Chisel Note: Natural Note-Taking

I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but we — humans, that is — often struggle to remember things. Hence, note-taking is an inherent part of any functional organizational workflow. It is little wonder, then, that numerous app developers have, over the years, attempted to ween us off the good old pen and paper, and move us over to a more technologically advanced method of thought tracking.

For a time, I was drawn in by some of these efforts. I flirted with the creative, freehand reminders which Paper makes possible. I came to the Evernote party relatively late, but I now use it every day to keep my digital life in order. As far as I’m concerned, however, it’s still the case that nothing beats the flexibility and ease of access a real-life notebook can offer. No matter how hard an app tries, it isn’t as visually available as a Post-it note, nor is any touchscreen as sensitive as a thin, bleached slice of tree. What’s more, typed text is ordered — our thoughts, generally, are not.

That is why I’m cautiously enthusiastic about Chisel. Designed to be the one and only digital note-taking app you’re ever going to need, it includes the ability to record your thoughts as text, drawings and annotations.

Can Chisel really strike a decisive blow for digital note-taking? Let the scribbling and typing commence.

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How It looks

The look of Chisel certainly differentiates it from its competitors. The background is one of those abstract, colourful, super-blurred images with no discernible detail, which acts as a blank, but vibrant, canvas. It is not unlike a background you might see in Path. The resultant look is classy, and functional in terms of making your notes stand out.

In front of the background are columns of notes, sorted by subject. Again, it’s pretty to look at, but it’s a shame that the only option for subject headers and in-app trim is orange.

Chisel's look is unusual but pleasing on the eye

Chisel’s look is unusual but pleasing on the eye

Overall, though, the design of Chisel can certainly be described as a positive.

Note-Taking

Note-taking in Chisel is currently a pretty straightforward affair, in part because the number of features on offer isn’t exactly large.

After creating a subject – basically a folder for grouping notes together – you simply tap within each subject column to create a note. When you download Chisel, it limits the number of subjects you can create to four, but you can lift this restriction with a one-time $9.99 upgrade.

By default, notes are text-based, and Chisel encourages you to use bullet points. These can be toggled, with a tap, to move between the on-screen note margin and an indented position within the paragraph you are writing. Other than that, the text formatting options are thin on the ground, but the simplicity is no bad thing — we all seem to survive okay without bold or italics when using Twitter or Facebook.

Chisel tries to get you using bullet points.

Chisel tries to get you using bullet points.

There are times when plain text just won’t do, though. For these occasions, when a little more creativity needs to be added to your digital note, Chisel offers the option to add a drawing.

As with text, Chisel‘s selection of drawing options is relatively minimal. You can draw with a pen-type tool, highlight areas with a digital yellow marker pen, and get rid of unwanted bits with the eraser. The one truly clever feature here, however, is the ability to associate drawings with individual bullet points, thereby allowing your finger-drawn creations to be seen in context.

Chisel's drawing tool provides a link between visual and textual notes

Chisel’s drawing tool provides a link between visual and textual notes

Throughout my testing, Chisel was nothing other than stable and speedy, but this brand new app shows its youthfulness with its current relative lack of features. The developer tells me that options like search, PDF export and image import are in development and on the horizon, but at this stage, Chisel looks undercooked compared with more established offerings to be found in the App Store.

PDFing

There is, however, one area in which Chisel excels – PDF files – although many users won’t necessarily even find it. By default, apps like Safari offer the option of opening PDFs in iBooks, but other apps are available should you choose to trigger the “Open in…” menu. Only here will you discover that Chisel is willing to play nicely with PDF files.

You'll only find Chisel's best feature if you dig through the PDF options

You’ll only find Chisel’s best feature if you dig through the PDF options

Doing so creates a note which contains one bullet point per page in the document. Whilst this doesn’t sound like a groundbreaking concept, the association between visual and textual elements is helpful, and could be doubly so, should you need to make document notes at work or school. The drawing tools make a return while you are viewing individual PDF pages, allowing simple freehand annotation.

Chisel note excels when it comes to PDF annotation

Chisel note excels when it comes to PDF annotation

Conclusion

You can look at the current version of Chisel in two ways, essentially. On the one hand, it looks beautiful, it operates simply and smoothly, and in terms of no-fuss note-taking, there’s very little to criticize. The PDF annotation feature also works well for making side notes with an ebook or document.

On the other hand, in its current form, Chisel is, to put it kindly, very minimal. Although basic features like search and images import are in the pipeline, in the meantime, the use of Chisel requires you to sacrifice some fairly essential features, such as those you can find in Evernote or OneNote.

My verdict, then, is that Chisel is very competent at what it does, but there isn’t much on offer yet. If new features are added, though, Chisel is on its way to becoming a stellar note-taking companion.


Summary

Competent, but overly minimalist note-taking. With feature additions, it could be great.

  • Chisel 1.1  | 
  • Free (limited), $9.99 in-app purchase (unlimited)  | 
  • Chisel
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