ActionNotes looks good and kind of works

Spoiler alert! ActionNotes looks like the perfect to-do and notes organizer on the surface. It’s gorgeous and slick and some elements work very well. They’ve already released a major upgrade fixing some of the criticisms I was about to post, forcing me to add a star to the final evaluation.


I don’t know why people are so obsessed with organization. As far as I can tell the world seems worse off the more organized people get. And as irritating as it is to be sitting with someone at dinner only to have to go on hiatus when their cell phone rings (Carol) and sit through a conversation about scheduling the next (Siamese Rescue) meeting, I think what irritates me the most is when I’m planning something with a family member and they take out their organizer to see if there’s a conflict.

I’m sorry, we’re family. Cancel your plans.

I used to feel this way about dating too. I never minded when it was the first three weeks of the relationship, but once we were dating exclusively I cancelled any conflicts with their requests and I hated when I was proposing a romantic dinner only to see the agenda leap from the purse and open on the table. If you love me, you can erase something and write me in.

Even Carol did this.

I know, maybe it was more about me than schedules. But I finally decided Carol could keep her agenda and I’ve played second fiddle to that agenda since. Until we got cell phones. Now I’m third in line.

Oh, wait, I forgot about the cats.

Anyway, whenever I hear people talk about getting better organized I tend to laugh. People who get organized come by it naturally. It’s called born anal. The rest of us are slaves to lists. My dad used to keep lists for everything, five or six at a time with twenty or thirty items. I don’t think he ever made it past six.

I tried using an organizer and to do list and I rarely got past item two.

So when AppAdvisor plugged ActionNotes, I thought I’d give it a look. Think of it as a cross between a journal and an organizer. It has some strong features, and you want to love it. In the end, however, it reminds me of the girl whose number is just below the numbers of the girls I really want to date.

Okay, there is no real girl below the girl. Carol is my one and only and she proofreads these posts. But I’m sure you get the metaphor.

The ActionNotes interface is built around those school notebooks and Office Depot portfolios. Ruled note pages are divided by colored tabbed pages which come six to a pack. If you needed more dividers in school, you bought another pack. As far as I can tell with ActionNotes, you only get six. If you have more than six categories to organize you’re SOL.

I’ve written before about the problems of designing based on hard copy metaphors. It tends to limit thinking about what an app should do. Microsoft Word beat everybody in the word processing market, including giant WordPerfect, because they didn’t use a typewriter metaphor and, as a consequence, innovated most of the important features word processors use today.

The interface makes ActionNotes both extremely clean and attractive and at the same time limits its usefulness. Even the pages are ruled, which makes sense organizationally, but makes it hard to separate complete thoughts from individual lines within paragraphs. (On the other hand, should you copy and paste the contents to another app the paragraphs remain intact.)

The six divider pages automatically keep track of the note pages within. Click on the title to jump to that page.

Once you assign a topic to a section you can add as many pages as you want. The title of each note page automatically appears on the colored divider like a table of contents, and you can click the item to jump directly to that page.

The pages can double as to-do lists and inspiration jotters. Two narrow columns run down the left side of each page. If you touch the leftmost column, the entire line becomes highlighted. If you touch the left inner column, the line becomes a bullet point and converts to an action item.

The note page allows you to highlight lines as topic items, create bullet points for action items and rearrange the bullet points into a to do list in the far right column.

Action items are copied to the rightmost column to form your to-do list for the page. You can touch and drag the items to set priorities and check off completed items.

Up to this point, I have to admit ActionNotes seems attractive and useful. But the more I worked with it the more I realized how far it needs to go.

You can’t rearrange the tabs once you’ve assigned them. Should you realize a new section needs to be moved to the front, you have to manually move notes between sections one at a time, then rename the two sections. In fact, you can’t really rearrange much of anything except the action items.

Your ability to rearrange the order of the pages within a section (and I’ve tried), is limited (although the upgrade adds a couple of options). You can sort by date or alphabetically, but you can’t custom order. Hopefully the next upgrade will fix that. Nor can you drag to rearrange items on the note page (you’re stuck with copy and paste) the way you can rearrange the action items.

The action items column is buggy. I have seen action items include ghost text. It might be previous text that was deleted or text from other lines. I’ve seen duplicate action items and some items with dropped text and characters.

The action list doesn’t perfectly translate the original list. Some times it copies three items, s

The upgrade added the ability to synchronize with dropbox. This is limited to backup and restore from native format; you can’t access the text from another application. But at least you won’t lose your work should your iPad crash or you be forced to restore to factory settings.

If you like what you read and saw in the screen shots, download it. It’s great if you’re looking for an app that offers exactly these features, and they seem to be responsive to user input. I want to like this more, and my opinion has improved with the most recent release, but I can’t help but think you won’t love it in a few weeks or months the way you do when you download.

Jenny Manytoes rates ActionNotes

Jenny Manytoes would purr next to ActionNotes. The interface is slick, and hopefully they’ll keep improving.

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat

  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.

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About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
This entry was posted in 4 Stars - Purr, Organizers, Utilities and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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