Review: TheBrain 11 Reimagines Notes Creation and Editing
TheBrain 11 Reimagines Notes Creation and Editing
TheBrain 11 remains fundamentally the same information and knowledge capture tool that its subscribers have known and loved for years. In this release, the company considered choices made in Notes Editor development as they migrated to native coding on each of their supported platforms. So rather than using third-party libraries for certain features, they rebuilt the Notes Editor natively. As they focused on reliability and performance they also incorporated a wide variety of features like markup, PDF export, and new formatting capabilities. All major Notes Editing features run across the company’s desktop and mobile clients.
Beyond the new Notes Editor, TheBrain 11 also includes improved security, more keyboard shortcuts across the app, Brain icons, updated Brain statistics, autofill in Search based on selected text, Plex sorting, and rendering of HTML attachments via the internal browser.
The Plex sorting feature ignores common words like “The” and “A” and “An” at the beginning of a name for sorting purposes. Authors need to surround these words in parenthesis. As an example (The) Beatles word sort in “B” and (A) Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court would sort into “C.”
But the big investment for this version focused on the Notes Editor and the bevy of features listed below.
TheBrain 11 Notes Editor Features
Markdown: TheBrain 11 enables the direct rendering of formatting, images, and more without requiring a “preview” window. Markdown includes text-based formatting like the ability to type text that converts into formatting, such as [ ]to create a checkbox ** for bold, etc. (click to read TheBrain Markdown Reference Guide).
Toolbar-based formatting with broad support for keyboard shortcuts.
Incremental undo and redo for step-based changes rather than for chunks of changes found in previous versions.
Standard copy and paste support from web pages and other rich formats that retains formatting while editing out messy elements common to complex formats.
Create tables inside of notes with cell-level formatting, images, and other content.
Improved image support including multiple images per line, sizing, and justification. Now supports SVG images.
10 customizable sets of notes styles editable through a visual editor. Set different fonts and weights for each paragraph type and apply them across Brains in realtime.
900+ integrated font families across platforms.
2,000 new searchable high-resolution color icons.
Integrated video and audio playback from within the content area.
Printing including widow and orphan prevention.
PDF and HTML Export.
The Brain 11: Analysis
First of all, the team at TheBrain should be applauded for taking a feature down to its studs and reimagining it. They now offer a content container that competes with tools like OneNote for the ability to capture content of all types and forms (tables, icons, SVG, and inline management). They also offer shortcuts and improved tools for shortening workflows (such as keyboard shortcuts, styles, and improved undo).
But some of the choices, including spellchecking, fonts and markup, while consistent within TheBrain’s framework, may not implement the features in a way that will appeal to users who cherish OS platform design over application platform designs.
I am not a big fan of cross-platform tools that override native font management and OS-level spellchecking. Applications that employ internal design consistency change expected behavior common to other apps in an OS. On the Macintosh, for instance, TheBrain’s editor does not emulate Apple’s Pages or generally the Apple look-and-feel. The be fair, neither does Microsoft Word, but in the case of Microsoft, it can be argued they developed their own ecosystem that just extends to other platforms and therefore offers a competitive alternative to the native choices. I would rather see apps like TheBrain adopt a fully native approach to editing and font management. One of the downsides to the application over OS approach to editing comes from learning words that should be universal across an ecosystem. If I learn or ignore a word in TheBrain, only TheBrain learns that preference.
As for fonts, especially those of us with Adobe subscriptions, disparity arises between TheBrain’s fonts and those installed on our systems. While 900+ fonts is great, when you pay for fonts you tend to want to use them so that exporting, for instance, from one app to another doesn’t require reformatting at that fundamental level. Garamond from TheBrain is not Garamond from Adobe.
After using the new editor, I understand the approach to increase functionality and offer more controlled experiences within the application, but it feels much more of a programmer-oriented environment than one for writers or other concerned first with the capture of ideas and content, and only then with the format. It can be argued that all application developers seek to optimize their local environment based on research from their users. But that also spirals into the echo-chamber of feedback that could lead to servicing existing customers over making a product more broadly appealing. Again, with Microsoft as an example, they have moved toward simplicity over the last several years even when adding new features. The new AI-based design feature, for instance, does not require any special knowledge to apply a design to a slide. 15 years ago that might have been a parameter-driven exercise in selecting the features of the suggested templates rather than the gut feeling of appropriate aesthetics that exists today.
TheBrain 11 Markdown
Markdown is another “modern” element incorporated in TheBrain. While Markdown has its place, but its should not be front and center in the editor. I would like to see markup hidden so I don’t have to worry about breaking things when editing, or more importantly, being distracted by symbols that aren’t editorial. Microsoft Word has always included invisible formatting characters that can be shown when needed, which isn’t often for most Word users.
There are also a few bugs remaining in the latest build that will likely be quashed quickly, including the failure to render font options when inside a word rather than when the word is selected, and a forced restart I experienced when invoking undo in the editor. It also seems to have an issue remember an applied font from session-to-session.
Despite some misgivings about the direction of the editor, TheBrain remains the most powerful and unique tool for managing relationships between ideas and content. Its quirkiness, after all of these years, is a part of its charm and its utility even if they do tend to serve the initiated over the acolytes.
The Brain 11 Pricing
Those on subscription plans receive TheBrain 11 as part of their subscription. Those new to TheBrain can acquire a professional license for $219 that includes updates to TheBrain 11 but not beyond. TheBrain ProCombo offers perpetual licenses, including upgrades. Ending the subscription leaves the latest version in working order (without support). The ProService plan downgrades the app to the free version if the subscription expires.
For more on the overall evaluation of TheBrain and its value see our review of TheBrain 10.
TheBrain provided a copy of TheBrain for review purposes.
For more Serious Insights software reviews click here.
Daniel W. Rasmus
Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.