TopXNotes for iPod, by Tropical Software
Posted: 22-Nov-2006

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Tropical Software Type: SHAREWARE

Reviewer: Andy Wallis Class: PRODUCTIVITY
     
$35   Download

Overview
Reams of paper have been sacrificed to describe how different people create and handle notes on their computers - contact information, task lists, bill notes, or anything else that you have to write down to remember later. Some use a single file, some use a directory and many little files, others use a dedicated note application like Tropical Software's TopXNotes.

TopXNotes is a note collection management application. It allows you to quickly create notes, organize them into multiple categories and mark up, secure and delete notes in a few mouse clicks. The product comes in two versions - TopXNotes and TopXNotes for iPod; the latter allows you to export your notes to a 2nd generation or newer iPod to view your notes on the go; apart from that, all other features are identical.

In this review then, "TopXNotes" is used when referring to all the features common to TopXNotes and TopXNotes for iPod; "TopXNotes for iPod" is used when discussing the iPod-specific features.

Features

  • Create and delete notes in one click.
  • Create new notes from a series of templates.
  • Edit notes with rich text - change fonts, color, sizes, and highlight notes
  • Insert hyperlinks directly into notes
  • Assign notes to one or more categories
  • Create custom categories
  • Find text in your notes
  • Auto-save your notes
  • Export notes to plain or rich text
  • Print notes
  • Password protect a note so that no one else can read it.
  • Quick Note icon on your desktop.
  • TopXNotes for iPod only: Export notes to a 2nd generation or greater iPod.


Requirements
TopXNotes requires a PowerPC Macintosh running MacOS X 10.2 or later. It uses around 20 MB of RAM and 20 MB of hard disk space.

Price
Both applications are shareware. If the product is not registered, it will open for the first 20 times without issue and then start to display a registration reminder. TopXNotes is $25, while TopXNotes for iPod is $30.

Installation
The application is shipped in a mountable disk image file. When it is opened, simply drag the application to the Applications folder on the system. The disk image file folder includes graphics to show you how to do that.

First Impression
TopXNotes opens up with a blank note and several buttons. Their function isn't immediately obvious, but tool tips appear when they are moused over. At the bottom of the window are the buttons to add, delete, print, and read-lock the note. At the top there is a title for the note and buttons to change the fonts, sizes, text and background color, and highlights.


TopXNote Edit Window


When you open TopXNotes, the Quick Notes icon also appears near your desktop hard disk icon; this provides a pulldown menu where you can quickly select frequently used notes if you have categorized them as "Quick Notes". The Quick Notes icon floats above all other windows.


Quick Notes icon


TopXNotes has two major functions, the notepad itself and an organizer. Either one can be hidden or shown through a hide/show button under each window.


TopXNotes Organizer


In Use
I found TopXNotes to be a well designed note manager. The organizer itself lists each note along with its category, the date it was created and last modified. The categories panel allows you to filter on a category and create new categories. A note can also have more than one category.

The Notes panel lists each note in the database with its category. Those notes that have multiple categories are labeled as "Multiple." This panel allows you to sort on 5 attributes: note title, category, note number, date created, and date last modified.

The Groups panel is arguably the most powerful section of the NoteOrganizer. A Group acts as a folder for a series of notes. A Group may contain groups as well. This allows you to sort your notes in a hierarchy and browse through them.

The notepad window itself has buttons at the top of the window to control the fonts, sizes, colors, and text justification. The bottom row has more buttons to create, delete, print, and read-lock the note, as well as next and previous arrow buttons for browsing. The note number is also shown. Most of the default Mac OS X text editing can be used. The online FAQ, which can be imported as a group of notes, shows how to input special characters like checkmarks and bullets. One of the missing functions is the Mac OS X integrated spell checker and web search popup menu. Without those integrated functions, TopXNotes feels less like a part of Mac OS X and creates a user interface disjoint with the rest of the operating system.

A nice little feature is the Quick Notes icon that the program places near the Hard Disk on the Mac OS X Desktop; clicking its bottom edge pulls down a menu of notes in the "Quick Notes" category. The icon looks like you should be able to click in it to create a new note. However, clicking inside the icon has no effect. This is disappointing as the ability to write a quick note would be a major selling point for a program like this. Once more, this function isn't in keeping with Mac OS X standards for frequently used controls - a menulet in the right of the menu bar would be more appropriate than a floater.

One of the more interesting functions of TopXNotes is the "Add Another Note View" (Multiview) function. This feature allows you to view multiple different notes at the same time. With multiple notes open, the editing tools appear in a sliding toolbar that conveniently keeps the text tools above the note that you are currently editing. The Multiview feature can also be used to view multiple windows on the same note, a bit like the Microsoft Word feature for opening a second window on your document. This allows you to reference one part of a long note while you edit another part.

Individual notes and the entire application can be password protected separately. Both kinds of passwords also allow for a hint to be displayed if you forget the password. The notes database itself resides in each user's Documents folder. Reinstalling the OS and restoring the Documents folder allows you to retain the notes database. The problem here is that any password protected notes can't be opened and read when the database is restored.

Starting with version 1.2, TopXNotes allows for a group of notes to be exported or imported. Tropical Software has posted several sample note groups on their web-page for import into TopXNotes. One of the more useful ones is their Frequently Asked Questions about the application itself. Groups of notes are exported in a proprietary format.


Importing Notes into TopXNotes


Individual notes can be exported as plain text or Rich Text. There is no way to import a plain or rich text file as a new note. This makes importing your current notes cumbersome because you have to copy and paste in the contents of each note file. For example, I have about 100 small text files for notes ranging from account numbers, articles, contact information, quotes, and fortune outputs. If I wanted to control all of them through TopXNotes, I would need to spend a couple of hours copying and pasting.

Exporting a note would be useful in order to send it to someone, archive it, or to use it for some other activity that does not requires the TopXNotes manager.

TopXNotes for iPod can export notes to a 2nd generation or newer iPod. When the program is running and an iPod is connected, you can sync your notes and notes groups directly to the iPod. With TopXNotes and iCal, you could turn your iPod into a semi-PDA with note and calendar viewing.

The limitation is that each note you export to an iPod cannot exceed 4KB in size and that all rich text like different fonts, colors, and bolding are lost, resulting in plain text notes. Initially it may seem hard to imagine how a short text note could exceed 4KB, but users often find strange and unusual ways to use applications. For example, I have saved huge text system log outputs, dumped them into notes and synced them to my iPod. The 4KB file size is a limitation and if I had spent time marking up the logs with rich text, my markups would be lost on transfer to the iPod.

The import and export functions can be flaky because a corrupted export or import will not report any errors. Other than reimporting the group, there is no way to confirm a successful export. Care needs to be taken that there is always a good copy of the database around. A feature to be able to export the database into a widely known format like plain text, ZIP, or tar would allay these concerns. This makes the Preference menu invaluable in that you can select how often data is saved and how many different copies of the database there can be.

All of the global customizations are handled through the Preferences menu. From there, you can select the text settings, how often the notes are saved and the global password. Each panel has a button to restore it to its defaults. Under the Text pane, you can test out settings with a sample note window. The iPod panel, which is only available in the iPod version, allows you to define when the iPod data is synced, among other things. One of the more helpful options is a warning when a note exceeds 4KB, since iPods cannot handle a note greater than 4 KB.

One of the touted functions of TopXNotes is Templates. You can choose from thirteen templates, from Bank Accounts to Serial Numbers and Directions. Each template has default data that is used as a guide for you to fill in your own data. Templates could have a lot of promise, but you are confined to the thirteen present. This application would become indispensable if you could generate your own templates. Every user has their own idea of what kind of data entry they would like to automate in the form of a template - for example work logs or checklists.


TopXNotes Templates


Summary
TopXNotes is good note management system. The ease in creating and organizing notes makes it a good application to add to your workflow. The ability to organize notes into groups and categories makes it a valuable management system for a user with a wide ranging set of notes. The ability to export to an iPod is worth the additional $5. There are enough functions and tidbits in the program to boost anyone's productivity. The inability to generate quick notes, make new templates, easily import preexisting notes and the proprietary export format detract from the application. These shortcomings take TopXNotes and TopXNotes for iPod from insanely great to simply good. If those shortcomings were addressed, this application could be center of anyone's workflow.

Pros

  • Easy to categorize and organize notes
  • Easy to modify and reset settings
  • Uses Rich Text in notes
  • Ability to change how often and how much to save
  • Password protect individual notes or the whole application
  • Easy to backup
  • Multiview feature


Cons

  • Can't make new templates
  • Proprietary export format
  • Import and Export errors are not reported
  • Hard to import old notes
  • Password protected notes are lost after reinstalling the OS
  • Quick Notes icon doesn't behave as one would expect
  • Doesn't integrate much with the rest of Mac OS X


Overall Rating

4 out of 5 Mice