Roam (Product Review)

My summary of Roam before using it – I’ve heard people say that Roam is a really good note taking app. It takes me back to when Evernote used to be a really good note taking app and my life was in Evernote … (sighs and carries on).

How does Roam explain itself in the first minute? – When I go to the App Store on my iPhone, Roam Mobile is categorised as ‘Productivity’. The static images of the Roam app feel quite sparse and I’m not entirely clear about the benefits of using Roam.

I download the app, but things don’t get much better from an onboarding perspective. The first screen I’m presented with is a sign-in screen. But hold on, what are the benefits of Roam?! Is it the right note-taking app for me?!

I sign in using my Google Account, which I presume will do the trick … wrong. I’m presented with a screen that says I need to “create a graph on the desktop or web app”. I’m confused. What graph? What web app?

I now turn to Roam’s website to learn more about creating a graph. The good news is that for the first time thus far, I learn more about what Roam is about: “A note-taking tool for networked thought”.

Image Credit: Roam Research

At the same time I receive a welcome email from Roam which suggests that I’ve successfully created an account. The email also contains a useful link to Roam’s Help Center. I’m going to start by watching some introductory videos about how to create a graph in Roam.

“Bi-directional links” is the main thing I pick up from watching an introductory video by Drew Coffman; Roam Research lets users create new pages on the fly and move from thought to thought.

Image Credit: Keep Productive

Being more comfortable with the concept of Roam and understanding how it’s different from more traditional note taking apps, I sign into my account.

Image Credit: Roam Research

It’s at this point that I decide not to create a Roam account nor sign up to a free trial. Call me lazy, but I simply don’t feel convinced enough by my onboarding experience or the benefits that Roam provides. Instead, I’ll continue watching intro videos to learn more about how Roam works.

Image Credit: Drew Coffman “A Beginner’s Guide to Roam Research”

A variety of keyboard functions unlock Roam features. For example, using the / key triggers unlocks a variety of functions like a date picker, tables, Kanban boards, etc.

Another useful feature of Roam is the ability to create a page within a page by simply wrapping the text in brackets. This will automatically create a page and link to it. Even if you don’t link to these pages, they will show up as ‘unlinked references’ which is helpful in retrieving previously taken notes.

Image Credit: The Sweet Setup

Did Roam deliver on my expectations? I can see how Roam is different to more traditional note taking apps like My Mind and Evernote. Instead of the traditional ‘file and folder’ approach that most note taking apps take, Roam uses a more dynamic approach that makes connections between notes (as best embodied in its notes graph – see image below).

Image Credit: Ness Labs

The graph functionality isn’t something I expected before exploring the app, and the value of creating connections is clear. Similarly, Roam’s approach to lists feels more comprehensive compared to other note taking apps. Lists include notes, references and documents and are highly configurable.

Main learning point: Particularly if you’re doing research or capturing lots of ideas, Roam is great at helping you connect things in a comprehensive way. The power of connections between notes is evident and the app feels highly configurable overall. For me, onboarding is where Roam lets itself down. I found onboarding unclear and clunky, and by simply providing more information upfront about the app and its benefits, Roam could reduce a lot of the heavy lifting for its new users.

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