Perhaps it's because the iPad lends itself so perfectly to note-taking, but it seems like all of the really great note-taking apps are being developed for iOS. So when I heard from developer Nadim Kobeissi about the Bluenote (US$5.99) app for Mac, I asked if I could test it for TUAW. Bluenote is quite an interesting app, not only taking and securing notes, but providing a task list and a place to lock away passwords and other secret stuff. It performs all of these functions through a simple and minimalist user interface, which unsurprisingly features shades of the color blue.
The first thing that happens once you launch Bluenote is that you're asked for a password. This password is used to encrypt your data, so the app checks the length and complexity of your password and makes suggestions if it isn't up to snuff.
Once you're done with that, Bluenote provides a quick onscreen tutorial through a note in the app. That note points out the icons on the far left of the window (although the note says right... Update: this error was fixed with a software update on 3/29/13) are used for switching between notes, task lists and passwords, and that there's a fourth icon for searching through documents. To add a new note, task list or password, just click on the appropriate icon and then on the + sign that appears below the icon when it is active.
Notes appear to be HTML-based, as copying and pasting this review into Bluenote carried over embedded links and some style changes. Text can be bolded, italic, underscored or struck through, each note is date-stamped, and there's an email button for sending your note.
That email button doesn't appear to be ready for prime time; clicking it simply opened a new browser window for Gmail, and the note wasn't actually copied over for sending. Since a majority of users will probably be using Apple's Mail app, it's perplexing why the mail button doesn't work with Mail. Update: this issue was resolved with the 1.02 update which became available on 3/29/13.
There are some other oddities in the app as well. For example, there's a delete "x" for removing notes. If you click it, there's no warning dialog asking if you really want to delete the note. That would be fine, but there's not actually a way to undo accidental deletions... Update: a warning dialog was added to the app with the 1.02 update.
The task list is very basic. Each task list can contain any number of tasks, and relative completion of each task can be designated by clicking on a circle next to the task -- a completely empty circle means no work has yet been done, a "quarter moon" means that you've done a little work, and a full circle indicates completion.
Once again, there is a way to delete individual tasks in a task list by clicking on a "-" sign button, but if you do, they're gone for good. There's no un-delete capability.
One of the most charming features of the app is the robust set of icons that is included for marking your notes, tasks and passwords. These are simple white line drawings on the blue background of the app, and they make it fun to denote what a note or task is all about. Have to bring the cat to the vet? Use the cat icon. Need to go to the bank? Use the pig (piggy bank?) or one that looks like the classic edifice of a bank. Use a shopping cart icon for marking a shopping list or a credit card icon to remind you to pay a credit card.
The tasks in the task list have no way to set reminders or alerts; they simply exist in list form. For me, this is fine because I usually write down things I need to do on a Post-It Note pad and check off items as they're done. But for many people, some sort of reminder is going to be a necessity. Personally, I'd like to see integration with Apple's Reminders app and Notification Center.
The password storage function of Bluenote will never hold a candle to 1Password, which is the gold standard for password manager apps. However, for people who just need to keep a relatively small list of passwords away from prying eyes, Bluenote should work fine. For each account you wish to capture information for, there's a title, spaces for username and password, and a button for generating a password. Notes about the account, such as an URL or expiration date, can be typed in at the bottom of each password slip.
The only real setting for Bluenote at this time is for changing the encryption password. There's no preferences pane and really no need for one. There's no cloud sync at this point, although the app indicates that Dropbox support is coming soon. iCloud support would also be a plus for the app.
Bluenote supports full-screen mode, so if you want to dedicate a Mac screen to notes and task lists, you're in luck. I like the simplistic concept of this app -- it lets you take notes, make lists, even store passwords, and then it gets out of the way. However, the lack of undo features is a concern to me, and I'll be much happier when I can use this on any number of Macs with syncing through Dropbox. I'd also like to see Bluenote on the iPad and iPhone, as cross-platform capabilities would make it ultra-powerful.
That being said, should you buy Bluenote now? If you want an easy-to-use bare bones note-taking and task list app, go for it. The few quirks in the app can be avoided with some common sense. It's fun to use and just gets out of the way so you can do what you need to do.