App Review: Finger Notes 3
From the dawn of time, man has had to find a ways to write down his thoughts and reminders in order not to forget them. From the paintings on the walls of caves by cavemen; to the detailed hand writing on parchment paper with ink and a sharpened quill. Fast forward to today and we've made the grand leap from parchment to little neon-colored squares or paper we can stick to things. What a marvelous age we live in where we can afix reminders to the refrigerator, the mirror, and the door when you leave for work. Wouldn’t it be great to have the color and fun of sticky notes without forgetting them and the expense of rebuying them?
Allow us to introduce you to Finger Notes, by Middlemind Games. It's a very simplified webOS notes app that lets you add your own creative touch now available for the TouchPad. There are other note-taking apps out there, like Pocket Mirror, Evernote, Notes HD, and even the built-in webOS Memos app, but what Finger Notes provides is simplicity and ease of control with the use of just one finger. But using just that one finger can be limiting - Finger Notes isn't an end-all solution for quick notes, and it certainly isn't perfect.
As you open the Finger Notes, you are greeted with three large buttons in a column on the left, the first being selected on launch and sending you to the developer's branded t-shirt, mug, paraphanalia store (Finger Notes is free of charge and free of ads, so Middlemind Games is advertising themselves instead). The second will switch the right panel to a list of your saved notes with big previews, as well as providing the option to save your notes to your TouchPad's photo album so you can send them to friends and family. This can be particularly useful for keeping that clear and direct "note to spouse" around for when they eventually claim to have never seen it. The final button opens the new note panel, which puzzlingly uses big images in a four-page scroller to offer the selection of white, yellow, green, or blue. It's fun and cute at first, but having to scroll to use anything other than white gets old quickly when all four could be easily presented at once on a single screen.
Besides the straight-forward simplicity, one of our favorite parts of Finger Notes is that your virtual notes open to full screen. You have the entire screen in which to express yourself any way you wish. The tools are kept very minimal and are generally easy to find and figure out on your own. Tucked into the top left corner is a home button to take you back, save button, and three pens with circles beside them indicating thickness. Below that is a small black rectangle, which, though not immediately obvious, is the eraser. Colors are given by five pencils at the bottom, your choices are black, red, blue, green, and orange. Selecting one of the tools turns it from black to light gray, while a color bumps that stubby pencil up over the rest. The pen size also affects the eraser size, though this isn't clear at first glance - one would think that if it did so the eraser would be grouped down with the pencils (perhaps as a pencil, eraser-end up).
Lines drawn with the pencil were generally smooth, so long as you didn't make too many sharp turns or short dashes too quickly. The eraser's another story. Unlike the smooth, round-tipped pencils, the eraser is rectangle that jaggedly follows you around the screen, leaving a trail of interspersed empty blocks where it managed to erase. It's an incredibly frustrating tool to use, so you might as well treat the pencils like they're pens and just not erase things.
The home and save controls are also frustrating in comparison to what we've gotten from other webOS apps. Perhaps we've been spoiled by the concept of 'constantly saving', but that's precisely what Finger Notes doesn't do. The home button will take you back to the three-button column store/saved/new screen, but first it will prompt you with a "Question?" dialog, asking if you want to leave the note and lose any unsaved changes. You get Yes or No, meaning that you either have to leave and lose your changes, or stay and then save before you leave. Yep, there's no 'Save and Leave' option, nor does the app save what you were doing if you happen to close the entire app. And it even gives you the prompt save-or-leave prompt if you haven't edited the note.
The save control, the classic floppy disk, first asks "Do you want to save this note", and after saying Yes, asks you to name it and select Save or Cancel. Why it has to have the "are you sure you meant to hit the save button?" nanny dialog first, we don't know. If you have a note already saved under a name, it'll ask you if you want to overwrite it - a handy feature to prevent accidental overwrites, at least until you start editing old notes and Finger Notes makes saving an ongoing note a three step process (save button, confirm yes, hit save, confirm that yes this is the same note). In 2012, saving something as simple as a note shouldn't be this difficult - it almost makes us want to reach for the physical notepad and a pencil.
Finger Notes has a few more oddities up its sleeve. The app is clearly designed for landscape orientation and doesn’t handle rotation well; when in the note editor, turning to portrait mode will rotate the note, but it won't change the size of the editor. Instead you get a 768-pixels-tall and 1024-pixels-wide note aligned to the top left corner, with the bottom 256 pixels useless white, and the right 256 pixels of the note off the screen. If the app can't handle rotation, the developer has tools at their disposal to disable it in the app. We also ran into a bug with some of our notes, where it somehow would scroll up by the height of the color pencils if we drew a line just right, not giving us the option to scroll back down. Notes that had been edited like this saved and edited later just fine, but when we exported them to Photos, they went over "scrolled up", with the top of the note cut off and an odd black bar at the bottom, no matter how many times we had saved it since encountering that bug.
There's no getting around it - Finger Notes has potential in a category that's sparsely populated on the TouchPad, but it's missing the mark by a wide margin. The controls could use significant refinement, the app needs constant save support or at least a faster save option with fewer steps and more logic, a much improved eraser function, and show-stopper bugs like the random-scroll black bar export need to be crushed. Sure, Finger Notes is a free app and it draws pretty well, but it's so frustrating to use you'd be better off sticking with Just Draw for your finger-based fun and Notes HD for serious note taking.