App Comparison: Bear vs Standard Notes
Why this comparison
I love beautiful software. I also love security, and prefer to support open source software projects rather than proprietary efforts whenever it's reasonable to do so.
I have ADHD. Note-taking is an enormous part of how I work with my brain; I have tried many systems (physical and digital), and combinations of systems over the years. I am very invested in finding a solution that will hold up, long term, to heavy daily use and is also in line with the preferences I stated above.
The following information is largely copied and pasted from Bear's website, as of this morning.
Platforms: MacOS, iOS, WatchOS Price: Freemium. Free tier: create notes, add tags and attachments, and export to a variety of formats. “Bear Pro”: $14.99 annually / $1.49 monthly: sync between all your devices, over a dozen beautiful themes, and more powerful export options.
- Formatting: “Advanced Markup” Editor (basically markdown)
- Syntax highlighting for 20 programming languages
- Rich previews
- In-line support for images and photos
- Cross-Note Links
- Multiple themes
- Multiple export options including HTML, PDF, DOCX, MD, JPG, and more
- Smart Data Recognition of elements like links, emails, addresses, colors, and more to come
- Focus Mode (hides everything in the UI)
- Notes are stored in plain text
- Multi-device sync via iCloud
- Regular updates
Bear is a truly beautiful app and it's very easy to form a habit of using it since it integrates so neatly into other apps one already uses. The price of Bear's deep, seamless integration with Apple's products is lock-in to their ecosystem. Bear becomes more generally useful the more Apple products you own, and less useful the fewer you own. This is worrisome to me; I suspect non-OS software and device hardware shouldn't have their fates so closely bound together.
One thing I'd like to note is that Agenda kind of ripped off Bear's design, added a calendar integration, and focused on event note-taking. If you have a lot of recurring standing meetings or courses, particularly if you are responsible for managing agendas, action items etc, I would recommend giving it a look. It is proprietary and freemium. https://agenda.com/
As before, I have largely copied and pasted this information from Standard Notes' website this morning.
Platforms: MacOS, Windows, Linux (AppImage), iOS, Android, web Price: Freemium. Free tier: end to end private encryption, sync all your devices, web and offline access, unlimited notes, unlimited devices. You may self-host this tier. “Standard Notes Extended”: $9.99 monthly, $50.04 1-year (or, $4.17/month), $148.80 5-year (or, $2.48/month), which gives you access to themes and extensions (or plug-ins.)
- Formatting: Markdown
- Syntax highlighting for 120 programming languages (via Code Editor extension)
- Rich previews (via about 4 of the extensions)
- In-line support for images and photos (via Plus Editor extension)
- Todos (via Simple Task Editor extension)
- Multiple themes (via extensions)
- Export as txt
- Hashtags (enhanced via Quick Tags extension; also “Smart Tags” [interact w/your tags via JSON] via Folders extension)
- Focus Mode (via No Distraction extension)
- Multi-device sync via Dropbox, Google Drive, or WebDAV server
- Regular updates
- All notes, tags, and other data generated using the Standard Notes applications are encrypted using AES-256 encryption[^]
- Github push
- Vim keybindings (via Vim Editor extension)
- Infinite undo / infinite history
Standard Notes is extremely feature-full, but has managed to retain a UI that doesn't feel like Microsoft Word. If you are clever about using all of its features, it can replace several separate applications. The additional layers of security it contains do not result in it feeling burdensome to use.
From this cursory comparison, I can see a few things:
- Support for typical activities — text formatting, syntax highlighting, todos, live preview of formatting / images / etc, themes — is covered by both apps. If looks matter to you, Bear might have the better free tier.
- Free tiers aside, Bear is significantly less expensive than Standard Notes, even if one pre-pays for 5 years of Standard Notes and thus receives the greatest discount available.
- Standard Notes is significantly more secure.
- Standard Notes contains key features that primarily appeal to developers.
Ultimately, for the suite of applications and services I'd prefer to use (e.g. Nextcloud), Standard Notes is the better choice for me since it permits a WebDAV sync destination. I also appreciate Standard Notes' extremely privacy-first approach, which appears to be a founding principle and not marketing promises.
I find it interesting that despite being a self-professed note taking nerd (for crying out loud, I was a die-hard Notational Velocity user for years), I didn't know Standard Notes existed before last week — and they've been around since 2017. Maybe this post will expose a few more note-takers to another secure, private alternative.