Obsidian Review

Obsidian is a flexible note-taking app, allowing you to utilise plugins in order to customise the experience of the app. After Evernote’s changes, I tried Obsidian as an alternative for digital note-taking. Its open saving method, using markdown, as well as the slew of plugins and themes that offer extensive customisation, were some of the deciding factors; allowing me to tailor the app to my use case.

Obsidian is the most flexible note-taking app that I have tried. With a simple, plain-text base, you can customise to suit your needs using plugins – from daily tasks to financial dashboards.

Obsidian with the editor in the centre, the navigation on the left, and plugins on the right.

The Base

Obsidian comes as an interface for markdown files. This is a powerful selling point, as notes can easily be exported, viewed or edited through the computer’s file system. The notes are saved under files in a directory.

The file structure behind Obsidian.

The interface is simple – folders containing notes on the left, the note editing panel on the right. Obsidian renders markdown as you type, and you can switch to a read-only mode if you wish. The fundamentals of the app are fairly basic regarding note-taking and organisation – these, of course, can be customised.

The basic program includes a search feature with various options, like searching for paths, filenames, and keywords under a heading.

One of the more unique features of Obsidian has included is the graph view. One of Obsidian’s core features is the ability to link notes together using double square brackets. The graph view summarises notes that are linked. Filters can apply to this, as well as applying colours to the notes based on the path. This allows for the graph to be filtered down, as well as easily seeing what topics notes in the graph view are on.

The graph view of my vault, showing the coloured note nodes and the links between files.

Canvas is another unique feature that Obsidian offers. It allows you to organise notes on a board, as well as embedding files, videos, webpages, and more. This can be used for things such as brainstorming, mind maps, or other visual linking processes.

Interface

The interface of the app relies primarily on panels and tabs. Content is opened in tabs on the top panel, and this can be organised into split views. There are two sidebars, one on the left for note and folder navigation, and one on the right for panels like inbound and outbound links to the note from other notes, and plugin views.

Actions for searching documents, as well as the Command Palette, are in the left strip. Obsidian allows you to have multiple vaults – think of these as shelves you can put notebooks on. The vast settings menu that allows access to plugins is also on this left strip.

Different themes can be installed to customise Obsidian’s look. These can be found in settings, as well as on sites like GitHub. I use the Things 2 theme. For power users, Obsidian allows you to use .css snippets to gain near total control over appearance.

The Command Palette allows you to execute commands throughout the app, both included and plugin commands. Adding tags, embeds, links and more can be done through this. It also works with plugins like Templater, which allows you to insert a template into a note quickly.

Some commands in Obsidian.

Obsidian’s UI is simple to get used to and follows a similar premise to other note-taking apps.

Editor

As mentioned, Obsidian is a markdown editor, saving notes as .md files. The editor by default shows rich markdown, showing it as formatted when you aren’t editing that specific part of markdown. You can choose to have it show as raw, without formatting, or in reading mode, where you can’t edit the text. This lets you have flexibility in the editor regarding viewing.

Obsidian supports a large amount of markdown syntax, like headers, bold, italics, and tables. It supports code blocks, as well as syntax highlighting – the amount of supported languages can be extended with a community plugin. Internal and external images can be embedded in notes. LaTeX is also supported for inserting equations into notes.

The editor is flexible and powerful. It works well for a variety of notes, from packing lists to longer form notes like this article.

Viewing in source mode (raw markdown), standard mode (rich markdown) and read mode gives flexibility of how notes are viewed. The editor can also be split into various panels so you can work on multiple notes.

Knowledge Organisation

One of Obsidians selling points is inter-linked notes. Linking to notes in their entirety and linking to sections of the notes allows for easy exploration of the content. The links are shown on the sidebar and on the graph view.

An example of this coming in useful could be for lectures – you can link to concepts that were previously covered in a note. You can easily see which concepts were touched on in the graph view and refer to those concepts if you need to.

Plugins

This is where Obsidian shines. The default app could be considered a markdown file editor with some extras such as file linking, Canvas and the graph view. Plugins, both official and community ones, allow Obsidian to become a powerhouse. At the time of writing, there are 1594 community plugins available, and this number increases daily. More plugins can be installed through BRAT, a plugin that allows you to install directly from GitHub. This is useful if there is a maintained fork of an abandoned plugin, or a fork with a better feature set.

The most popular Obsidian community plugins.

Obsidian makes community plugins incredibly easy to install. They can be viewed and searched through the settings menu, as well as sorted. They come sorted by most downloaded by default.

I’ll outline some of my favourite plugins below.

Dataview

Sorting games in the game folder by rating, with some metadata included.

This plugin is a must have. It allows you to query your Obsidian, allowing you to use it as a database. For example, listing active tasks in your vault, or in a folder.

I use Dataview for showing statistics on my Dashboard, as well as keeping track of collections.

Tasks

Filtering tasks based on criteria.

This allows Obsidian to be turned into a task manager. You can set due dates on tasks, make them recurring, make views of tasks from important projects and far more.

In my daily note, I have tasks that are overdue showing, as well as tasks that are upcoming and from important projects.

Templater

Creating templates with variables and functions that are executed when it is inserted is what Templater does. If you want to insert a date into the note, use Javascript, and so much more, Templater is a good choice. I use it to create a daily note that links to the note from the day before and the next day’s note, as well as the weekly note.

Kanban

I like to use Kanban boards to organise projects. The Kanban plugin allows you to organise notes easily. I use it for this site to track the progression of articles.


I use many plugins, too many to include here. I plan on doing an article on them, which will be linked here.

Plugins give you the power to transform a basic markdown notes app into whatever you want, from a database to a hybrid notes and task manager.

Syncing

Obsidian offers syncing, with two pricing tiers. The standard tier costs $4 a month, which allows for 1 synced vault, with 1 GB of storage. 5 MB is the maximum file size, and it has a 1 month version history of files.

Sync Plus is $8 a month and allows for 10 vaults to be synced with 10 GB storage and 200 MB maximum file size. It has 12 months of note history.

There are other options for the first party sync service. They are more involved, however, may be of preference to you.

The more popular appears to be syncing notes via cloud services like Dropbox and OneDrive using the Remotely Save plugin.

A more complex option, and the one I use, is the Git plugin. This lets me sync via GitHub, giving me a total version history of all my notes. Megan Sullivan has an excellent post on how to sync using GitHub including iOS devices here. Using Git allows for full version history, and easy restores, but requires some knowledge and experience with Git.

Platforms

Obsidian works on all major desktop platforms, Windows, Mac, and Linux. It has an Android app and iOS app that are fully fledged – you can install community plugins on them and they offer the full feature set of the desktop app.

Pricing

Obsidian is free to use for personal use, and $50 a year for commercial use. Syncing is in two price tiers as covered above, on for $4 a month and one for $8 a month. Obsidian also offers Publish, allowing you to publish your vault – with is $8 per site.

Conclusion

Obsidian is an excellent digital note-taking app. Starting fairly easy to use, it is incredibly expandable, allowing you to tailor it to your needs.

The open saving system makes it easy to keep control of your notes, as they can be easily accessed and edited by your operating systems text editor. Plugins allow you to tailor it to your needs, and it is easy to sync it with your platform of choice.

You can view the Obsidian website here.

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REVIEW OVERVIEW
Features
Interface
Ease of Use
Pricing
obsidian-reviewObsidian is an excellent choice for note-taking, with plenty of flexibility. The open way it saves notes is excellent for future proofing, as are the open source nature of the community plugins.