capsule review

Scrawl lets you store text notes and sync them between your Macs

Although Apple’s iCloud service debuted last fall, it’s only recently that we’ve started to see applications take advantage of iCloud to keep data synchronized between your Macs. Scrawl (Mac App Store link) is one such program, and this note-taking tool is both simple and useful.

Click Scrawl’s pencil icon in your menu bar, and a small list of notes appears, floating over your other applications. Click the New Note (+) button to create a new note, and then type or paste your (text-only) content; you can double-click an existing note to edit it. Scrawl uses Lion’s auto-save feature to automatically save any changes you make, and the program uses iCloud to immediately sync those changes to any other Mac or user account configured with the same iCloud account—you’ve always got the same notes on every Mac. (Note that for iCloud syncing to work, you must enable the Documents & Data option in the iCloud pane of System Preferences.)

Scrawl’s window lists all your notes, using each note’s first line as its title. By default, new notes are added to the top of the list, although the app’s preferences window—accessed by right-clicking (Control-clicking) on Scrawl’s menu-bar icon—lets you choose to have new notes added to the bottom, instead. Unfortunately, there’s no option to sort notes alphabetically or by the modification date/time, although you can manually drag notes up and down in the list to reorder them. Another option lets you make the Scrawl window wider or longer than the default size, and you can choose whether the semi-transparent window blurs whatever is underneath it, or shows it clearly.

Scrawl supports an unlimited number of notes, according to the developer. For obvious reasons, I wasn’t able to test this claim, but in my testing, I didn’t have any problem with many notes. A search field lets you quickly search the contents of all your notes, although it doesn’t highlight where in a particular note your search string resides.

Besides storing traditional notes, Scrawl is also useful for temporarily storing text you want to use later, and if you don’t use a text-expansion or -clipping utility, it can even be used to store frequently-used bits of text. Also useful is that when viewing a note, you can see the date and time it was last modified.

Although they aren’t documented in the app itself, Scrawl offers keyboard shortcuts for creating a new note (Command-N), duplicating an existing note (Command-D), force-saving changes (Command-S), and navigating between notes (Command-Option-arrow—left or right to go to the previous or next note, respectively. You can also use the arrow keys to move up or down the notes list, Spacebar to open the selected note, and Escape to exit a note. However, there’s no keyboard shortcut to activate Scrawl—you must click its menu-bar icon—or to search your notes.

A feature I’d like to see is the capability to drag Scrawl’s popover window off of the menu bar so you could temporarily view it or work with it while working in another app. I’d also like to be able to choose the font and—more important for my eyes—the font size. Finally, sometimes iCloud syncing didn’t happen immediately, and a couple times during my testing, iCloud syncing resulted in duplicate notes on all my Macs, requiring me to go through and delete the duplicates. However, given my other experiences with iCloud syncing so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is an issue with iCloud rather than with Scrawl.

I suspect that over the next few months, more and more note-taking and information-storing apps will offer iCloud syncing, but for the moment, it’s still a rare feature. Scrawl makes good use of iCloud, letting you keep simple notes in sync between your Macs using an interface that’s elegant and simple (though perhaps too simple for some people). And for those of us who frequently use iOS devices, the developer says an iOS app, which will also sync, is in the works for release in “Spring 2012.”

(Note: Scrawl is normally $2, but it’s currently on sale for $1.)

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At a Glance
  • Pad Software Scrawl

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