iPhone Life magazine

MyShelf Review - Note syncing bliss without the privacy issues!

I really gave Evernote a huge try. Pumped loads of web info, article research, photos and screenshots in there.  Even had my camera SD card configured to post images to my account (check out my review here on how to do this). The love affair ended really not because of any one thing, but a lot of nuisances. General sluggishness and sync issues that crept in. Bigger problems like somehow losing extensive posts or article content I had spent hours crafting, and more obnoxious things like crashing and hanging up. If you looking for an app that can give you simple note/interest gathering capability with little in the way of distractions, you might want to try out MyShelf as an alternative. It won't knock EN off it's lofty perch, but it does let you share note and interest data across your devices.

I should point out that I still think Evernote is awesome. The latest mashup of services and features (Skitch, Pinterest) are beyond cool. I just don't use it as much. But, I still need a way to preserve notes, ideas, and research, so figured I'd give MyShelf a shot, as it covers basic note taking capability that includes a syncing feature, and I was getting a bit weary of the Notes application in iOS. The key features required: the ability to copy/paste content (meaning simple text and images) into a tagged notepad format that in turn is easy to browse, and recall content from. MyShelf is not as polished or full-featured as EN, and lacks many of the widgets that I still love (particularly webclipping), but it doesn't require an active internet connection to function, even if you want to simply sync notes between say a iPad and PC (or Mac). You are liberated from a web service where you may or may not always be able to sync data to some remote server farm, and likewise do not need to be as concerned about the security of storing your data elsewhere.

The main screen presents a pretty common browse experience for this kind of app. In the left-side pane is displayed a summary view listing of note items by Subject, the right pane showing the various note text and image elements. You can sort, filter views and search in the app based on subject, tags, and by various field parameters like recent edits, or creation time. The background is an attractive faux cork board texture, minimalist with standard iOS controls, and the app was snappy and responsive and menus rather easy to figure out. I did not, however add 100s and 100s of notes like I have in my EN account. I might find much different experience once I have applied a large amount of text and images in there.

You can start by simply selecting Add, and a screen appears that let's you start pounding in note content, which can be pasted text form your clipboard, like say a URL or chunk of text, or selected from the photo roll (be nice to be able to clip web content too like EN...). The app organizes the content as you add it into a tablelized view, but you can always go back and rearrange the items how you like them.

Almost all editing function like this have to be enabled by selecting a mode control in both desktop and iPad apps. It would be nice to have more power over note content from the main screens, or without having to turn on edit modes deliberately. URLs are active in the main screen, so selecting one will cause Safari to pop and open the URL. I did note a minor issue where it would show the same image in more than one note that I added. The dev is looking into it.

Instead of jamming in a bunch of stuff, you might start by creating tags (think categories of content--in case you are freaked out by the term "tags"). Say you want separate bins of notes for your best "Recipes", and one for favorite "TV shows", another for "Butterfly's of North America", whatev... If you wish to simply dump all your notes into one big pile (no tags), you can do that too. You could later decide to tag the important stuff, but it would be kind of a pain to do that, since you would have to edit each note individually. It would be handy to be able to apply tags to a large number of notes somehow in the main browse screen, but I have not found it. Once you have your tags all set up, it's easy to apply them as you add notes.

You can also apply sub-category tag filtering when you search out notes by creating and using Meta-tag filters (basically several tags grouped together). I honestly had some wonky behavior with this and the search in general. I often did not immediately get the response I expected. I also noted a few buggy features when adding new notes as mentioned above, but overall the app worked well, and it even unified my note data between both PC and iPad. I made multiple note changes on both devices (often to the same note) to see if I could cause integrity conflicts in the database after a sync, but had no such issues.

Syncing was probably the biggest hassle to get working. Connections are established to the PC from the iPad app client, while the desktop app is running. First I tried setting a hostname in the app settings on my iPad (for my PC), but it didn't seem to connect, and still had to set an actual IP address. You cannot set this inside a dialog in the main menu, but have to look up the app's settings instead. All my devices use dynamic IP addressing (DHCP), so setting an IP each time to connect to my PC is a pain. Secondly, even though I allowed the MyShelf desktop app (and it's java runtime) to connect to incoming connections, it still would not connect until I rebooted my PC. Make sure to note that, lest you think it isn't working due to your FW.

I know what you might be thinking... Why not simply use iCloud syncing with the internal photo stream and notes app, huh? I do, but...well, for one, iCloud doesn't allow me to apply any particular grouping, sorting, or filtering of topic-tagged data like MyShelf can. You also can't sync the native notes to a PC (though you can now view/edit them in the web app). The bottom line is that MyShelf is a workable alternative to at least the most basic noting abilities of services like EN.Though EN is still an amazing service, MyShelf has one advantage in that you can pretty much always count on being able to get to your note data with this app. During my tests it did not go off into sync zombie land like EN would often do. I like MyShelf, and in fact used it to aggregate both web links and screenshots between both client and desktop for this review. I think the dev might drop the price down a dollar or so. $3.99 seems a bit spendy for a note taking app, IMO, but if you are looking for a much more capable notepad than the default iOS app, grab it at the link above. 

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Nate Adcock's picture

Nate Adcock is a system and integration engineer with experience managing and administering a variety of computing environments. He has worked extensively with mobile gadgets of all shapes and sizes for many years. He is also a former military weather forecaster. Nate is a regular contributor for the iphonelife.com and smartphonemag.com blogs and helps manage both websites. Read more from Nate at natestera.drupalgardens.com or e-mail him at nate@iphonelife.com.