Two and a half years ago, George posted a review of Pear Note, “a $40 Mac-only software application from Useful Fruit designed specifically for taking notes while watching a presentation.” Now, you could arguably do that with a text editor or even Word. So what makes Pear Note special is that it records the presentation’s audio while you’re typing notes, and afterwards you can click on a portion of your notes and hear the audio that was happening right as you typed those notes. So if you can’t quite figure out the context of what you’ve written down, you can suddenly hear it all again.
It’s recapturing this context that has made Pear Note pretty integral to my work. In my alt-ac position, I’m in a lot of meetings and I run a lot of meetings. Having Pear Note makes it a lot easier to write those post-meeting emails to the whole team or to review what everyone agreed to, three months ago. I almost always use Pear Note on my laptop, as it’s nice to have a full keyboard. But that full keyboard is also one of the downsides of Pear Note. Since the microphone on my laptop is near the keyboard, it is just as good at picking up the sound of my typing as it is does of whoever is speaking. It’s not a huge problem, but the clicking can get distracting at times.
So a few months ago, I got itching to try out the iOS version of Pear Note. After all, typing on a glass screen should be a lot quieter than on a keyboard, right? As it turns out: yes, there is a lot less background sound on the notes that I’ve been taking on my iPad. Using the app couldn’t be simpler, either.
This is the only screen you’ll see when using Pear Note on an iPad
- These icons allow you to create a new note, create a new folder, sync your notes, and access the options.
- In this bar you’ll find all of your folders and notes that you’ve created. Just click on a note’s name to open it or swipe it to get the option to delete.
- When reviewing a note, you can click on these buttons to start playing the recording or use the scrub bar to move to a particular point in the recording. The arrow keys fast forward or rewind the audio. And the icon in the upper left allows you to start recording.
- This main screen is where you’ll write your notes. You can click the icon in its lower right corner to make it full screen as well.
- In addition to the regular iOS keyboard, Pear Note provides you with an extra toolbar for editing.
When you open it for the first time, you will see a “Welcome” note, which will explain the basics, but you could almost certainly get started with the app without reading through it.
Here’s what’s great about Pear Note on iOS:
- I really appreciate not having the sound of my typing be so prevalent when taking notes. That alone might be worth the price of entry alone, which is a reasonable $4.99 on the App Store.
- The extra toolbar that sits above the keyboard is genius. In Kathleen’s initial review of the iPad back in June 2010, she mentioned wishing that there were arrow keys to move the cursor about the screen. Pear Note went ahead and did it. They work beautifully, as do the options to create bullets, numbered lists, bold and italics, highlighting, and indentations. I’m honestly not sure why this approach hasn’t been used in many other apps. This is how Apple should have made its keyboard.
- It syncs easily with Dropbox, a tool we love around here. Since the iOS app is universal, it means my notes show up on all of my devices at once. What’s more, I can easily open them on my desktop version and vice versa. Setting up the sync is two-click simple, and it just works from there on out.
- While the app is primarily designed to deal with text, you can also include pictures (from your library or that you take with the device’s camera) or paste in images that you create in other apps.
- You can switch to different apps and Pear Note will continue to record audio in the background.
And here are a few disappointments:
- First, I can’t ever imagine taking notes on my phone. While it works just as well as on the iPad, the typing surface is just too small. Still, I applaud Pear Note for being a universal app as others may find they feel differently.
- On Pear Note’s desktop software, you can record video. That’s always felt a bit strange since you will most likely use your computer’s built-in camera, and thus be recording video of yourself. But the option is there. The iOS version won’t let you take video at all. That being said, video recorded on the desktop version plays fine on iOS once it’s been synced.
- The desktop version of Pear Note also allows you to easily create HTML version of your notes so you can share them with others. There’s no option for this in the iOS app. Sure, you can push it to the desktop version, but that means buying an extra piece of software.
While these are perhaps small disappointments, I’ve also found that while I can type more silently on my iPad than on my laptop, I almost always prefer the laptop because I’ve got a keyboard that I can easily touch-type on. So while the iOS version solves the problem I was looking for, it turns out that it wasn’t as much a problem as I thought it was in the end.
Have you tried Pear Note either on iOS or the desktop? Let us know what you think in the comments!