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Getting started with NotesTab Pro note-taking app

This simple, cross-platform note-taking app works works with OS X, iOS, and Windows 8.

Matt Elliott/CNET

In my quest for a note-taking app that I might use beyond the time I spend testing it out in order to bring you, loyal readers, my thoughts on it, I ask three questions:

1. Is it so straightforward and easy to use that I don't need to read a user manual or lengthy FAQ page to start taking notes and making lists with it?

2. Does it sync across my Mac and my iPhone?

3. Is it cheap or free?

I have encountered handwriting apps -- Paper, Penultimate, and MagicalPad -- that while visually striking don't appeal to my call for simplicity. I just want to be able to type out quick notes and lists. I found Noted too simple, too reliant on gestures, and lacking a companion Mac app. And moving in the other direction, Evernote and its array of features still proves too daunting for me to take the plunge. Meanwhile, I have used to-do list apps Any.Do and Clear at various times and think they are well designed, but I want one app for both my note-taking and list-making chores.

I came across NotesTab Pro for the Mac today as a discounted $2 Tuesday app. (I was away from my computer yesterday, so I apologize for bringing this to you a day late.) There are, however, a few hours remaining for the discount as I write this, and even at full price NotesTab Pro costs a reasonable $4.99. There is also a free version of the app, but it doesn't offer cloud sync among other features. The universal iOS app costs 99 cents (69p/AU$1.29).

NotesTab Pro on the Mac isn't all that different from the basic Notes app you get with OS X. What I like about NotesTab Pro is that it lives in the menu bar, meaning it's always only a click away. With Notes, I have to grant it valuable real estate in my Dock.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Clicking on the NotesTab Pro icon in the menu bar opens a drop-down panel where you can view your list of notes, create new notes, and edit existing notes. Notes are arranged in reverse chronological order so that the note you edited most recently is listed at the top. You can also star notes so that they get pinned to the top of the list. Unfortunately, there is no way to drag to reorder your notes.

Note taking is blissfully straightforward. There are four buttons at the top of the window. Click the "+" button to create a new note. The downward arrow button detaches window from the menu bar so you can resize it, and the anchor button keeps the window on top of any of your other open windows. Lastly, the gear icon takes you to settings where you can set up hotkeys, add the app to your Dock, choose between two themes, choose a font and font size, and create an account with an email address to set up syncing.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

On the universal iOS app, the NotesTab app features an even cleaner design than the Mac app. To log into your account so your notes are sycned across your Mac and iPhone, tap the menu button in the upper-left corner and tap Setup Syncing. I wish the iPhone app supported landscape mode, however, for quicker, two-thumb typing. There is also a Windows 8 app.

I really like the simplicity of both the Mac and iOS apps and the syncing between the two is quick. Like other strictly note-taking apps such as OS X's Notes app, however, NotesTab Pro doesn't offer any list-making features. If the app offered a way to make checklist lists, then it might have me smitten forever. As it stands, I think NotesTab Pro will become my go-to note-taking app, but my search continues for the perfect method for taking notes across my Apple devices.