Hands-on with Notes 4 in El Capitan

It's a little bigger, and that may make it more useful to more people.

notes4 mac icon

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Apple’s Notes is reportedly one of the most popular apps on the Mac. Makes sense, since it comes with every Mac and it syncs between your Macs and iOS devices. It’s a lightweight app good for jotting things down.

I stopped using Notes a long time ago in favor of Evernote. I don’t think I’m going to drop Evernote anytime soon; I have too many notes saved in Evernote to completely abandon it. But I am interested in the new features in Notes 4 to see how it can fit into my workflow.

Jason Snell took a look at Notes 4 in his first look of the El Capitan public beta. Here, I’ll take a closer look at the changes and new features using the El Capitan golden master.

Growing up

Just in case you don’t know or forgot, here’s what version 3 of Notes on the Mac looks like. (Of course, you can always fire it up yourself. Notes 3 in Yosemite is located in the Applications folder.)


Notes 3

Notes 3 doesn’t do a whole lot. Your note entries appear on the left and the contents of each note appears on the right (you can also double-click a note to open it in its own window). The formatting tools are basic. You can add images, but PDFs and other non-image files like audio or video files appear as “inactive” attachments.

Notes 4 allows you to do more. Its user interface is reminiscent of another Apple app, Mail. Notes 4 features three panes, with the left pane of folders, a middle pane showing the notes in the the selected folder, and a viewer on the right. There’s a button to hide or show the folders pane, so you can switch between two and three pane views.

notes4 ui

Notes 4

The most important change to Notes is that a notes file is more robust. Instead of treating files like videos, audio, and PDFs as if they were attachments, they are “active” in a note. Videos and audio appear in an embedded player and can be played within a note instead of launching an external player. When you drag a PDF into a note, the pages of the PDF appear in the Notes file.

Attachments Browser

Apps like Evernote, Yojimbo, and OneNote are used for notes, but they’re often used as a repository for your random bits of data—web links, images, files that you want to use later, but don’t really have a place to put them right now.

The new Attachment Browser helps Notes 4 move towards being that repository. Click on the Attachment Browser button, and a window with six tabs opens. Here, the file attachments for all of your notes are viewable; click on each tab to see its respective file type. The Browser makes it a lot easier to spot a file if you don’t remember its name, which prevents you from finding it in search.

el cap photos notes

Notes 4 picture viewer

Other changes

You can instantly make a checklist by selecting the items in your note and then clicking on the “Make a checklist” button. Next to that button is a new formatting button. There’s also a Photos button that pops up a window so you can access pictures in the Photos app.

The Share button throughout El Capitan now lists Notes, so you can send items into the Notes app. For example, I looked up locations in Maps and sent them to Notes via the Share button. I can quickly access those locations in the Maps section of Notes’ Attachment Browser.

maps to notes4

The Share button now includes Notes, so you can send data like map locations directly into the app.

Editor's note: This story originally posted during the release of the El Capitan beta. It has been checked and updated using the El Capitan released version.

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