I don’t want to say that I’m making a New Year’s Resolution. I have a tendency to break those and it’s almost halfway through February, but I have decided to start writing again more frequently. I’m going to try my hardest to commit to writing several words every day. Notice the non-specificity here? That’s intentional.
Most writings will be for myself in a journal of sorts, but I have a desire to share what useful information I stumble across on the World Wide Web and other random musings about life and making my way through the world as a freelance photographer.
Yesterday when I was sitting in jury duty waiting for my name to be called, I started to look throughout the different App Store offerings and on other blogs around the web for a journal.
I had in mind several things I wanted in the ideal writing tool or journal:
- Something that looks great, works well, and is easy to use
- Something secure so I can be sure no one is reading my content before I want them to
- Something versatile enough for journaling and writing blog posts
- Something with a great organization system to help index what I write
- I’m mostly a Mac user but something that could work cross-platform on the web as well
After a frustrating search that didn’t turn up very much, I started to think about existing platforms that I already use that might be up to the task.
Sure enough, I had one in the arsenal already that would fit almost all of my needs: Bear from Shiny Frog I’ve chosen the Pro version as the ideal candidate for myself. It’s around $15 a year, and at that price, it’s a steal. You can download and try out the apps for free on Mac and iOS. There isn’t a web version at the time of this writing, but they’ve hinted at it in some of their writings. More on that later.
It’s great to have an app that has so many great features that it’s hard to choose your favorite. I’d say it’s a close tie between Bear’s ease-of-use, the beauty of the app and all the different themes, the speed and ease of the synching between all the apps, and the organization system for your writings.
I’ll break each of my requirements down so you can have an idea of whether the app is right for you or not.
Beauty in Form and Function
One look at the intro video for this app is all you need. It demonstrates the interface well and shows off a few of the themes.
Since this isn’t the most in-depth review ever written, I’m not going to post tons of screenshots of the app, but I will share one screenshot of this article as I write it from my iPad.
I’m using the Charcoal theme and I love the colors and font that are offered in this theme. Clean, simple, easy on the eyes.
You can also see the varieties of formatting options that are offered along the bottom of the screenshot above. These help those who might not be up to speed on using markdown. I’m not a power user of markdown myself, so being able to hit the formatting shortcuts is very helpful when I can’t recall the proper syntax.
The formatting bar is not present in the Mac app, all the formatting options are listed under the pen icon on the bottom right of the writing window.
I love a minimal interface and Bear has it for sure. Uncluttered but still fully functional with the tools tucked away neatly, close at hand for when you need them.
For My Eyes Only
On a blog post about security of the app , the developer shares that they use CloudKit from Apple and why that platform was chosen.
Many of the other journaling apps in the App Store use CloudKit for synching, some recently ditching other synching platforms in favor of it, but I liked how Shiny Frogs highlighted the fact that they can’t access your data and actually don’t want to access it either.
Ideally, in today’s world of digital surveillance, I would like some sort of end-to-end encryption, but there is only one platform that offers that (as far as I could tell) and the other areas of that app didn’t seem as polished and perfected as Bear from the outside looking in.
Other security options that aren’t offered in Bear would be password or Touch ID protection of the app. This isn’t offered currently. It wasn’t something I was looking for, but that’s because I have my devices locked with Touch ID. On the Mac side, I have a strong password , FileVault 2 enabled, and other security measures in place to make sure no one can access anything without my permission.
As a side note, I’m not a security and privacy nut or anything. I’m generally trusting Bear and Apple to keep their word and protect my data. Apple seems to be pretty trustworthy in this regard, in my opinion, and Bear has made the right choice by using their platform.
For Every Type of Writing and Beyond
Bear is a really capable app and can handle almost any text-based use case. They show everything in their video from to do lists to general writings and more.
For me, it’s just home for my long form writings. My journal, blog posts, long emails, and other large volumes of text I might generate.
When it’s time to post something to the blog, just simply copy and paste the markdown formatted text and hit post. Couldn’t be easier.
I don’t use Bear for short notes, my platform of choice there is SimpleNote. To do management- I’m currently using Todoist. For handwritten items and notes I’m using GoodNotes, it works amazingly on iOS and specifically on the iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil.
Organization, Sorting, and Searching
For me, this is where Bear shines.
To categorize a post, just use a hashtag and those are shown on the main menu for Bear to narrow down your writings. Awesome. That’s a great feature.
For me, if it’s a blog post it goes under blogs. Journal under journal, emails and letters under emails, other writings under general, and other groups of writing under their respective category or name.
Also there is the ability to link between writings in Bear. I haven’t found a use for this personally, but I’m sure I will at some point.
The search feature also searches all the context of all your writings and it’s really fast.
I’m far from the world’s most organized person, but even I can get a hang of that simple organization and use it to keep things in their respective places.
In the blog post I mentioned above, Shiny Frogs hinted at a web interface and the possibility of collaboration, but those aren’t currently offered in the app. If you need those features, look elsewhere.
Not a deal breaker for me, as I use mostly Apple devices and they have an app on both iOS and MacOS. All the writings I put into Bear are for me and only shared out to the world when I’ve made them the best that I can. No collaboration needed.
All in all, the perfect writing platform for me
Download the free version and give it a spin and let me know what you think.