Baron Fig released an app this week called Codex. It is supposed to take photos of your notebook pages and allow you to categorize them via a tagging system. This is to solve the problem of notes about one subject being in multiple notebooks, or have multiple notebooks dedicated to one subject. Many of us analogheads have this problem and with a little tweaking, this could be a good digital solution.
A few thoughts follow, but what I do want to say is that this review is based on my experiences and based on the first release version of this app.
Obviously, apps change, bugs get fixed, features added, and get generally better over time. Baron Fig has stated that they plan on iterating and building on this app on a consistent basis, and it is true: they released the app earlier this week and there has already been one update.
So here's my thoughts:
Opening the app for the first time, you're essentially given a rundown of how the app works and then told about the pricing structure, which is a subscription: 99¢ a month or $9.99 a year. I'm not going to begrudge anyone of making money, and this is more a criticism of the App Store itself, but the subscription model is about the only way you can get people to be able to try your app for free and hook them, then charge for it later. This app doesn't feel like a subscription-type app to me, but it definitely feels like a paid app. I don't know what the answer is here, and I feel for all developers trying to make money in the App Store, but this is a major issue that Apple needs to address. As the app stands now, however, it feels like a paid app with some in-app purchases for features down the road.
Codex simply has you take a picture of your notebook page, detects the page edge, scans and straightens the image, then once you accept the image, it asks you to "hashtag" the scan so you can organize it. I put "hashtag" in quotes, because this system is somewhat between tagging and putting it in a folder. It is essentially a folder system that allows you to keep scans in multiple folders. You can then swipe through your scans held within each hashtag and view the project notes in total that have been saved from multiple notebooks.
File Management and Storage
Codex uses iCloud and the local phone storage to store your scans. These are not kept on the Camera Roll, but within the app itself. The scans are part of your iCloud backup, it seems, as "Backup to iCloud" is a toggle switch in the settings. You're able to Star items within each hashtag, and when you toggle the Star in the hashtag's grid view, you can see only Starred scans. If you need to delete a scan or you mis-tagged it, you must do so in a contextual menu that comes up only after you "tap & hold" on a scan in the grid view or when viewing the scan itself. You can also share the scan as an Image or a PDF with this contextual menu from the grid view, and from a share button in the scan view. This is a little confusing, because these are important options that seem hidden to me. You also can't name any of the scans, only Star them, which is an interesting decision due to the fact that in the grid view, a lot of those scans look the same until you tap on one and get into the scan view.
What isn't explained is what happens to my scans if I decide to stop paying the subscription. Does the app just become unusable at that point? I don't think they've said, and it's nowhere to be found in any documentation or on the App Store listing. I would like an option to "batch send" all my scans somewhere, be it the Camera Roll, a folder on iCloud Drive, or Dropbox.
Design & User Interface
Codex matches with the rest of the Baron Fig branding, it looks nice, and is minimal and sparse, only giving you what you need when you need it. However, in that effort to be "on brand", I think they've made a few features hard to find unless you know iOS and how to try gestures to see if they work. For instance, as I said above, many features are buried under the "tap and hold" gesture, including some very important features like Delete and Change Hashtags.
If you're in a hashtag and you click the camera icon to take a scan, it automatically puts the scan in that hashtag, which is great when you mean to do that, but a pain when you don't. To me, it feels like the Camera button should be a universal tap that brings me to the start of the "adding a scan" process, no matter where I am or where I came from, but I understand the thinking.
Some of the options that are indeed actionable look greyed-out and UN-actionable, especially in the Edit Image screen after taking a scan. Here's where a bit of the Baron Fig minimalism gets in the way. It feels to me when I look at those actions that they can't be invoked, and I think that only because that is part of the iOS design language. Especially since nothing else in the app is really that color.
Taking a Scan
When you tap the Camera icon in the bottom right corner, you can take a scan of the page you're looking to copy. The camera tries to detect the page and the edges and when it does lock in, that's when you snap the photo. In the first version of this app that came out at the beginning of the week, it worked flawlessly. Now with this newest update, I'm having an issue locking onto a page. I tried to get as much light and as much contrast as I could, but the page lock shape was dancing around so much (even when I put the phone on a tripod to stabilize it), that I ended up turning off the page detection feature in some instances. Which is a shame, because once you've locked onto the edges and snapped the image, it would scan it and straighted it for you, but only while using auto-detect edges. One tip would be that you should not get as close as you can to the page, because it seems the edge detection gets worse as the edges of you page get closer to the edges of the screen.
You can edit your scan only slightly. Once the picture is taken, you can rotate it or toggle between color and black & white. There is no cropping feature. Once you save the scan, you are asked to choose which hashtags to put it in, and you can pick multiples or create a new one. Once you do that, the scan is saved and you are taken back to the screen from which you invoked the camera.
There is no Optical Character Recognition like in Evernote Scannable, so there is no searching through your scans for certain words or phrases...in fact, there's no searching at all, since you can't name your scans. This would be a killer feature and would improve the app considerably.
I really want this app to succeed. This would be a great Evernote Scannable killer if it just takes the next step...at this point it's a good Version 1 with a few hiccups that need to be worked out. Without Optical Image Recognition, this is essentially a camera app with a few bells & whistles in the file management department. A universal version would be ideal, not so much for taking scans, but for viewing them and showing them to others on a bigger screen. And I need to be offered a way to get out of their ecosystem with my work intact if I ever decide to leave it, so an export feature or similar solution would be a nice addition.
What makes me hopeful for this app is that Baron Fig listens to its users and has already started to make changes in the first week. They are actively seeking feedback and want to know how this app can be improved. Have you used it? Leave your thoughts in the comments!