The first extra feature which I thought I might find enticing is the ability to record audio from within a note. The Symbian OS had a simple voice recorder, much like the note application, and equally useful; being able to consolidate both into one and switch between written and recorded media as the need arises has the potential of being wonderfully useful. Not only would this facilitate note taking, but it could make it easier to keep track of each item and avoid scatter, a tendency to which, I am sorry to say, I am all too prone.

Then there is the ability to share and sync notes. This is the time of cloud computing after all and one of its main advantages is that we can access our data from practically any place and across a variety of devices. As someone who often edits text (this being a case in point), it would be extremely convenient to work on such things as outlines from my phone and then be able to access them immediately on my computer and vice versa. My ideal note-taking application would allow me to do all this seamlessly through either my Google or Dropbox accounts.

So I rounded up some fifteen applications and gave each a spin in the hope of finding the one which would fit my needs. In the process, I gave each an accessibility rating which you can find explained here. I do hope this is useful to someone.

The Big Apps

The applications in this section are powerhouses of note-taking and sharing, usually designed to facilitate collaboration and organisation. They go beyond text memos and allow such things a audio recording, webclipping, geo-tagging and more.

S-Memo (2/4 a11y stars)

The first thing to do before chasing something around the world is to make sure it cannot be found at home, and, as such, the first note-taking application to investigate for me is naturally S-memo. Part of the Samsung applications suite which comes preloaded on most Galaxy devices, it aims to provide an easy way to jot down anything which may come to mind. Not only does S-memo allow one to write down text notes and record audio, but its main differentiating feature is the ability to take finger-drawn notes and perform hand-writing recognition as well. As a part of the Samsung suite of applications, it can also hook into S-planner to let you pin notes and reminders to your agenda.

Accessibility

When first opening up S-memo, it comes up with preloaded example notes which are mainly graphical and in thumbnail mode; as such, it can seem totally inaccessible. The first thing to do is to choose list mode from the contextual menu and clear the slate by deleting all the preloaded notes. At this point, the application becomes far more accessible.

Creating a memo is as easy as tapping the text memo button at the top right of the screen; one can then title the memo and write content. The contextual menu provides many options, such as adding tags and pictures, sharing, locking, as well as linking the note to an S-planner event. One action which is less obvious is associating a recording to a note, as it is not possible to do so from the menu and a separate button on the toolbar must be tapped to summon the recording controls. Unfortunately, those controls are mostly unlabeled apart from the record button, so that playing the recording back is a somewhat clumsy affair.

The biggest problem by far, however, comes up when viewing a note. It appears that even text notes are rendered graphically, so that the view mode does not yield any information; this means that one must go into edit mode every time, simply in order to be able to read the note. There is therefore always an extra step between seeing a note in the list and actually reading the contents.

Pros

  • Many formats: text, audio, pictures, drawings
  • Good organisation: tags, folders, S-planner
  • Syncing options: Google docs, Evernote, etc.
  • Security: master password, lock specific memos with PIN

Cons

  • Interface feels cluttered and inconsistent at times.
  • Many unlabeled buttons, especially for audio.
  • Extra step to view a note.
  • Emphasis is on visual notes.

Conclusion

S-memo was clearly designed to bolster the productivity value of Samsung's Note line of devices, and, as such, it is a fairly full-featured application. Unfortunately, this also means that it was likely designed to take advantage of the Note's ability to use a stylus (s-pen) and therefore sets more emphasis on drawing and hand-writing recognition, both of which will clearly be of little benefit to the blind user. It is by no means unusable or bad, but, with so many other alternatives available, I see no reason for expending the extra time and energy required to use it.

  • Rating: Two a11y stars.

Evernote (1/4 a11y stars)

Anyone who doesn't know about Evernote by now has probably been living under a rock for a considerable period of time. When people think of note-taking on smart devices, they usually think of Evernote. In fact, it is nearly impossible to find a top five or ten list of the best note-taking apps for Android or iOS that isn't headed by Evernote. As a matter of fact, it was one of the applications I was most excited to try out before even receiving my Android phone.

In short, Evernote is the Dropbox of note-taking, allowing users to take almost everything down as a note, whether text, audio, picture or web page and organise it in notebooks which can be synchronised across devices and even shared with other users for collaborative purposes. It requires a free account (which can then be upgraded), but the possible benefits are so obvious that one does not begrudge it too much.

Accessibility

There is no gentle way to put it; Evernote is disappointingly inaccessible for such a big name in the mobile app market. The first bad news comes as soon as the main screen presents itself, as one finds all but one button unlabeled. There is no contextual menu available through the dedicated capacitive button on my Galaxy S III, but one can be accessed through an unlabeled button on the bottom right corner of the screen. The next big disappointment comes when, upon trying to view a saved note, one makes the discovery that the notes are rendered using webviews. Webviews, for those unfamiliar with the term and history, are a built-in way to render HTML in Android and their accessibility can vary greatly from application to application: some will work nearly flawlessly while others can be so bad as to freeze the interface. While Evernote's webviews do not seem to freeze, neither do they seem to be readable for the most part, once again requiring one to edit a note in order to read it. I cannot comment further on the accessibility of specific features, such as audio recording, sharing or notebook management, because the current situation seemed too hopeless to warrant further investigation.

Conclusion

Evernote is not currently practically accessible for every day use, although I suppose it could be to a certain extent in a pinch. It is worth noting, however, that the accessibility problems seem specific enough that a good audit of unlabeled buttons and some work on the webview front might be sufficient to improve matters drastically. For the time being, though, it is disappointing to see such a popular and promising application so lacking in accessibility.

Catch Notes (3/4 a11y stars)

To every big player there is a challenger, and so it is with Evernote. Catch.com offers an application and service rather similar to Evernote with somewhat different branding and, perhaps, a slightly more limited feature-set. Nevertheless, much of it is there, the collaborative aspect, the ability to capture text, audio and pictures and then sync it across devices, etc.

Accessibility

I tried Catch Notes right after my disappointing and frustrating run-in with Evernote and so approached it rather pessimistically. When, after ten minutes, I had still not managed to create a note, I flung it aside rather huffily and tried to forget all about accessibility for a while. However, convinced that there must be something I had missed, I went back to it, enlisting my wife's eyes in the process. It turns out that there is a slight catch (forgive the pun) to creating notes in Catch, but once aware of it, it becomes quite simple. Down at the bottom of the screen, there is an unlabeled button; if long pressed, it turns into a wheel which allows one to choose which kind of note to create. All that is required is to long press and slide away in a given direction before releasing; no precision is required. Here are the directions and associated actions:

  • Nine o'clock (straight left): Create a reminder.
  • Eleven o'clock (northwest): Create a picture note.
  • Twelve o'clock (straight up): Create a text note.
  • One o'clock (northeast): Create an audio note.
  • Three o'clock (straight right): Create a checklist.

It really is that simple. Viewing and editing notes is also relatively simple, with tapping a note opening it for review or edit while long-pressing summons further options. Most buttons are sadly unlabeled, but the simplicity of the interface still makes it relatively painless to use.

For instance, creating an audio note will start recording automatically; pressing the stop button terminates the process. It is then possible to tap the edit box to type in more details, simply title the note or even put in hashtags. When done, there only remains to hit the "done" button to save the note. Conversely, tapping the note will open it again with a seekbar towards the top of the screen and a button on either side, one to play/pause the recording and the other to summon further options, such as sharing or deleting the audio. At the bottom of the screen can always be found five buttons which, though unlabeled, always perform the same action (e.g, 2nd from the left opens the sharing menu).

Pros

  • Supports many types of notes: text, audio, picture, reminder, checklist.
  • Good organisation: spaces, hashtags.
  • Sync and collaboration through catch.com.
  • Creating a note is super easy with the wheel method.
  • Audio recording starts automatically for quick capture.
  • Reasonably accessible!

Cons

  • Unlabeled buttons will require a learning period.
  • Requires a dedicated account.
  • Requires paid membership to have more than five folders.
  • No per-note locking; master passcode only.
  • Must hit "done" to save, can't just hit back.
  • Hashtags in the text could easily be deleted or mangled while editing.

Conclusion

Catch Notes is a fairly complete application which should suit most needs while retaining an interface which is simple and easy to use. In fact, it speaks to the simplicity of its design that, though almost all buttons are unlabeled, it remains very usable after but a short exploration period. If you are looking for an extensive note taking and collaboration application, it definitely deserves a try.

Springpad (3.5/4 a11y stars)

Springpad is more of a "Personal information organiser" than an out-and-out note taker, but it can certainly serve that purpose. I find it difficult to completely wrap my mind around its concept, but it seems to be a sort of cross between Evernote and Pinterest with some Google Now thrown in.

Accessibility

The application is largely accessible, apart from the occasional unlabeled button, for example when playing a recording back. The springpad developers seem to have done a very good job of embedding textual information in their heavily eye-candied interface. Adding content simply requires tapping the "Add" button at the top of the screen and selecting the type of entry. Once the item is completed, comments can be added by the user or by others, if the notebook is shared.

Pros

  • Very accessible.
  • Many types of notes: text, audio, picture, scan, etc.
  • Good organisation: notebooks, tags, streams.
  • Very collaboration oriented.
  • Social networking angle with ability to make whole notebooks public.
  • Can provide relevant information based on content.

Cons

  • App's aim goes beyond simple information capture which makes for a less efficient interface.
  • No security options?
  • Sharing outside of the springpad platform (via e-mail, Dropbox, etc.) does not appear to be possible.

Conclusion

Springpad seems to be a powerful application and platform which is surprisingly accessible once one understands how it works. It may well prove to be a very viable information management solution for many; however, its focus goes beyond note-taking and, to me at least, this makes it somewhat less appealing than other solutions. Give it a try: it may work for you. At the very least, Evernote has something to learn from these people!

  • Rating: Three and a half a11y stars. (Very nearly four!)

Note Everything (3/4 a11y stars)

Note Everything is another versatile note taking application with support for text, audio, and paint notes in the free version and even more available in its paid counterpart. Although it does not offer a built-in synchronisation system like Evernote or Catch, it does have the ability to turn notes into Google Calendar events as well as export (and import) them with Google Docs, thus opening some interesting possibilities.

Accessibility

The application is mostly accessible and relies fairly heavily on menus available via the "Menu" button. To create a note, one simply has to hit "Menu", tap "New note", choose the type of note desired and proceed. There are some unlabeled buttons but they are fairly easy to remember. This is an all-around accessible app with a minimum of hassle.

Pros

  • Good, no-frill, all-around accessible app.
  • Export notes as Google calendar events.
  • Import and export notes through Google Docs (needs an ad-supported extension).
  • Even more types of notes and features available in paid version.

Cons

  • Menu-driven interface is accessible but feels quite clunky and old.
  • No tags.
  • Doesn't use the standard Android sharing mechanism, unlike almost every other application.

Conclusion

This app does what it does well and even the free version is reasonably featureful. On the other hand, it feels quite outdated in comparison to applications such as S-memo, Evernote and Catch. As such, it may be a worthwhile alternative to consider for those still using older Android devices lacking touch-exploration capabilities (this app boasts backwards compatibility all the way to Android 1.5!).

  • Rating: Three a11y stars.

The Little Apps

These applications offer basic note-taking, and, hopefully, do so with a maximum of accessibility and flexibility and a minimum of fuss. Almost all of these, unless otherwise noted, offer the possibility to set notes as reminders and some form of full-text search.

AK Notepad (4/4 a11y stars)

A simple note-taking application from Catch.com and infant sibling to Catch Notes. It only uses the online service to backup content regularly.

Accessibility

It all just works. The workflow is pretty straightforward and everything is where one expects. The one and only unlabeled button triggers backing up to catch.com.

Pros

  • Just works.
  • Easy and free back up to catch.com.
  • Supports the standard Android sharing mechanism.
  • Nice little features: clickable links, reminders, fairly configurable.
  • Pin to home screen.
  • Supports hashtags.
  • Master passcode.

Cons

  • No folder support.
  • Hashtags are convenient but could easily be deleted or mangled while editing a note.
  • No sync.

Conclusion

If you want to take simple notes simply with the benefit of online backup and a few other time-saving treats, then this could be the one for you.

  • Rating: Four a11y stars!

Colornote (3.5/4 a11y stars)

I fear the introductory paragraph is going to get increasingly short and repetitive as we go along through the list of applications. This is another simple note-taking application; the main difference is that it allows you to colour-code your notes, which is of questionable use to blind users such as myself.

Accessibility

Over all, it is accessible and intuitive enough. At the top of the main screen, there are two unlabeled buttons, one to create a new note and one to search, but you can also add a note from the contextual menu.

Pros

  • Supports notes and checklists.
  • Automatic backup to their online service and/or the SD card.
  • Good security: master password, lock individual notes, encrypted backups.
  • Supports standard Android sharing mechanism.

Cons

  • No organisation except colour-coding.
  • No sync.

Conclusion

A good, all-around accessible application, but the lack of organisational features is a dealbreaker for me. On the other hand, those in search of good security might find it attractive.

  • Rating: Three and a half a11y stars!

GNotes (2/4 a11y stars)

Yes, you guessed it, another note-taking application; its main selling-point is that it can sync with Google Docs or even Gmail, hence the G, though it isn't developed by Google Inc.

Accessibility

Mostly accessible with a peppering of unlabeled buttons and images all around. One can select a note by long pressing it and perform an action (delete, move, etc.) using the unlabeled buttons at the bottom of the screen. On the whole, it works, if one is willing to put in the time to learn the interface.

Pros

  • Google docs or even Gmail sync!
  • Supports batch actions!
  • Folder support (though I couldn't figure out how to create them).
  • Support for checklists.
  • Supports attaching a picture to a note.

Cons

  • Unlabeled buttons and an inconsistent interface combine to make this application neither a joy nor a breeze to use.

Conclusion

This application may well prove a viable solution to someone needing Google Docs synchronisation and willing to spend time memorising the interface through trial and error. To me, however, this is just another note-taking application in need of an interface overhaul.

  • Rating: Two a11y stars.

Inkpad (Not rated)

Read the description on the Play Store if you really want to know.

Accessibility

This application uses webviews and is ad-supported. What this means, currently, is that the interface just freezes; when it unfreezes for a few seconds, I see unlabeled buttons.

Conclusion

Don't waste your time.

Notepad Free (3.5/4 a11y stars)

Yes, another simple Note application. Based on the description, it strives to differentiate itself by providing an "ink on paper" look to the notes and allowing highlighting.

Accessibility

The on-screen button to add notes is unlabeled but can easily be located in the top right corner of the screen. The remainder of the very simple interface and arguably limited feature-set is entirely accessible.

Conclusion

This is a simple and very usable app which probably looks attractive; however, it lacks fairly basic features, such as tagging and password protection. As such, there seems little point in choosing it over other simple, accessible and yet more capable applications.

  • Rating: Three and a half a11y stars.

Notes (4/4 stars)

When mentioning simple, accessible and capable note apps in the previous paragraph, I could as well have been speaking of this pragmatically named application.

Accessibility

Absolutely all buttons are labeled and the interface is simple to understand. Furthermore, selection for mass operation is achieved by means of a checkbox to the right of each note, making it easy to keep track of which items are selected.

Pros

  • Simple, accessible, capable.
  • Labels allow for good, basic organisation.
  • Supports mass operation for labelling, archiving and deleting.
  • Ability to lock individual notes.
  • Trash system prevents accidental deletion.
  • Automatic backup system keeps up to ten copies of the database on either internal memory or the SD card.
  • Can pin notes to widget.
  • Supports to-do lists.

Cons

  • No sync or remote backup whatsoever.
  • Does not use standard Android sharing mechanism, so fewer options (e.g no export to Dropbox).
  • Notes can have multiple labels, but only one label can be selected for displaying them, providing no granularity.

Conclusion

This may well be the perfect app for anyone seeking a simple, yet reasonably powerful app who is not too concerned with remote backup or syncing.

  • Rating: Four a11y stars!

OI Notepad (4/4 a11y stars)

This is a notepad application created by the Open Intents project; it is completely free and its source can be freely obtained, perused and modified.

Accessibility

The application is entirely accessible and options are usually where one expects to find them.

Pros

  • Simple, accessible, capable.
  • Tags allow for good organisation.
  • Individual notes can be encrypted.
  • Uses standard Android share mechanism.
  • Supports extensions and themes.

Cons

  • No remote sync or backup whatsoever.
  • No reminders.
  • Notes can have multiple tags, but only one of them can be selected for displaying, providing no granularity.

Conclusion

Another very good choice for those looking for a solid, simple app and not requiring sync capability.

  • Rating: Four a11y stars.

Something different

As you can see, there is no shortage of simple note-taking applications for Android, they come in all shapes and sizes, not to mention a widely varying range of usefulness. There are however some applications which try to do things slightly differently and open new horizons; below are three such examples.

Memability (3.5/4 a11y stars)

Some colleagues working together went in search of an Android application which would enable them to collaborate on ideas and manage workload in the form of notes and, especially, outlines. After a long and ultimately fruitless search, they decided to write their own application, which they named Memability. Memability tries to solve the problem of creating and managing a complex structure of mixed notes and outlines by implementing a flexible hierarchical system, where any item can have as many children and subchildren as the user wants; each node can be a simple title or a whole piece of text. As you can imagine, the possibilities are endless, especially when coupled with the ability to sync to Google Tasks.

Accessibility

There are some unlabeled or not very clearly labeled buttons, but they are not difficult to memorise once one grasps the interface. In the top right corner of the screen is an unlabeled button which always creates a new element on the current level. To the left of that button is a breadcrumb-style bar showing where one is in the hierarchy and allowing to jump back to a specific level. Otherwise, each element can be tapped to edit its title and body. To the right of each element is a button with a number, showing how many children the element has; tapping that button enters the sublevel. There seems to be a method for selecting multiple elements, but I could not figure it out, or perhaps it does not work at this point. What other options are available can be found in the contextual menu.

Pros

  • Infinite organisational possibilities.
  • Ideal for complex outlines and lists.
  • Very streamlined workflow.
  • Google Tasks sync can be a powerful tool for personal organisation or collaborative efforts.

Cons

  • No search.
  • No security.
  • No date and time stamps.
  • No sharing.

Conclusion

The possibilities offered by a hierarchical note system coupled with full syncing to a service like Google Tasks are truly intriguing; unfortunately, its general lack of features makes Memability less attractive than it might otherwise be. Especially disappointing is the inability to search notes; one would have thought that would have been a very obvious thing to add in order to manage a database which has the possibility of becoming infinitely complex. Still, this may well be worth investigating for those who frequently work on outlines in a collaborative environment.

  • Rating: Three and a half a11y stars.

Unote (4/4 a11y stars)

Unote is another hierarchical note system and offers the same organisational possibilities as Memability, but without the syncing ability.

Accessibility

Not only is Unote fully accessible, but it comes prepopulated with example notes which serve as a simple tutorial.

Pros

  • Infinite organisational possibilities.
  • Ideal for complex outlines and lists.
  • Next to no learning curve, thanks to accessible and well-documented interface.

Cons

  • Clumsy, inconsistent workflow.
  • No search.
  • No security.
  • No date and time stamps.
  • No sharing.
  • No syncing.
  • Appears to have been abandoned by its developer (no update since 2010).

Conclusion

Despite its ease of use, Unote has more cons and fewer pros than Memability and is unlikely to get any better, given that it has not been updated in over two years.

  • Rating: Four a11y stars.

Epistle (3.5/4 stars)

UPDATE: Unfortunately, as I was gleaning the links to the apps reviewed, I discovered that Epistle is no longer in the play store. If Epistle sounds interesting to you, I recommend another markdown editor called Denote which offers very similar features and is accessible.

Epistle is not a note-taking application, it is meant as a text editor. It was designed with writing markdown syntax in mind, allowing simple formatting through textual elements. Not only can it edit simple ascii text documents, but it can render the markdown syntax to HTML for preview and sync its contents directly to Dropbox.

Accessibility

Epistle has a few unlabeled buttons, but their scarcity makes it fairly easy to memorise them. In the main window, the row of three buttons in the top right corner of the screen are, from left to right, "Search", "Sync" and "New". When a document is opened by tapping on it, its title is displayed in an edit field containing its title is displayed with two buttons to the right of it, "Edit" and "Share" respectively. Long-pressing a title there is the added option to delete it as well. Over all, the interface is usable, if a little quirky.

Pros

  • Direct syncing to Dropbox.
  • Full-text search.
  • Supports the standard Android sharing mechanism.
  • Sort documents by date or title.

Cons

  • Workflow not necessarily optimised for quick note-taking.
  • No organisational features (tags, folders, etc.).
  • Clunky interface

Conclusion

It may not be as sleek or feature-rich as some of the other note applications reviewed above, but for those, like me, who like the idea of simple text notes sync'd straight to a Dropbox folder which can then be edited either from their phone or computer, Epistle is the answer.

  • Rating: Three and a half a11y stars.
    • See update.

The Winners

By now, you have no doubt concluded as I have that there are plenty of worthwhile note apps for Android, many of them being quite accessible. Which application is right for you will depend on your needs just as much as its accessibility, and so you are encouraged to review the pros and cons of all those apps to which I felt I could give three or four stars. Here are my picks.

Of the big applications, I will most likely explore the possibilities offered by Catch Notes. It combines a simple and reasonably accessible interface with many media formats and the possibility of online synchronisation and collaboration. Though it is not for me, Springpad also deserves a special mention, as it is both very accessible and powerful.

Of the simple note applications, I like AK Notepad, Notes and OI notepad. If AK notepad's use of hashtags proves practical, it will probably become my de facto application, otherwise, Notes would probably be my next choice.

Finally, I will likely keep Both Memability and Epistle around. I can see myself using the latter, perhaps not for everyday note-taking, but to easily trade bits and bites of text back and forth between my computer and phone. As for Memability, I could see myself integrating it in my workflow, especially if it ever gained full-text search and a couple more basic features. Indeed, if Epistle and Memability somehow merged, they probably would become the perfect application for me.

Thanks

As always, thank you for taking the time to read this review and for sharing it with others, should you have found it of some use.