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Issue 11.4 ('Blackjack')
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REVIEW

iPhone: Vesper

Issue: 11.4 (July/August 2013)
Author: Marc Zeedar
Article Description: No description available.
Article Length (in bytes): 7,903
Starting Page Number: 13
Article Number: 11402
Related Web Link(s):

http://daringfireball.net

Full text of article...

Though I have huge respect for blogger John Gruber of Daring Fireball (http://daringfireball.net) fame, I wasn't impressed when I first heard of Vesper, a new iPhone app he captained along with superstar developer Brent Simmons (NetNewsWire) and interface designer Dave Wiskus. Did the world really need another text snippet-keeping app, especially one that doesn't even sync?

Though I read a positive review or two, I still didn't really understand what the app did. I itched to try it for myself, but balked at the awesome $5 price. Then I realized the absurdity of me waffling over a lousy five bucks! I've paid three times that for movies that were terrible and not worth the two hours out of my life they wasted. So I went for it.

I'm glad I did.

Vesper is definitely different. The first and best thing is that it is simple. I've been trying for years to get my mother to stop using Apple's awful Notes app on her iPhone. But Evernote and other apps are far too complicated for her. I showed her Vesper, but I didn't figure she'd really want to spend $5. To my surprise, she was sold within 30 seconds. Just seeing how simple the app was to use, she was like, "I want that."

The main screen of Vesper only has two buttons: a plus in the upper right for creating a new note, and a widget in the upper left for displaying your tag list. That's it.

Notes themselves are equally minimal: new notes have an area for typing and an area for tags. At the top toolbar are three buttons (not counting the back button on the left): a camera for importing photos from your library or taking a new one; a "share" arrow which lets you email, text, duplicate, or trash the note; and a + button that shows/hides the keyboard. That's it.

Inserting a photo is easy, though you can only have one per note. I didn't think this would be useful (I'm a text guy), but it's surprisingly handy. It makes Vesper a great way to add notes to photos. For instance, while traveling you could add descriptions or stories about the photos you're taking. You might _think_ you'll remember what that unusual food dish was months later, but you won't, so write it down when you take the picture.

Tags are the real power of Vesper. Evernote has tags, but my mom had incredible trouble using them. Tags in Vesper are a dream. Touch a tag bubble to start typing a tag name. After just one letter, tags that contain that letter are displayed in a popup toolbar so you can select one if you want.

Note this isn't just tags that _start_ with the letter you typed: tags with that letter anywhere inside them show up. So if I type "st" on my Vesper, I get tag choices of "Story Ideas" and "Test" (tags I'd previously created).

You can either choose an existing tag or just type in a new tag. Once you've typed a tag, a second tag button appears, but it's grayed out. This invites you to add additional tags if you'd like, as notes can have multiple tags.

Back at the main screen, you simply see an elegant list of all your notes. Slide the screen down a little to display a search bar. The search updates instantly as you type, showing you just the notes that contain the search terms.

If you slide to the right or touch the tags widget in the upper left, you're presented with a list of all your tags. At the top is "All Notes" which is the default view. Touching one of the others only displays notes with that tag. At the bottom is an "Archive" folder, which contains all the notes you've _archived_.

Archived notes are not permanently deleted, but are out of sight. They do show up in searches, but are separated from your other results so you don't confuse them with your current notes. Archived items do _not_ show up when you restrict the view to just a certain tag.

Archiving a note is amazing: just slide the note to the left. As you slide, the word "Archive" in gray appears on the right. If you stop, the note slides back into position and is not archived. If you keep sliding left, the word "Archive" changes to a gentle orange—letting go at that point moves the note to the archive. The effect is super-clean and instantly understandable: you're basically swiping left to "throw" notes off into the archive.

Since archiving is so easy, you can use Vesper as a To-Do list: just create a To-Do tag, so all your To-Dos show up in one place, and swipe each off the screen as you complete the task. Awesome!

It's important to note that Vesper isn't supposed to be a full-featured text editor. That's not its goal at all. It's just a keeper of tiny text snippets. That's why it's made so simple: _it's made to be quick_. I can think of an idea, launch Vesper, type in a quick sentence, add my tag, and exit the program in the time it takes Evernote just to launch and sync!

As such, Vesper is ideal for storing quick thoughts and ideas. As a writer, this is awesome. I have my iPhone with me all the time, so I can use it whenever inspiration strikes (hopefully not while driving). If I think of a short story or novel idea, bingo, it's in Vesper. If I think of an idea for an article for XDev, bingo, it's in Vesper.

For an app that I didn't think I needed, I am using it a lot!

Vesper definitely has limitations, but mostly those are intentional. It's beautifully designed and meant to be simple. No syncing means it's fast. There's no iPad version, but Vesper's purpose is for small quick notes, so I'm not sure an iPad version is really needed.

Some people are worried that lack of syncing means no backup of your notes, but notes are backed up to iCloud when your phone backs up, so I'm not sure that's a significant worry. It's also quite possible that syncing will be added—this is just the product's first release and the developers wanted to focus on core functionality.

The only real drawback that I can see is that there's no way to export groups of notes: you can email yourself a single note, but if you wanted to export a whole category or multiple notes, you'd have to do that one by one. I'm not sure that's a real problem; it seems like it might be, though I honestly haven't encountered a need for it and maybe I wouldn't.

Though Vesper isn't for everyone, and it seems pricey compared to free and 99-cent apps, I highly recommend it. It's full of wonderful design touches that will make you smile. (For instance, if you're in a list of a certain tag and you add a new note, that tag will automatically be added to the new note.) It's a great second brain for all those things you want to remember, from movies or books you want to check out to bugs in code. Though I've had Evernote and other apps for years, I find I'm actually _using_ Vesper, which should tell you something.

End of article.