TopXNotes full review

Computers are a great way to keep all your data in one place--and none more so than the myriad notes you may take throughout your life. Things like your family's health history, your interactions with clients and contractors, or even just details about that upcoming family trip are--in principle--easy to jot down into a text file using nothing more than the free tools that come with most modern operating systems.

The problem with that approach is that the information you gather with it tends to "rot" over time: unless you are very careful about keeping things organized, individual files are often buried inside complex directory structures, forgotten and lost during system upgrades, and so on.

Tropical Software's TopXNotes (Mac App Store link) aims to solve these issues by creating a centralized location where you can store and categorize all your information, focusing on strong features that span across multiple platforms.

Note taking, evolved

TopXNotes's interface has a strong Mac vibe to it; unlike so many apps these days that have embraced a minimalistic look in an attempt to help the user focus on a single task, it embraces a classic OS X window structure, with plenty of functionality at your fingertips. I originally thought that this would make the app feel dated, but I didn't take me long to realize that a lot of thought has gone into organizing the structure of the main window so that it would be easy to use without requiring digging through dozens of menus to find the one feature you're looking for.

The superiority of TopXNotes over simple note taking based on plain text files becomes obvious as soon as you start using it. The app organizes all your notes according to an arbitrary set of categories, and automatically makes everything your write searchable, indexing it as you go along and allowing you to arrange it in a hierarchical structure of "groups" of your choosing.

When you later need to find something, the app gives you a Note Organizer that can readily access every document in your groups, as well as provide a global index, in which the title of each note is listed alphabetically, and a category list from you can find all the notes that you have filed under a specific heading.

Coupled with a simple but powerful search feature that lets you quickly find text anywhere in your note collection, the Organizer handily solves the problem of files getting lost in complex directory structures. Even after loading the app up with dozens of sample files, I was able to find relevant data without any effort--quite the feat, if you consider that I hadn't even written that text.

A room with a view

One of the app's most interesting features is something its authors call MultiView, which allows you to open multiple notes (or multiple copies of the same note) side-by-side with each other and edit them at the same time.

When dealing with large documents, or with multiple documents that need to be compared and consolidated, this functionality is a godsend--particularly when you create multiple views of the same note, as the edits you make in one view are immediately reflected in all the others.

Interestingly, the main window's formatting toolbar moves automatically to the view you are currently editing, so that the ability to change text attributes is always handy, even when you have many different notes open at the same time. It's a small thing, but it goes to show that good user-interface design doesn't necessarily mean fancy animations and flashy graphics.

One thing I did not like about the MultiView feature is the fact that opening a new view causes the app's window to first grow until occupies the whole screen, and then be split equally among all views without growing, while closing a view causes it to shrink to fit the remaining panels. Thus, if you, say, open four views and then close three, you end up with a tiny window that, almost inevitably, requires a resize.

Safely at your fingertips

TopXNotes works hard to keep your notes readily available wherever you go. It includes a Quick Notes panel that remains visible at all times while the app is running and can be used to rapidly access specific notes when you need them. Since you can also encrypt and password-protect your notes, this could be an easy way to keep important data like credit card numbers, ID numbers, and so on.

In addition, a companion iOS app can be used to take notes while you're on the go, and can sync back to its desktop counterpart over Wi-Fi. This has the advantage of keeping your data private and in sync without having to depend on a third-party service in the cloud, but it also means having to remember to keep your data synchronized manually.

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