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Triple your Study Speed with MarginNote

If you often review pdf or E-Pub documents and take notes from them then you need MarginNote Pro.  No ifs or buts, this will dramatically increase your Study efficiency.  This MarginNote review covers the IOS version.

Pros

  • Extremely efficient way to create outline notes, mindmaps and flashcards from selected Text and diagrams in E-Books.
  • Highlighting text & diagrams, tagging, search, additional comments and voice notes.  It’s all there and more.
  • Integrates with other mindmapping programs and Evernote
  • Hierarchical document management system

Cons

  • Post processing of the outline/mindmap is necessary to create a hierarchy from the highlights.
  • The resultant mindmap is a bit messy as there is no central node. Exporting to iThoughtsHD remedies this.
  • Takes some time to learn the full functionality

Bottom Line

Without doubt, the fastest and easiest way I have found to make notes from E-Books.  I could not contemplate using any other method at this point.  Other methods now look tedious and feature constrained in comparison to MarginNote Pro which really boosts productivity.

Introduction

I stumbled onto MarginNote Pro by accident.  I had independently created my own tool to create mindmaps from pdf highlights to make my study and note taking more efficient.  I was referred to MarginNote after posting this article and I have to say Sun Min did a much superior job than my simple tool.  It is extremely powerful and one only has to refer to the user manual to get some feeling for this.  Should you be in the middle of eating your cornflakes, best put down that spoon.  I would not want anyone to be choking when I relate the size of the user manual – it is a whopping 144 pages.  144 pages!  When was the last time you read a 144 page user manual for an IOS app?

I fell into the depths of despair at the prospect of having to condense this tome into a 1500 word review for my readers.  I likely can’t do it justice, but let’s have a go in this review of MarginNote Pro.

MarginNote User Interface

As with my normal app review, let’s start off with the user interface of MarginNote Pro.  There are quite a few different views so we begin with the Top Level document management.  This is a fairly straightforward affair where you can organize your pdfs and E-Pub files.  Folders can be created to categorize the documents.  It is also possible to retrieve the files from Dropbox, iCloud or to import from other IOS apps.

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MarginNotes Document Management

Most of your time though will be spent reading documents, so you will be staring for prolonged periods at the screen below.  There are four key areas,

  • The centre shows the E-Book in question. To highlight any text or dragram, drag straight onto the area of the page that you want to select.  That is sufficient to highlight that text or diagram in one step.
  • The top enables switching between different views – Book text, Outline, Mindmap or indeed combinations of these.
  • The bottom provides some options for adding comments and freehand drawing
  • Finally the right of the page shows the page comments and you can also add voice notes which will show up here.

 

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MarginNotes Pro Main Book viewing screen

This main screen is the MarginNotes view where you are really creating the content and notes that you wish to review or study at a later time.  The review of that information can be done using outline, mindmaps, flashcards or a combination of those.  That we review in the next section.

 

MarginNote Features and Functions

The primary function of MarginNote is for a reader to define key pieces of information in an E-Book, supplement it with additional notes and make those two pieces of information available for review in a condensed format.  So, there are 2 parts to this process.  The definition of the information and the review of that information.  First the former of the two.

There are several ways in which you can create the review material in MarginNotes.

  1. Directly selecting a section of text. This is a simple one step to procedure to create a highlight and is very efficient.  A small window also opens where the colour can be changed or additional information added.
  2. Dragging across a diagram will also create a highlight for that diagram.  It will appear in the outline or mindmap view as the diagram.  The short video below indicates how quick and simple it is to highlight text and diagrams.
  1. Selecting text also enables comments to be added. So, select the highlighted text, hit the comments button on the pop up window and you can enter additional comments on the text.
  2. Voice messages. On the right comments bar there is a little microphone button at the bottom.  If you wish to dictate some thoughts on the text, also possible by hitting that little button.  You can get some idea of the power of the additional comments section in the video below.
  1. Free hand drawing. Hit the button at the bottom for freehand and you can directly draw on the pdf.  Again this drawing will become a highlighted item that can be searched for and listed with all the other highlighted text, diagrams and notes.

After highlighting and annotating a book, it is time to view that information.  The screenshot below shows two options.  On the left we have the outline view and on the right the mindmap.  Any change to one will immediately reflect in the other.  The outline view is a hierarchical view of all the highlighted items and you can easily change the indent or position of any of the notes.

One tedious part that I have found here though is the creation of the hierarchy.  By default, all outline items will be at the same level and one needs to indent each item appropriately.  TIP: To make for quicker and easier organization of the highlighted items, colour code them to indicate where they stand in the hierarchy.  I use Red for top level headings, then Yellow for sub-headings and blue for paragraph text.

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Hybrid Outline and Mindmap view

Naturally the outline view is hierarchical and can be expanded and contracted as one wishes.  It is also possible for the app to create flash cards with the same information as a useful aid to memorization of the information.

As you can see from the screenshot above, MarginNote does not really do an excellent job of organizing the mindmap notes.  I find iThoughtsHD to be much better in this regard so would TIP: Recommend to export the final mindmap to iThoughtsHD for easier viewing.

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View of the complete mindmap in iThoughtsHD

 

As you create more annotated books the need for search functionality increases and thankfully MarginNote has your back.  It is possible to tag comments and quickly filter for those comments on any of the annotated E-Books as well as conducting text searches.

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Text and Tag Search Functionality

A couple of other nice features to mention.  From highlighted text it is also possible to use that text as a search term in the MarginNote Web browser for further research.  Photos and comments can also be added to the comments section of any note.

Platforms

Currently MarginNote is available on two platforms, IOS and Mac.  In my opinion, it is ideally suited to a touch interface and so if you are interested to buy then it may be better to go for the latter of the two.

Fortunately MarginNote also integrates well with other apps.  E-book files can be imported from cloud services such as Dropbox or iCloud and can even convert web pages to Epub format for annotation.  Various export options include

  • Omnioutliner
  • Mindmanager, iThoughtsHD
  • Evernote sync
  • As annotated pdf

MarginNote Pricing

Pricing for the IOS version of MarginNote Pro is a very reasonable $7.99, while the Mac version is $32.99.

MarginNote Review Summary

I think we can wrap this up with a bit of logic.

If,

You have an iPad AND

You use said iPad for consuming E-Books AND

You wish to highlight/annotate those books for reference THEN

Get this App!

I think it is a great tool and very powerful and has certainly changed the way I take notes from E-Books for the better.  One slight downside that comes as a consequence of the functionality is that there will be some learning curve involved so you may want to have a browse of the 144 page manual.  Stick with it and you will find it to be a boon for your study efficiency.  In my non-scientific study, I typically could review a book and make notes 2-3 times faster than normal.  Recommended.

Brendan Toner

Let me welcome you to this alcove of the internet. In this little productivity blog, I detail the trials and tribulations of trying to use my time more effectively utilising the latest productivity tools and techniques. I hope you enjoy the articles, cheers!
Brendan Toner, author of Done Before Brekky

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4 Responses

  1. RFG says:

    Great review of MarginNote. I got the X version from the website and am learning it now. Thanks!

    • Brendan Toner says:

      Thanks for calling by. I never had the chance to try the Mac version but certainly I am a fan of the IOS version. It is a great fit with the touch interface.

  1. September 19, 2016

    […] Brendan Toner reviews MarginNote Pro, a fantastic iOS app for annotating PDF and eBook documents. […]

  2. December 11, 2016

    […] great for memorization.  This IOS app comes at a price of $7.99 from the iTunes store.  Given, I tripled my study speed using MarginNote I think it is well worth the price.  MarginNote Pro is a killer application for the iPad – It […]

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