments larger than 250MB will not be synced, and notes larger than 500,000 characters will also not be synced across devices.
As I mentioned earlier, there is no support for tables, which is a shame; and apparently it’s coming, but I don’t know when.
And images can’t be resized which makes them either huge, or a bit small as a thumbnail - this is the same way that Apple handles images in Notes - probably because it’s the same CloudKit framework for developers.
Unlike Evernote, you also can’t email into Bear either, but there’s integration with the Spark mail app, so I can save emails directly that way - and that does work really well.
I almost forgot - on the iPhone and iPad you can also sketch notes and doodles. It will definitely work better with an Apple Pencil, rather than dragging your finger over the screen and the iPad certainly has more space to offer.
This is all great, but what’s the cost?
Evernote Premium costs £4.99 per month; and right now, in my humble opinion, I don’t think it’s worth it. £60 per year for a product that’s now a reduced version of itself! Really?
It might not be so bad if Evernote gave timescales for when new functionality will be added; but given their history, who would believe that anyway?
Bear Pro costs £1.49 per month.
Or £14 per year. A fraction of the price of Evernote but with so much more flexibility.
As an app, it also comes in at half the size of Evernote - just 60MB
I tried using Bear about a year ago and didn’t take to it. In fact, when I recently returned, all the notes I had imported from Evernote were still there - even after deleting the app.
This time around, I get it. It works for me. I haven’t imported notes again; I figured I can just leave them where they are, and continue here.
I can always go and get them if I need to.
All in all I’ve been really very impressed with how Bear works and fits into my workflow.
I’ve managed to update some iOS Shortcuts to use the notes in Bear, instead of Evernote, which is really pleasing; and the Markdown means I can type and format much more quickly than before - allowing me to concentrate on what I’m doing.
If you’re looking for a new alternative to Evernote, or any other note-taking app, then you’ll be hard-pressed to find something as clean and simple as Bear - In my opinion, of course!
I’ve included a link to Bear.