I’d heard plenty about Bear, the note-taking and writing app for iOS and macOS, but I’d dismissed it because it used its own sync service instead of iCloud. But I was wrong. It doesn’t, it does use iCloud. I think I’d read about it using a subscription for syncing, and assumed that meant their own syncing back-end, but it’s just a subscription to pay for the advanced features. And at £1.49 a month, it’s not too expensive if I use it enough.
What is Bear?
It’s an app for notes and writing. If you use Apple’s own Notes app, it’s similar, but more elegant, and much better suited to writing. I used to use Ulysses, before it got too expensive, and Bear feels more like Ulysses, but with functionality for notes more like Notes.
From what I’ve seen so far, it could be a lot of different things. It seems pretty good as a minimalist writing app using Markdown. It looks like it can also be used for web clipping, to keep interesting articles you’ve found. It can even be a task management app, with checklists organised in multiple documents for managing projects. It can store attachments, including PDFs, photos and drawings. It looks like the sort of app you could pretty much ‘live’ in, and use for all sorts of things, but I’m going to start by using it for writing, and then experiment with other things.
I’ve been using Notes for writing, but it hasn’t been ideal. Notes is better than it was, but it’s still not pretty. Navigating around feels just a little bit awkward, so it’s never felt good for writing. Bear feels much better. Not as good as Ulysses, but when it switched to a subscription model, Ulysses got a bit too expensive for me, for the amount of writing I do. If I wrote for a living, it would probably be worth it. Bear doesn’t feel far behind, though, and in some ways better.
As mentioned above, Bear uses iCloud for syncing, which is fast, reliable, and simple. One deal-breaker for me with any notes app is using its own syncing back-end. I already use and trust Apple for syncing my data, and I don’t want to have to trust someone else with all my note data. It was one of the reasons I finally gave up on Evernote, along with a general feeling that it was getting less and less suited to what I wanted with each version, and a strong feeling that they didn’t really want individual users any more – just businesses with lots of users.
I wouldn’t consider a subscription for most apps, but for something I use enough, I’m happy enough to pay that way. It gives the developers a good recurring income they can use to fund improvements. For apps that are expensive to develop, it’s also a good alternative to having to pay a lot up front. Paying £1.50 a month doesn’t feel like too much, but, say, £30 up front would probably put me off.
Bear isn’t very useful without a subscription. They say the subscription is just for ‘advanced’ features, but syncing between devices seems pretty basic to me. I’m not complaining, though – the subscriptions include a free trial before they start charging, and they need to make money out of it. Allow syncing without a subscription, and a lot of people would probably manage fine without paying.
I’m starting by using Bear for writing. So far, that’s going well – I’m writing this in Bear now. If that continues well, I’ll experiment with other things. I don’t think it’s likely it’ll replace Reminders, as notifications and integration with Siri are too important to me, but I may try using it for planning and projects, which I currently do in Notes. I’ll experiment with using it for web clippings, and reference stuff too.
Even if it never suits me for anything other than writing, though, it could be worth the subscription cost just for that.