Bear 1.6: Nearly-Perfect Notes
For the past year or so, I’ve been using Bear as my primary note-taking environment. The app recently hit version 1.6, bringing along support for Siri Shortcuts, navigation refinements, sync improvements, dark mode on macOS, and more.
The Siri Shortcuts support opens up a lot of fun doors, and I intend to dig into that more deeply soon. But I wanted to take a moment to talk about note-taking in general.
I have a frustrating relationship with note-taking apps because I don’t love any of them—Bear included. Mainly, this is because I can’t seem to find a solution that fulfills all my needs.
- I want something beautiful, quick, and minimal
- I need to be able to access it on all my devices
- Sharing/collaboration is a must
Bear and Apple Notes
I use Bear because it comes closest to ticking those boxes, is updated frequently by a passionate team, and isn’t free.1
The obvious shortcoming of Bear is that there’s no native sharing. I can share the content of a note, but not the note itself. This means there’s no collaborative editing, and no way to keep another person’s copy of a note up to date without re-sending it to them periodically.
Unfortunately for me, a huge portion of my note usage is collaborative.
I share trip planning notes with my travel partners, I share show notes with podcast co-hosts, meeting notes with my colleagues, plus a litany of things with my girlfriend, including meal plans and recipes, past Christmas gifts we’ve given to people, research notes for projects, car maintenance records, and so on.
In practice, this means that I use both Bear and Apple Notes in conjunction. One for my personal notes, and the other for everything involving other people. I hate using two solutions to the same problem, but every time I try to consolidate everything to Apple Notes, I find myself frustrated by its organizational approach, aesthetics, and opaque, sometimes-unreliable sync.2
I used Evernote for a long time, OneNote for bullet journal way back in the day, and have dabbled in other options including SimpleNote, Google Keep, Notion, Drafts, and of course just tossing notes into Ulysses along with my general writing.
The most promising of the above is Notion, because it manages to be both functionally robust and light-feeling. It’s a web-based app though, which means there’s a layer of jankiness that’s hard to shake, even in the native apps for each platform.
Aside from that aspect though, it really is compelling: it’s available everywhere, has a ton of formatting and structure options, supports native sharing along with link-based sharing using granular permissions, and is updated constantly.
What’s holding me back from using it more extensively is other people; I collaborate with a lot of Apple-centric folks, so given a choice between asking them to use a geeky new app or working with the default one that they already know and use (Apple Notes), the choice is clear.
The Ideal Bear
Sharing would immediately turn Bear into a suitable one-stop solution for me, as I could convince those I work with to use Bear more readily than Notion.
There are some other refinements I’d like to see:
- Better link previews. I miss this a lot coming from Apple Notes, where links are turned into beautiful little cards
- Hiding of tags in the sidebar. I put my categorization tags under my note titles, which feels more natural to me than stuffing them at the bottom. The downside is that they take up much of the preview space in the sidebar. I wish Bear would hide such categorization tags from the sidebar preview, showing only the note title and its contents. Maybe the solution is a dedicated tag field for categorization, similar to the way Drafts does it?
- Custom font support. Because I ❤ typography
Sharing seems unlikely to come to Bear, at least the way it’s built now, but I’m hopeful that at least some of the other improvements will find their way into the app in the coming months.
Ultimately, Bear is the most satisfying, beautiful, and refined note-taking environment I’ve encountered, so I’m happy to continue using and supporting it. But notes are still one part of my personal productivity puzzle that I’m itching to streamline.
Yes, paying for a product is a feature to me these days. We live in interesting times. Apple Notes and other integrated services are an exception because I trust that Apple’s business model favours user privacy.↩
Over the years, I’ve had not one but two catastrophic sync failures with my Apple Notes database. It wasn’t a matter of lost data, but a matter of individual devices falling out of sync unpredictably. In both cases I ended up having to re-create the entire database to get sync to work again across all devices.↩