Synology Note Station is one of the new features delivered in Synology DiskStation Manager 5.1 (DSM 5.1) . It’s a additional package that can be installed (like Video Station, Photo Station, etc…) and includes mobile apps. Comparisons to Evernote are inevitable, and justified. It shows a lot of promise as a Evernote replacement for me even though it is far behind on any feature comparison checklist and being a new application it’s rough around the edges. Here are my first impressions.
Synology Note Station is one of the new features delivered in Synology DiskStation Manager 5.1 (DSM 5.1) . It’s a additional package that can be installed (like Video Station, Photo Station, etc…) and includes mobile apps. Comparisons to Evernote are inevitable, and justified. It shows a lot of promise as a Evernote replacement for me even though it is far behind on any feature comparison checklist and being a new application it’s rough around the edges.
It does include the ability to import directly from Evernote which is a feature I’m still working through and testing. I’ll write about it once I’m done. It’s one of those rough around the edges areas.
Based on the Evernote features I use Note Station lacks features that compare to the following (some of these Evernote features may be Mac only or Windows only.):
- Cannot add notes via email.
- Cannot add notes via a “print to…” selection.
- Cannot set up a directory to automatically import files.
- No Notebook Stacks – Note Station notebooks are a flat list.
- Tags cannot be created in a hierarchy, they are a flat list in Note Station.
- No integration with other applications or services.
- There is no native app for Windows, OS X or Linux, it is web based. (There are mobile apps.)
- Syncing to mobile devices is different than Evernote and potentially (depending on your needs) less robust and useful.
- The mobile apps cannot accept links (or anything else) from other apps on the device. Likewise, they cannot share notes with other apps on the device.
What Synology Note Station Has
- It has the look and feel of Evernote
- Notes can be created with embedded images and other types of files can be attached.
- Excluding mobile apps (more on them later) Note Station appears robust and able to scale. I’ve been regularly using Note Station with 30 notebooks with about 800 notes. I’ve also tested with another 1,000 (or so) notes in another notebook.
My Initial Impressions
I tested Note Station during the beta and began using it when the production version of DSM 5.1 was released. Much of that time was spent testing and deleting and then re-adding. It’s been part of my workflow for the last few days although I’m still figuring out where I’m comfortable using it.
It doesn’t run as smoothly as Evernote and this can be annoying at times. For example, scrolling a long list of notes in a notebook pauses as it works to refresh the list. I would sometimes reach what I thought was the end of the list only to have it refresh and grow a few moments later. The easiest way to get to the bottom of a list is to reverse the sort order.
The iOS app would also appear to hang up at times, most often when I tapped the menu button.
The iOS app is buggy (at least on my iPhone 5s). Unlike the Android app it hasn’t been updated since the initial release in September so hopefully these bugs will vanish in the next update. The app would frequently crash on me, usually after doing nothing except displaying a note for a couple minutes. Syncing was also quirky (and possibly the cause of the crashes). I had all my notes, yet DS Note would always be in a “syncing” state when it loaded. Often it would stay there until the app crashed, even when I knew there were no changes since the last sync. I didn’t notice any discrepancies in the notes between devices, so syncing seemed to be working. Along these lines, the last successful sync date was often older than the changes that were actually in the notes. Meaning, notes were syncing but the last successful date wasn’t updating. I never had missing notes, and changes synced quickly no matter what the sync date said.
Evernote has the ability to sync individual notebooks to the mobile device. DS Note (the mobile app) does not. All notebooks are synced, in a manner of speaking. Attachments are not synced although they can be downloaded one at a time when viewing the note. Inline pictures aren’t viewable when the Synology NAS isn’t available unless they were previously viewed and cached on the phone.
I couldn’t find any way to delete downloaded attachments or cached pictures so they appear to keep building up. There’s no setting to limit local storage. The only way I can think of to free up space is to delete, then reinstall the app.
Things to Know
These aren’t necessarily bad, just things to know.
* Images are displayed inline but all other files are attachments and show as links. For example, PDFs don’t display inline like they do in Evernote. Attachments must be opened in another application, or another browser tab if the browser supports the file.
* In a browser, the left pane, where the notebook list is displayed, is not sorted. Mine is still in the reverse import order (first imported notebook at the bottom). They can be sorted in the middle pane when “Notebooks” is selected in the left pane.
* Chrome or Firefox is needed to record audio notes.
* I use Evernote to take pictures of receipts, or any document, using an iPhone (I don’t have any other phones to check but it’s probably the same on all smartphones) and have found it does a nice job of automatically cropping to the receipt size. There’s no automatic cropping in DS Note and no built in manual photo editing either.
* I renamed “My Notebook” because I like my default notebook to be called “Inbox”. This worked fine until I restored Note Station. Inbox was restored just fine but “My Notebook” was also there since it was created when Note Station was installed. Neither could be deleted and both were marked as default. For the record, this was during testing and I have since reinstalled/reimported from scratch. I ignored any problems that occurred when I had two default notebooks so every issue in this article is based on a “clean” setup. While I hate the whole “My …” naming convention this problem wasn’t annoying enough for me to try and find a work around.
Synology Note Station is still young, so I’m optimistic it will improve. I don’t expect it will ever have “Mail To” or “Print To” support since I don’t expect it to ever have a native Mac or Windows app. I also expect it to remain browser based. I hope the mobile apps do get sharing features.
The inability to easily email a note is also a real problem for me as is the ad-hoc way attachments are synced to the device. I don’t want to have to pre-sync individual notes or rely on a connection back to home in order to get a note. This just adds too much uncertainty for some of my uses.
The slowness of the IOS app (when I tap the menu button) means I can’t quickly reach the icons to add a photo or audio note so it limits it’s usefulness there. A 5 or 10 second delay seems like an eternity.
With some recent Evernote changes (i.e. Contexts) I’m beginning to think Evernote is starting to see me as a product rather than a customer (I pay for premium) but this is a topic for a different post. I’m not getting out the torches and pitchforks, but I’m glad for the opportunity to move some of my Evernote usage to local tools.
This seems a little more negative than I mean it to be. But the fact is Note Station can’t compete with Evernote on features. A year ago I was using Evernote as a file cabinet where I manually opened and closed the drawer as needed. In the last year I began to use more integrations and time saving features. A year ago I could have dumped Evernote for Note Station and not missed anything. It’s the features I’ve begun to use in the last year where Note Station suffers the most.
I’ll continue to use Synology Note Station for Notebooks where I don’t need the missing features and I look forward to seeing improvements over time.