Get organized with Springpad

Editor’s Note: In order to diversify our review coverage, Inside Mobile Apps will now run reviews of non-game apps, including utilities like Springpad, today’s app review. 

Springpad is a new cross-platform notebook solution for iOS, Android and the Web from Spring Partners. It combines cloud-based notebook saving with social features and the ability to search for related web content.

This app was tested on three devices: an iPhone 4S, a 2nd-generation iPad and a Motorola Xoom tablet running Android 3.2.

Users require an online account to use Springpad due to the app’s heavy focus on syncing data between devices. It’s possible to sign up using Facebook, Twitter, Google or Yahoo! accounts, or those who prefer to keep their personal information segregated may simply sign up for an account using their email address. Once this step is performed, it is possible to link one’s account to the other services from the user’s control panel — though this feature is only fully-implemented on the Web interface. On iOS, users are able to connect their account to Facebook and Twitter after logging in; on Android, it is only possible to connect to Facebook.

Springpad’s interface revolves around the concept of “notebooks” — discrete collections of user-generated notes that can take a variety of forms. Creating a note is a simple matter of using the “Quick Add” bar to type in a note title, which immediately generates a basic note object. On the iPad version, a separate “Create” button allows users to create notes of various specific types ranging from Tasks (which include a checkbox to mark when completed) to Recipes (which allows the user to search the web for specific recipes then mark an item as either “wanted” or “cooked”). On the iPhone version, these options are buried within the Quick Add option, and on Android and the Web interface they can be accessed by tapping a “plus” sign within the Quick Add option. The lack of consistency between the interfaces is a little disconcerting and can lead to the impression that some versions are not as full-featured as others, but in practice all the same functionality appears to be there, just presented somewhat differently.

Notes can also be added by taking photographs or scanning barcodes, making the app a good choice for generating “wishlists” while out and about. The barcode feature, which is powered by RedLaser’s technology, allows users to find out further information on various products, purchase them online from partner services and also categorizes them appropriately according to the product type. The actual scanning appeared to work best on Android and iPhone 4S, with the iPad 2’s camera having apparent difficulty focusing on a code correctly, and the online database failed to find a relatively common item (an Xbox 360 controller) but had no issue when tested with books.

All notes may be customized with tags to assist with searching and timed reminders (which send push notifications to all associated devices as well as an email reminder), though there does not appear to be the facility to edit a note’s type once it has been created. As such, users must ensure that they have categorized things correctly upon first creation, otherwise they will be forced to recreate their work in the appropriate category. Despite this, it is easy to keep things organized, and the Android version has the added benefit of being able to add shortcuts directly to individual notes on the device’s home screen.

While Springpad is an excellent tool for personal productivity, it also features a decent social component. Users may be discovered through an in-app “Explore” facility, and their notebooks “followed” for future reference. Users may elect to make any of their notebooks public, allowing them to easily share them with the world and pick up followers. It’s also possible for users to invite specific contributors to their private notebooks, allowing the service to be used as a cross-platform collaborative solution for working on projects together. The fact that the service is completely free, too, makes this an attractive prospect for creative types looking for an easy means to share content and ideas between team members, regardless of platform.

The only issue with the app’s social features is that “going public” requires a fundamental shift in thinking, particularly for those who have been using the app since before it opened its doors to the social world. Creating a public notebook requires determining exactly what content users wish to share as well as making something that others will actually want to follow. If users can get their heads around this, however, the implementation of “following” and the ability to quickly “spring” individual notes from others’ notebooks into one’s own collection works well and is a good means of discovering a variety of content — particularly, it seems, recipes.

Springpad is a solid addition to the array of personal productivity and organizational apps available for mobile devices. The quick and easy cross-compatibility between three different platforms makes this an eminently practical solution for individuals, small teams and social types — and a good rival to similar services such as Evernote. The fact that it is presently completely free, with ads nowhere to be seen, is also a big plus point — though as with all free services, this may raise questions as to the viability of the service in the long run — how long will it be able to survive on investors’ money without charging users for “premium” features?

The iOS version of Springpad is currently ranked at No. 113 in Top Free Productivity Apps and No. 75 in Top Free iPad Productivity Apps. Follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for iOS and social apps and developers. Meanwhile, the Android version has been downloaded over a million times since its launch.