Synology Note Station is one of the new features delivered in Synology DiskStation Manager 5.1 (DSM 5.1) . It’s a additional package that can be installed (like Video Station, Photo Station, etc…) and includes mobile apps. Comparisons to Evernote are inevitable, and justified. It shows a lot of promise as a Evernote replacement for me even though it is far behind on any feature comparison checklist and being a new application it’s rough around the edges.
It does include the ability to import directly from Evernote which is a feature I’m still working through and testing. I’ll write about it once I’m done. It’s one of those rough around the edges areas.
Based on the Evernote features I use Note Station lacks features that compare to the following (some of these Evernote features may be Mac only or Windows only.):
Cannot add notes via email.
Cannot add notes via a “print to…” selection.
Cannot set up a directory to automatically import files.
No Notebook Stacks – Note Station notebooks are a flat list.
Tags cannot be created in a hierarchy, they are a flat list in Note Station.
No integration with other applications or services.
There is no native app for Windows, OS X or Linux, it is web based. (There are mobile apps.)
Syncing to mobile devices is different than Evernote and potentially (depending on your needs) less robust and useful.
The mobile apps cannot accept links (or anything else) from other apps on the device. Likewise, they cannot share notes with other apps on the device.
What Synology Note Station Has
It has the look and feel of Evernote
Notes can be created with embedded images and other types of files can be attached.
Excluding mobile apps (more on them later) Note Station appears robust and able to scale. I’ve been regularly using Note Station with 30 notebooks with about 800 notes. I’ve also tested with another 1,000 (or so) notes in another notebook.
My Initial Impressions
I tested Note Station during the beta and began using it when the production version of DSM 5.1 was released. Much of that time was spent testing and deleting and then re-adding. It’s been part of my workflow for the last few days although I’m still figuring out where I’m comfortable using it.
It doesn’t run as smoothly as Evernote and this can be annoying at times. For example, scrolling a long list of notes in a notebook pauses as it works to refresh the list. I would sometimes reach what I thought was the end of the list only to have it refresh and grow a few moments later. The easiest way to get to the bottom of a list is to reverse the sort order.
The iOS app would also appear to hang up at times, most often when I tapped the menu button.
The iOS app is buggy (at least on my iPhone 5s). Unlike the Android app it hasn’t been updated since the initial release in September so hopefully these bugs will vanish in the next update. The app would frequently crash on me, usually after doing nothing except displaying a note for a couple minutes. Syncing was also quirky (and possibly the cause of the crashes). I had all my notes, yet DS Note would always be in a “syncing” state when it loaded. Often it would stay there until the app crashed, even when I knew there were no changes since the last sync. I didn’t notice any discrepancies in the notes between devices, so syncing seemed to be working. Along these lines, the last successful sync date was often older than the changes that were actually in the notes. Meaning, notes were syncing but the last successful date wasn’t updating. I never had missing notes, and changes synced quickly no matter what the sync date said.
Evernote has the ability to sync individual notebooks to the mobile device. DS Note (the mobile app) does not. All notebooks are synced, in a manner of speaking. Attachments are not synced although they can be downloaded one at a time when viewing the note. Inline pictures aren’t viewable when the Synology NAS isn’t available unless they were previously viewed and cached on the phone.
I couldn’t find any way to delete downloaded attachments or cached pictures so they appear to keep building up. There’s no setting to limit local storage. The only way I can think of to free up space is to delete, then reinstall the app.
Things to Know
These aren’t necessarily bad, just things to know.
* Images are displayed inline but all other files are attachments and show as links. For example, PDFs don’t display inline like they do in Evernote. Attachments must be opened in another application, or another browser tab if the browser supports the file.
* In a browser, the left pane, where the notebook list is displayed, is not sorted. Mine is still in the reverse import order (first imported notebook at the bottom). They can be sorted in the middle pane when “Notebooks” is selected in the left pane.
* Chrome or Firefox is needed to record audio notes.
* I use Evernote to take pictures of receipts, or any document, using an iPhone (I don’t have any other phones to check but it’s probably the same on all smartphones) and have found it does a nice job of automatically cropping to the receipt size. There’s no automatic cropping in DS Note and no built in manual photo editing either.
* I renamed “My Notebook” because I like my default notebook to be called “Inbox”. This worked fine until I restored Note Station. Inbox was restored just fine but “My Notebook” was also there since it was created when Note Station was installed. Neither could be deleted and both were marked as default. For the record, this was during testing and I have since reinstalled/reimported from scratch. I ignored any problems that occurred when I had two default notebooks so every issue in this article is based on a “clean” setup. While I hate the whole “My …” naming convention this problem wasn’t annoying enough for me to try and find a work around.
Synology Note Station is still young, so I’m optimistic it will improve. I don’t expect it will ever have “Mail To” or “Print To” support since I don’t expect it to ever have a native Mac or Windows app. I also expect it to remain browser based. I hope the mobile apps do get sharing features.
The inability to easily email a note is also a real problem for me as is the ad-hoc way attachments are synced to the device. I don’t want to have to pre-sync individual notes or rely on a connection back to home in order to get a note. This just adds too much uncertainty for some of my uses.
The slowness of the IOS app (when I tap the menu button) means I can’t quickly reach the icons to add a photo or audio note so it limits it’s usefulness there. A 5 or 10 second delay seems like an eternity.
With some recent Evernote changes (i.e. Contexts) I’m beginning to think Evernote is starting to see me as a product rather than a customer (I pay for premium) but this is a topic for a different post. I’m not getting out the torches and pitchforks, but I’m glad for the opportunity to move some of my Evernote usage to local tools.
This seems a little more negative than I mean it to be. But the fact is Note Station can’t compete with Evernote on features. A year ago I was using Evernote as a file cabinet where I manually opened and closed the drawer as needed. In the last year I began to use more integrations and time saving features. A year ago I could have dumped Evernote for Note Station and not missed anything. It’s the features I’ve begun to use in the last year where Note Station suffers the most.
I’ll continue to use Synology Note Station for Notebooks where I don’t need the missing features and I look forward to seeing improvements over time.
Synology DiskStation Manager 5.1 (DSM 5.1) has left beta and has been released by Synology. I’ve upgraded three of my Synology NAS’s and all three had a nearly problem free upgrade process. One was upgraded from DSM 5.0 (DS415+) and the other two (DS212+, DS212J) were upgraded from the DSM 5.1 beta.
There are a couple of screens that prompt for information after the firmware upgrade itself. The first asks you how you want the automatic upgrades delivered and installed. It defaults to automatic downloads and installations.
The second screen allows you to consolidate the various Synology services under MyDS. MyDS is Synology’s online service that provides QuickConnect and Dynamic DNS functionality. This can now be managed from a application on your Synology NAS. It now also keeps track of package purchases which is new (at least to me) along with your email subscriptions. This wizard failed for me but I’m not doing Dynamic DNS or QuickConnect through Synology but I do have a MyDS account so that may be the reason. After the upgrade I simply went into the App and entered my MyDS account information.
I’m especially looking forward to Note Station. With some recent changes to Evernote I’m looking to get my note taking app under my complete control. I am a heavy Evernote user and don’t expect Note Station to match it on a feature for feature basis even for the subset of features I use. But my initial impression is it may give me the bulk of what I want for Evernote. I’ve got more testing & evaluation to do (first up being a test of a Note Station backup and restore) but I’m optimistic.
Cloud Sync now supports Microsoft OneDrive which is important to me. There’s more control overall as to what file types are Synced and it seems more reliable that the older Cloud Sync. I would sometimes find the occasional file wouldn’t sync to my NAS and couldn’t figure out why. This seems to have gone away in the beta. If a file didn’t sync it was because it wasn’t of a type set to sync.
File Station, Music Station and Video Station enhancements are relatively minor but add some very nice features. My main complaint about Video Station remains the inability to backup the database through the native tools. If the Photo Station and Note Station databases can be backed up through the built-in backup why can’t Video Station? This keeps me from adding my own metadata to organize videos in Video Station since I could lose it all. Synology has expanded what can be backed up through the built-in backup. Although I must admit that if it was really important I could probably find the database and back it up through a terminal connection.
The full release notes are here. Synology lists release notes by model so these are for my DS1511+ but I’ve found that the release notes are the same across DiskStation models and they also contain enhancements specific to other models.
I recently upgraded my main Synology NAS to a new DS415+. This was so new that the beta software wasn’t available for it. I’m happy that I can now upgrade it and begin to take advantage of DSM 5.1.