Updated: Dec 29th to include the new features added by release 7.9.6.
A review of a great app that lets you easily capture hand written notes on a small phone screen!
There are literally 100’s of note taking apps on the market – and I have been using several for months (my previous favorites were ColorNote and Catch) - but FreeNote has made quickly jotting down notes so easy for me that I thought I would take the time to write a mini-"Users Guide" for others.
So what makes FreeNote so great:
Firstly - it has a fantastic widget that permits you not only to scroll up and down on a single note, but also to quickly page through different notes directly within the widget - so you can see all of your notes and todo’s right on your home screen. This is the only app that I have found that has this feature. For example, I have one note for my To-Do's (Fig 1) and another for various conference call codes that I use at work - so I can access them quickly.
Secondly - and more importantly - you can enter notes by either keyboard, spoken voice or by handwriting them on the screen!!! And it is this last feature that makes this such a killer app. I often remember things at inconvenient moments - like late at night in bed! I can grab the phone, click on the widget, quickly scrawl my thought in large letters on the screen (as I finish each word it shrinks the text down to fit tidily on a line). When finished I press the Back or Home key and my thought is instantly saved and displayed on the screen.
FreeNote comes with a Tutorial which consists of a set of example screens – but it has so much functionality that it is takes a while to figure out everything it can do. So following is a brief guide of the main points:
- It comes with about 12 different widget sizes. I found the best was the 6 x 4 as it displays the “next page” controls at the bottom (Fig 1).
- You can change the size of the text displayed in the widget by clicking on the widget to start the app and then using “pinch to zoom” to make the text larger or smaller and then exiting again (Fig 2)
- You can set the widget up to always display a specific note (using the pin on the widget) or to dynamically change to always display the last Note that was viewed in the app.
- When creating the widget, you can select opacity and a background color and image. The option "Show baselines" displays fine horizontal lines on the widget that the text lines up to. Once created, you cannot change any of these options - you have to delete the widget and create it again with the new choices.
- You can use the Prefs menu to control which Widget sizes are displayed in the Add Widget list
Fig 1: 4 x 6 widget on Droid1 - note I am on Page 4 of 5 (Page controls at bottom right)
Fig 2: Same widget - where I have zoomed out to make the text a little larger
The following all applies to the Handwriting English mode – there are 3 other writing modes (1) Ideographic, (2) “2 cell”; (3) Freehand as well as a Paint mode (for drawing pictures) – but I have not used these much yet.
- Writing on the screen takes a bit of getting used to - but with a little practice it becomes very rapid. You "write" a word on the screen in big text between 2 guidelines - and after a second, the app accepts the word and shrinks it down so fits nicely in the note (Fig 3 and 4).
- In addition, the design of the app is so clever that it works perfectly in Portrait mode. If the word is too long to fit on the screen then keep writing it until you are near the right edge. Pause for a second and the text will instantly slide over to the left giving you more space to write – you repeat this until the word is finished.
- If you pause for too long then FreeNote thinks you are done – so if you need to think for a second then keep your finger pressed on the screen.
- You can adjust the length of the pause before FreeNote accepts the word under Prefs --> Editor --> Handwrite(English). I found a 800-850 ms wait time to be good for me.
- There are icons at the bottom for quickly changing between 3 text colors and 2 thicknesses. Long pressing on either of these icons allows you to change the color or thickness to anything you like.
Fig 3: Same Note inside the app in Edit mode
Fig 4: Here is a screenshot of what it looks like as you are writing on the screen (this was tricky to capture!):
There is a row of icons at the top and bottom which provides easy access to many other features:
Icons - Top Row
- New – new note
- Explore – shows thumbnails of all pages so you can navigate between them (Fig 5). In Explore mode is where you can reorder your pages - by long pressing on the note you want to move.
- Keyboard - lets you change between input modes (Keyboard, Handwriting(ideographic), Handwriting(2 cell); Handwriting(English); Handwriting(Freehand) and Paint.
- Undo/Redo – undo mistakes
- Share - share the note to a wide range of other apps like MMS, gallery, or other Notes programs like Catch or EverNote (although saves it as an image – not as text)
Icons - Bottom Row
- Magic button – can be programmed to perform a number of functions (under Prefs --> Usage). After trying them all I found “Switch between Keyboard and Text Entry” the most useful. If you long press on the Magic button, then the various input entry modes are displayed as icons to the right of it for quick selection.
- Insert icons – there are 9 standard ones (Video, Voice, Attach, ToDo, Bookmark, Bookmark link, Page Link, People Link) - plus you can configure your own:
- Video, Voice, Attach - permits you to insert a video, voice message or attachment
- Todo - inserts a Check mark icon that when touched, changes color and puts a line through any text to the right of it (see Fig 3)
- Bookmark – inserts a bookmark icon. You can set up other pages to jump to that position in the note. The Tutorial screens show how this works
- Bookmark Link - creates a link to one of your previously defined bookmark icons.
- Page Link - create link to jump to a different page
- People Link - create a link to a contact from your Contacts list (you have to be on Gingerbread or higher)
- Phrases – used to quickly add frequently used strings such as a time stamp. The list can be edited under Prefs to add your own.
- Your own Icons - You can also add your own icons by copying them to /Freenote/emotion on the SD card. (Eg: telephone icon in Fig 3)
- Paste – paste the text that is in memory to the current position.
- Line space
- Carriage Return
- Delete - deletes last word. Holding down the button rapidly deletes multiple words. (You can also turn on an option in Prefs to back swipe to do same thing, but found that pressing the delete button more effective).
Icons - Text Section
You can select text by long pressing near it until a yellow bar appears and then “stretch” the bar using the handles to cover the text you want. Once selected, a set of new icons appears at the bottom:
- Copy, Cut and Paste - does what you think!
- Link - allows you to link to text on other pages or to a URL (see the demo for examples of this being used)
- Highlighting – adds highlighting to the selected text (Eg: the highlighted green "Buy Present" in Fig 2). You can easily change the color of the highlight.
- Collapse - causes all of the selected text to be collapsed (ie hidden) under the top line. The top line gets a triangle shape to the right of it and is underlined (See the "What is FreeNote" line in the FreeNote Tutorial as an example). Touching that line expands the text out again. This is very useful in long notes - as you can hide some of the details.
In Highlight mode, you can also change the color of the selected text; or modify its size by using a ”pinch to zoom” motion.
Fig 5: Showing all notes in Thumbnail mode:
Pressing on a Note's title at the top displays a screen where you can change the name of the note as well as its category and background color. The Option "Show baselines" displays lines on the note that the text aligns to.
The date displayed on the top right of each Note is the date that the Note was created. It does not change. (I have requested the developer to add an option to be able to set this to the Last Update date - so that it will display the current date for things like To-do lists that may be used over multiple days).
There are also many, many other options under Prefs . After much trial and error I found the following worked best for me:
Keyboard mode is the default = ON . This allows you to swipe up and down in the current note – or left/right to move between notes. I found if I started in Handwriting mode, I would swipe to get to where I wanted, but that would register as Handwriting entry instead (so I would keep putting horizontal strokes across my notes!) Once I am at the location where I want to enter my text, I press the Magic button to change to Handwriting mode and start writing.
Under Menu --> Prefs --> Editor --> Handwrite(English)
Word Spacing height = 50% (under Prefs --> Editor ).
Writing area to the Bottom = ON (this moves the area where you are writing away from your existing text. I then find it easier just to write along the top of the top guideline line rather than trying to stay between the 2 lines)
Word Baseline = ON (this displays the 2 horizontal guidelines on the screen that you need to write between. If set to OFF, these lines only display when actually writing - but I find them a nice indicator that you are in Writing mode.)
Gesture backspace = ON (deletes the last word when you do a right-to-left horizontal stroke, though I find using the DEL key easier to use)
You can change color of the background of all of your notes by going to Prefs --> Appearance --> Background --> Image. You can also set an image as the background. It took me a while to find this, but various types of ruled lines can also be added to a Note by selecting the Tile Option on this screen.
If you want to have different background for each note then press on the Title at the top of the note and then press on Image near the bottom of the window that is displayed. Setting this way only changes the background for that note.
Note: No matter what background you select within the app, the background displayed on the widget will always remain the background selected when the widget was created
- Categories - Notes can be classified into Categories such as "Business" and "Personal". The tool comes with a default list of Categories, but this can be changed under Prefs --> Usage
- Backup/restore - can backup/restore your notes to SD card (but no means to back up to the cloud in current version)
- Graphics - Can take a photo and insert into a note – or use an existing graphic or photo (Menu --> Insert).
- Alarms - Can set alarms to remind you to do something. There is also a Calendar mode (called Diary) where you can enter notes associated with a specific date.
- Search - there is a powerful Search feature – though only works on keyboard entered text.
A new feature added 7.9.4 is to add a left Margin to your notes. You add this by Menu --> Insert --> Page Margin (at very bottom, you may have to scroll). When you do this an orange "Handle" will appear on the left of the screen that you drag across until the margin is the width you want it. When you release the handle it will ask if you want to add this margin to just this page or all pages.
You can draw in the margin, but you can not type or write words in it. (I personally have not really found a very good use for this feature yet, but it is interesting!)
There is an enormous number of features in the Paint function including support for layers and different types of styluses (ink pen, felt pen, 3-D, brush, etc). I have not used this function very much yet, so not going to add much here.
The app comes with a set of screens that act as a brief "tutorial". You can play around on these pages or even delete them all together. They can always be reloaded fresh under Prefs --> Tutorial.
There are a couple of similar handwriting apps on the market such as Handrite and Genial Writing. Both of these have some nice features - but after trying out all 3 for the past week, FreeNote was the clear winner for me!!