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Why I'm Sticking with Standard Notes

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In one of my early posts, I describe how and why I migrated from Evernote to Standard Notes.

My experience with Standard Notes has been good overall. My notes are safely encrypted; the interface is simple on the surface but contains a surprising amount of depth with the additional editors; and the support, seemingly, managed by just one person, is second to none.

In this post, I will compare my experiences with another good, privacy-focused note-taking application called Notesnook, and explain why I decided to stay with Standard Notes in the end.

Are you Disgruntled?

I liked my Standard Notes experience overall, but there were recurring bugs that really started to annoy me with the Linux desktop app:

Enter Notesnook

I'd heard about the new privacy-first note-taking app Notesnook. Like Standard Notes, the developers are focused on providing a privacy-first replacement to Evernote, accessible for mainstream users.

I decided to pay for a subscription, and import all my notes from Standard Notes in order to see what the experience was like. After feeling overwhelmed with this duplicate set of all my notes, I decided on the following split, for practical purposes:

  1. Notesnook - all notes related to The Privacy Dad blog
  2. Standard Notes - all my other notes

In retrospect, this was fortuitous, because after three to four months of trying out both systems, I decided to move everything back to Standard Notes. That process wasn't easy, and, had I reversed the two sets and continued working on the majority of my note set in Notesnook, I'd probably still be re-formatting them for Standard Notes today!

I will describe both the pros and cons of using Notesnook, explain why I decided to stay with Standard Notes, and finish by describing some of the complexities associated with transferring notes from Notesnook to Standard Notes.

While some of the points below may sound critical, I want to be clear that it really was a close call: both products are really good, and that is a win for privacy.


The most immediate impression is that the Notesnook interface looks slicker and more modern than Standard Notes', which still has a slightly home-made appearance.1 The themes and colour schemes are varied, attractive, and easy to interact with. In terms of the interface experience, Notesnook is on par with mainstream alternatives.

The process of importing notes from a Standard Notes export was made easy with the online tool, though more on that in the cons section. Of course, this process is partially aided by Standard Notes' exporting tool.

Importing all my notes presented an opportunity to rethink and streamline my idiosyncratic labels, and here, I found Notesnook's versatile filtering system better. In Notesnook, you can order by, sort by and group by various parameters, both ascending and descending, making for a powerful organisational tool. Grouping your notes by title using A-Z segments, for example, made my 1300+ notes feel manageable.

Notesnook has an attractive deal for educators and students (see below).

Notesnook has a great tool for resolving conflicting notes: the two versions of the note are presented side-by-side, and then you choose which one you want to keep; the other is then automatically deleted.2

Finally: inserting tables, using the 'undo' function, formatting: all of the basics just worked.


The importing process was not flawless. I was under the impression that Standard Notes' tags would safely translate to Notesnook's folder hierarchy system, but this was not true. While having all these tagged notes in one big bag gave me an opportunity to rethink my organisation, you do have to have the time for this.

By the way—for anyone thinking of importing notes from Standard Notes into Notesnook: don't forget to delete your SN trash folder first!

I could not log into Notesnook until I disabled Mullvad VPN, and this caused some conflicting notes to appear.

While Notesnook feels visually superior to Standard Notes, it has its own foibles. I like to put interfaces in dark mode, but when you do that in Notesnook, you cannot see when a note is selected. The cause (dark mode) isn't immediately obvious, so I wasted a good portion of time trying to figure out why the multi-note select option wasn't working. Also with visuals: the themes are great, but have slow loading times when you're testing them out.

The tables work well in Notesnook, similar to what you'd expect in a full word processing application. I was relieved about this, as I'd been having such trouble with tables in Standard Notes. However, my relief was short-lived when I saw that tables expand off screen to the right of the interface, once you start adding more columns. I initially found two ways to access the information hiding beyond the right border: 1) you can scroll down to the bottom row of the table and find a navigation bar there, or 2) you can open the note in focus mode and see the whole table that way. Neither solution is great when working with multiple notes or when your table has many rows. Here, Standard Notes' table viewing is more intuitive. At a later point, I discovered that the 'Enable editor margins' icon, next to the little dark glasses icon for focus mode, solves the problem, but the solution took too long to find (LibreOffice, anyone?).

You can export a note to PDF format. This goes via the printing window of your OS. On Linux (Pop!_OS), exporting a note to PDF froze my system, thus requiring a hard reboot. I was able to reproduce this bug and Notesnook were already aware of the problem.

I couldn't find the option to paste words as plain text in Notesnook. An email address, for example, automatically turns into a hyperlink.

One a related note, I was not able to access a support email address from within the application. There is an email address, but in can only be clicked on, which starts a process to automatically open your email software, which doesn't work for me the way I've set up my email. Frustratingly, right-clicking on the email link does not allow you to copy the email address. As a work-around, I went to the main webpage as a visitor to find a support address (support@streetwriters.co). I wasn't sure if on the receiving end, the Notesnook support team would be able to see that I was mailing as a paying customer or if my request would just be mixed in with general mail. With Standard Notes, it's very clear you're getting priority support as a subscriber via the in-app address.

I sent some (genuine) issues to the support team to see what the quality of the response would be. They responded within 48 hours. Responses were helpful, but brief, and there was no invitation to mail with follow-up questions on the support given.

But the biggest issue, and deciding factor, was Notesnook's limited search function. I know that Standard Notes users complain about not being able to search notes internally, but Notesnook's search currently cannot find the set of notes that is the overlap of two or more search terms. That is a pretty shocking limitation for a note app. To find the relevant notes in Standard Notes for this blog post, I searched 'Notesnook Standard Notes', which listed all the notes I needed to write. Notesnook is currently unable to do that.

The support team informed me that improved search is currently under beta testing, but didn't answer my question about a rough estimate for a date.

Why Standard Notes Wins

At the start of this month, I made the decision to migrate all my blog notes back to Standard Notes. If you are thinking of doing that yourself, please see Documents below for a more detailed outline of that process.

So why did I decide on Standard Notes?

The support (team of one, Effie) is so good. Effie responds quickly, always asks for more detail or clarification and mails me screenshots and step-by-step instructions on how to solve, sometimes quite complex, issues. They are open about ongoing bugs (rather than trying to pull the wool over my eyes with a sales pitch, as many other projects do). Remarkably, Effie asked for a sample set of notes so the developers in her team could reproduce some of the bugs I ran into when migrating notes back into SN. This shows a high level of customer empathy and genuine determination to use criticism for improvement. Effie's tone is always polite and never expresses annoyance with sometimes lengthy follow-up emails from me. It's the best support experience I have had with any software product.

While the layout of Standard Notes looks aged, I like it. (Perhaps bear in mind that I use Thunderbird for some of my emails and can live with that). I like the simplicity of Standard Notes. Additional features are mostly functional, not thematic.

The search tool is powerful and always helps me find the notes I need, using highlighted terms in each note. I don't mind the lack of internal note search in the non-super note types at all; I just scroll through a note.

Finally, there is a sense of familiarity, and dare I say it, loyalty. Standard Notes is one of the earlier products I adopted in my journey to get away from data hoarding software companies. There is something to be said for staying loyal to a product and a team who have the right vision, but may still have some things to work out. When your own software purchasing decisions are based on philosophy (i.e. pro privacy) as well as functionality, I feel customers can give leeway and show some patience with the development cycle.

With that I am contradicting what wrote in "Privacy Tools Are Not Worth the Hassle", about privacy tools needing to compete directly with their mainstream counterparts, but I can only be honest and state that loyalty to the team was one of the reasons for staying with Standard Notes.

Final thoughts—a plea about super note type

Hopefully, the Standard Notes team will not put all their eggs in the super note basket. Standard Note developers have focused on the super note type as a solution to ongoing issues, like inserting tables, a working undo function, and being able search within a note. However, there must be other paying users, who, like me, want choice over uniformity. I find the super note interface unintuitive. (How, for example, does one change font size in a super note?)

I like writing some notes in simple text, keep some in Markdown (all these articles are saved in Markdown) and I just like rich the text note type! Hopefully the team will continue to support the full range of editors, as choice has been one of Standard Notes' strengths.

It's great we are beginning to see choice in the privacy software field. Notesnook and Standard Notes are both excellent tools, and it was interesting for me, as a privacy blogger, to dabble in both systems simultaneously for a few months. While my final choice is Standard Notes, this is largely down to personal preference. I don't have any serious criticisms against Notesnook, other than the search function limitation, and this, the Notesnook team assures me, will be fixed soon.




Notesnook for education

Standard Notes

Here are my notes for migrating from Notesnook to Standard Notes

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  1. I had to look up what to do with the possessive of a plural proper noun ending in 's', like Standard Notes. Fellow grammar nerds, see this page.

  2. Both applications could do more with split screen options.

#digitalprivacy #journey #notesnook #review #standardnotes