Having spent four years at university (and going into my fifth year in September), I have have been at the cutting edge of technology for the 21st century student. I rocked up for my first university lecture with my trusty black Macbook, and over the years the piece of technology that joined me has changed, moving through the MacBook Pro range, iPad and now the MacBook Air, which is my note taking device of choice.
However the student of today has to do much more than simply take notes in lectures, they have to write essays, draw diagrams and plan their time. Over the years I have tried most of the software out there, and in order to help the student of 2012 on their way (which yes includes my baby brother who this year flies the nest), I have complied this list of student friendly software. Due to the fact that I am a mac fan, the majority are exclusively for the mack platform, however if you head over to http://alternativeto.net you are bound to find something that suits your need.
SugarSync – Problem Solved: Backup/Data Sync – Price: From £0
Just like its direct competitor DropBox, SugarSync is one of those programs where you simply set it and forget it. Unlike DropBox you need not move your files from their original location, you select which folders you want to upload to the cloud, and whenever they change, the changes are synced to the cloud.
It is unlikely that your tutor will accept the same excuse for an essay being late that was accepted in high school, so a backup solution is vital. Once SugarSync is set up you don’t need to worry about anything. If your computer ever gets lost/stolen or broken you have a backup of all your vital documents that can be downloaded in a matter of moments.
Since documents are stored in the cloud, the web interface allows you to work on your documents from any computer (provided it has an Internet connection and the file type is compatible with the local machine). Gone are the days where you need to worry about carrying a USB drive with you, and keeping it updated with the latest copy of your work, simply logon to SugarSync, download your work, do what you need to do, re-upload it and it will be back waiting for you on your machine when you get home.
SugarSync has mobile apps of every variety out there, so your documents are available on the go, perfect if you have your revision notes on there and a moment to spend whist waiting for a bus.
The free version of SugarSync gives you a 5GB data allowance, which is more than ample for text documents, the odd photograph and diagram. However if you are studying an art, design or media based subject where file sizes are significantly larger more storage is available at very reasonable prices.
Evernote – Problem Solved: Mobile Note Taking/Documents On The Go – Price: From £0
There will be some documents that you will wish to archive yet keep to hand. Documents such as your timetable, copies of your tenancy agreement, statements/receipts of important items, Evernote is perfect for this.
As well as being able to write notes in the application itself, you are able to drop in files, that are not only synchronised across your mobile devices but are available online. However that is not all.
Evernote has released browser plugins (or extensions) that allow you to clip articles directly to your Evernote notebooks. Data such as the site where the article was taken from and the date it was accessed are automatically stored alongside any pictures that the article contains, making referencing at a later date easy.
For me I use Evernote as my ‘important document store’. Amongst my notebook collection I have notebooks for university (and then tag each note be it with a subject or event), personal and interesting articles. Since whatever you put in Evernote is backed up in the cloud (and replicated on any other device you have), I also drop in essays and reports. After all it can’t hurt to have another copy of these important documents saved can it?
The free version of Evernote gives you 60mb worth of uploads each month, which for standard text and text based files is more than enough, and I for one have never required more. However if you want features such as being able to upload up to 1GB of data each month and offline notebooks this will set you back £35 a year.
OmniFocus – Problem Solved: Task/Todo Management – Price £27.99
When at university, there are going to be hundreds of things that need to be done. Some such as the steps required to complete some tutorial work only occur once, others such as remembering to put the bin out occur on a weekly basis.
OmniFocus looks after all these tasks and puts them into groups depending on what is required to do them, which are called Contexts. For example, you can set up a context called ‘Library’ (and an alert can even be set up on the iPhone app to alert you through location services when you are at the library) to remind you to renew a book, check out another book and get your photocopying done all in one go. Similar tasks such as getting all your emails done in one go etc etc can save time as you are focused on one process rather than flitting between several different things.
Tasks are sorted into projects and can be sequential in order or concurrent. A sequential project would be for instance writing an essay, the proof reading can’t be done until you have written the first draft, and the first draft can’t be written until you have done your research. As such the proof reading and first draft tasks won’t show up until the first task of research has been completed. Concurrent tasks are tasks that can be completed at any stage of the project, and so would be ideal for a shopping list, or things to get for a party.
As previously mentioned, the iPhone app is the perfect partner for OmniFocus allowing you to take your tasks with you, as well as add new ones on the move that are synchronised between all devices. OmniFocus does take some time to get used to, however after a few days of using it, and setting it up with your own projects and contexts, its a really powerful package that ensures you never forget to do anything important.
Pear Note – Problem Solved: Lecture Note Taking – Price £27.99
A few years ago, the student who wanted to take notes in lectures had to have a pen and paper, dictaphone, coloured pens and files to keep all lecture handouts together in one place. If you missed something in the lecture and wanted to go back to your recordings, more time was spent fast forwarding and rewinding looking for that key segment than it was worth.
Those days are over. I would go as far to say if you are going to buy one program out of this list, it needs to be Pear Note, its simply amazing.
Pear Note comprises of several elements that can be combined into one Pear Note document per lecture. You can add audio (from the build in microphone), PDF’s (if provided by lecturers before hand), text (that you type during the lecture) and even video (from the built in isight or external camera if you have one).
What makes Pear Note differently is that the text that you type, the PDF that is being displayed, the audio (and video) that is recorded is time coded, so its instantly search-able. For example, if your lecture is on robbery and theft (as I was a law student) and during the lecture the key statue was mentioned but you didn’t make a note of what year and act applied it you simply wrote ‘key statue’, all you need to do is search for ‘key statue’ within your text notes and click on it. Instantly the audio/video and PDF goes to the point that you typed ‘key statue’ allowing you to play back the audio (and video) from that point listening out for the information you require.
Honestly, as a student has currently spent 4 years in lectures, 3 of which were without Pear Note this is the piece of software that fills every gap you need for note taking, and I would go so far to say that its worth buying a mac for just for this piece of software alone.
Skitch – Problem Solved: Screen Captures – Price £0
There are going to be times when you need to copy sections of your screen, windows of a program or sections of a website and annotate them. You may do it everyday or once in a blue moon, but when you do it you are going to want an easy to use program that can do what you want no fuss.
For this the free program Skitch is ideal. Not only does it integrate with Evernote (as they are now owned by the same company), but in order to take a screen shot all you need to do is drag the cross-hairs around the area you want, then drag the image out of Skitch in the format you choose (from PDF’s to JPEG’s).
A nice little tool, and worth downloading just in-case.
1Password – Problem Solved: Online Security – Price £34.99
Everyone says you shouldn’t sue the same password for the more than one website. Coupled with the fact that it is recommended that you use a combination of letters, random characters and numbers to minimise the possibility of someone guessing it, how are you meant to remember all of these passwords?
You could write them down in an address book, or use modern day equivalent of a spreadsheet, however if you either lose the book, or your computer is compromised the would be hacker has access to everything online.
Enter in 1Password, the application that manages your passwords and creates new random complex passwords at the click of a button that can be easily submitted using the browser extension available for all modern web browsers.
1Password can also store other important data such as credit card numbers, email/wifi account data and serial codes for software purchased. Over the past few years of using 1Password I can honestly say that I have no idea what passwords I use for any site, as the only password I need to remember is master password that unlocks the encrypted database 1Password uses.
Having random passwords could pose a problem if you need to access a site on the go at a computer that is not your own. However all your passwords can be synced securely over the cloud to iPhone/iPad/Android apps so that they are available with you.
With identity and credit card theft at an all time high, most banks will only refund fraudulent transactions if you as the consumer have taken every possible step to prevent yourself from becoming a victim, and if the hacker has used your password to gain access to your online shopping account, by using the same password of ‘Password1’ across all your sites the chances are you will not be refunded.
£34.99 may seem a little steep for an application, however if you purchase it through the Mac App Store it can be used on all of the macs that have access to that account, reducing its cost per mac considerably. Another way of looking at is that if you are the victim of fraud and are not refunded, the chances are you will be more than £34.99 out of pocket.
Scrivener – Problem Solved: Essay Writing & Research Management – Price £31.99
This is one of the applications that’s use will depend on the course you are doing, and the number of essays/reports that you are required to write.
Scrivener is the most powerful essay writing tool that I have come across and although it does seem like a simple text editor on the front of it, it is anything but. The first useful feature that scrivener has is its ability to store all of your research documents in one file that can easily be referenced to. URL’s and the dates they were accessed can also be stored. Secondly is referencing sources. Each university has its own method of referencing the use of others work (so check which style apply), however Scrivener handles adding footnotes with ease. Simply highlight the quoted text, add reference and you are done.
When your work is exported to a Word document or sent directly to print, the footnotes are added automatically in sequential order.
Writing an essay or report is an individual style, and as such I have written segments based on each question that I have answered, or problem which I have encountered. These can be reordered easily by simply clicking and dragging, allowing to you easily see how different structures work.
Being a law student there has not been much call for adding pictures or diagrams into the body of an essay, and so I would suggest that if you require this you download the free trial first to see if it works for you. That being said, I have done all my essay writing in Scrivener then exported to a Word document just to ‘make it look pretty’, a process that only takes a few moments.
All in all, Scrivener is a fantastic writing application that allows you to keep all your data and information for a particular essay/report in one place as well as keep any eye on drafts and allowing to to revert back to one should the need occur.
MindNode Pro – Problem Solved: Mind Mapping – Price £6.99
If you are a student heading off to university, the chances are you will have heard of mind mapping, the process where you move away from lists to ‘nodes’ that are connected in a logical pattern.
There are two ways to go about obtaining this results. One can either get several large pieces of A3 paper, and guess where the notes are meant to be placed and hope that nothing extra needs to be added, or you can purchase MindNode Pro and add notes with ease.
This is going to be a very simple review, for the simple reason that its a very simple program to use, and is almost self explanatory. So if you want to do mind maps for revision purposes, its well worth a look at.
PDF Pen Pro – Problem Solved: PDF Form Creation & Editing – Price £69.99
Before you instantly dismiss this application, there is a non pro version available for £39.99 that does virtually everything as the pro version apart from some more advanced form creation features, click here to see the comparison chart.
So why do you need a PDF editor? The chances are that over the few years of a student you are going to be asked to sign things, fill in forms that contain tick boxes be that application forms, declarations etc etc.There is even more of a chance that these will be sent to you via email or downloaded online. Pre PDF Pen (Pro) you would have to print them out, fill them in, scan them in, and send them back, this is no more.
Signatures and dates can be easily inputted making form filling out and returning an easy process that takes a matter of moments rather that several minutes.
TextExpander – Problem Solved: Text Input & Time Saving – Price £24.49
Over the course of life we have to type out several things over and over again, things such as email addresses and phone numbers. The academic life at university can add other things such as formulas, case names each which get repeated over and over again.
TextExpander helps you by shortening these repeating ‘text strings’ into ‘snippets’. For example you could have your email address shortened to ‘ea (email address) or a formula that you type out everyday shortened to ‘f. However it doesn’t just stop there, TextExpander comes with common spelling mistake snippets built in, so your spelling mistakes are automatically corrected.
But this is not all, TextExpander can also handle formatting of text and user defined data. For example when typing out a case I like to have it formatted as Smith V Jones  but going into the formatting each time is a bit of a pain, so all I need to do now is type ‘case and a box pops up asking me for the party names and the year, and when I hit return the text is italicised and the square brackets for the years added.
This is one of the applications that really does save you time. Built in is a little statistics panel, and so far on this mac alone I have saved over 14.17 hours (typing at 60 words a minute), and I only write my notes on this mac, my iMac has the statistics showing me saved nearly 100 hours!
A great little app that saves you plenty of time that can be used for things which are far more productive.
So that is it for my little collection of student friendly apps. This by no means an exhaustive list of great apps that are out there, so if there are apps that you think people should know about, either Mac, Windows or Linux feel free to add them to the comments below.