Obsidian is a powerful note-taking app that will allow you to build a solid knowledge base using plain text Markdown files.
Don’t be confused by the fact that the files are stored as plain text, Obsidian offers many features, and that’s why this review is necessary.
Obsidian is available for many platforms: macOS, iPhone&iPad, Android Devices, Windows, and even Linux!
You are probably not having any problem for using it on your favourite device, or take your notes with you if in the future you want to use something else.
You can get the desktop installer of Obsidian in their Download page.
It’s not possible to add here the direct download link, as they update them every time a new version is released, but take into account that:
- macOS installer is Universal, and compatible with Intel and M1 processors
- Windows installer has a 64-bit, 32-bit, and ARM 64-bit installer.
- Linux installer offers you an AppImage, Snap, or Flatpak
If you want to get the mobile apps of Obsidian, that’s something easier to link to!
Notice that so far (by the time of writing this), there is no Obsidian Windows Phone official App, neither a web app.
Obsidian pricing is a bit difficult to understand if you are a newcomer.
For personal use, Obsidian is FREE.
That’s the main thing you should know about
However, if you are going to use it for commercial purposes (this is, in your company, as a tool for taking meeting notes, or create organizational wikis), you should buy a Commercial License, which costs $50 per user per year.
There is also a Catalyst license, which is a one-time $25 payment.
This license will allow you to get early access to future Obsidian reviews, and some other perks. It’s a way of contributing to the development of the software if you really like the app.
Remember, Catalyst license is optional.
If you deep dive in the Obsidian pricing page, you’ll notice that there are two additional buy options.
They are add-ons that can be purchased separately to enhance any of the above licenses, and because of that, they are optional.
Obsidian Publish Addon
Let’s start with the easy one: Obsidian Publish, which has a cost of $16 per month per site.
Obsidian Publish is a cloud-based service where you can publish your notes to the world, this is, through a domain like publish.obsidian.md/your-site.
This is, you’ll have a “blog”, and your notes (the ones that you decide) will be your posts.
The main benefit is that you don’t need technical knowledge to publish and maintain your site, plus you’ll be able to use some Obsidian nice features, like the Graph view and outline, but in my opinion, this add-on is a bit pricy.
Obsidian Sync Addon
Sync your notes across your devices is an essential feature.
Does this addon mean that you have to pay $8 per month for it?
Fortunately, no (if you don’t want to)
Obsidian Sync is a cloud-based service that lets you store your notes on Obsidian’s servers and thus, synchronize them across your devices.
This also allows yo to keep a version history of the changes made to a note.
So, if you accidentally delete a note, or you want to go back to a previous version of it, you can restore a note from the version history.
- Note: if security and privacy concerns you, you can read the technical documentation about it in their website.
Again, this is an optional Add-on.
If you want to sync your notes using 3rd party services, you’ll be able to do so using:
- Google Drive
- iCloud Drive (this is the one you must pick if you want to sync your iPhone or iPad)
Let’s dive in now in what makes Obsidian one of the greatest note-taking apps.
Obsidian is a place where you’ll store tons of knowledge and information.
Obsidian stores all your data locally, always.
Even if you buy the Sync Add-on, you’ll always have a local copy of your data.
That means that Obsidian works offline without any problem, the app will be always available for you.
Besides that, all the content is stored as plain text (plus the attachments you want to add), that means that it doesn’t use a propietary file format.
If you want to open the data with another App, you can.
The best way of understand how Obsidian handles data is by checking the following image:
- Vault (Red): the main folder of your Obsidian that stores everything else. You can create as many vaults as you want/need, but each instance of Obsidian can only open one Vault at a time. In my case all my vaults are stored on iCloud.
- Folders (Green): a folder in Obsidian is the same as a folder on your Mac / PC. That means that you can create as many sub-folders/levels by nesting them.
- Content (Yellow): this can be either text (markdown files) or even items as images.
You could even create the folders on your explorer if you are more comfortable with that. Everything you put in your “vault folder” Obsidian will automatically read it.
The interface of Obsidian is, in my opinion, one of the best, and at the same time, the worst parts of the app.
Visually you can change almost anything to adapt the app to your needs:
- Pick a Light or dark color scheme,
- Activate the Translucent window
- Change the font size
- You can even add your own css (some examples here) in order to change how some blocks look like.
There is also a community creating Themes to completely change the appearance of Obsidian.
The bad thing about the Obsidian interface, is that it can be very overwhelming.
As you have seen in one of the previous pictures, there are ton of features that you can activate, which can make the main window pretty messy.
However, you can also disable/hide most of the features and have a really simple editor like the following:
One of the guilty parties of the potentially messy interface of Obsidian, are the plugins.
Plugins are small apps that can be installed inside Obsidian, so you can have way more features.
There are two kind of plugins:
- Core Plugins: developed by Obsidian company, they are safe, very reliable, and well integrated with the app.
- Community Plugins: plugins developed by other users of Obsidian, so there is a chance there are malicious ones.
In Obsidian v.0.14.2, there are 27 plugins developed.
Some of them are pretty simple (like a wordcounter), while others are more “complex”, like the Graph View.
If you want, you can consider core plugins as “features” that you can enable or disable within the preferences of Obsidian.
You’ll probably want to use many of them, as they make the app better, but consider enable them one by one, as they can appear anywhere in the interface.
Here is what you’ll find as core plugins:
- File explorer: this plugin lets you see and manage files and folders inside your vault (the tree folders hierarchy you’ve seen in the pictures)
- Search: find any keyword in any note.
- Quick switcher: use Ctrl/Cmd O to quickly open any note.
- Graph view: view a graph that displays links between your notes.
- Backlinks: view which notes are linking the current note you are seeing.
- Outgoing links: quickly see outgoing links or missing mentions (words that can be linked to other note)
- Tag pane: show tags used on your vault.
- Page preview: preview linked pages by hovering your mouse over links.
- Daily notes: create/open a daily note.
- Templates: this plugin lets you quickly insert snippets of text into your current note (like the current date)
- Note composer: merge, split and refactor notes.
- Command palette: launch a command palette with Ctrl/Cmd P, to perform any action
- Slash Commands: perform actions using a slash / and writing what you want.
- Editor Status: show and change the current editor mode (source, reading or live preview).
- Starred notes: mark notes and searches as favorite.
- Markdown format converter: allows you to convert from other variations of Markdown format and link convention to Obsidian format.
- Zettelkasten prefixer: adds a new button to the left pane, which can be used to create a new file and prefix it for you using the current time.
- Random note: opens a random note from your vault.
- Outline: shows the list of headings for the current note, and allows you to navigate to another section by clicking on a heading.
- Word count: a simple plugin that shows the word count of your current note in the bottom status bar.
- Slides: slides lets you do simple presentations right inside Obsidian.
- Audio recorder: record and save audio recordings directly into an Obsidian note.
- Open in default app: opens the current file with default app on your computer.
- Workspaces: this plugin lets you save and load “workspaces”. Each workspace includes pane layout, sidebar state (expanded or collapsed), and file open states.
- File recovery: file recovery helps you recover your work in the case of unintentional data loss, by regularly saving snapshots of your notes.
- Publish: you will need this plugin if you want to use the Publish Add-on.
- Sync: you will need this plugin if you want to use the Sync Add-on.
You’ll probably find yourself wanting to use more than 10 plugins, and that’s ok, just try to activate them one by one in order to understand them better.
By the time of writing this there are more than 500 plugins available.
Note that all of them have the name of the developer and more important, number of downloads, so as far as you just use “top” plugins, you’ll probably be safe.
I can’t explain all the +500 plugins, but if you are curious, here’s the top 7:
- Advanced Tables: Add improved navigation, formatting, and manipulation to markdown tables in Obsidian.
- Calendar: This plugin for Obsidian creates a simple Calendar view for visualizing and navigating between your daily notes.
- Kanban: create markdown-backed Kanban boards in Obsidian.
- Data View: treat your Obsidian Vault as a database which you can query from.
- Excalidraw: this plugin integrates Excalidraw, a feature rich sketching tool, into Obsidian.
- Templater: a template language that lets you insert variables and functions results into your Obsidian notes.
- Outliner: a plugin that will allow you to work with your lists like you do in Workflowy or RoamResearch
You can find all the community plugins in the Obsidian Preferences > Community Plugins.
Although all of the linking features are actually working due to plugins, I think it’s necessary to mention them independently, as they are one of the application’s most powerful features for organizing (and finding) your information.
Backlinks are one of the most powerful features of Obsidian, and the best part is that they are really easy to use.
Once you have enabled this core plugin, you just need to write, in any note [[Title of your note]], to make an internal link to another note inside your Vault.
From that point, the note that you linked to, will show on the bottom from which notes the links are coming.
This could even become a semi-automatic process, because if you talk about the title of one of your notes, but you forgot to link to it, Obsidian will remind it to you in the “unlinked mentions”.
This functionality will allow you to create a very solid content base in your library, which you can then navigate through very quickly and effectively.
- Tip: you can even link to a specific part of a document, not just to a whole note!
Once you have several backlinks created among your notes, you’ll be able to enjoy much more the Graph View, which shows you visually how all your notes are connected.
This Graph is interactive, and besides beautiful, is very useful, as it will allow you to add filters, group notes, change the distance, or change different visual parameters.
Although talking about the editor is similar as talking about the interface, there is a couple of things worth to mention here:
- You can rotate between 3 editor modes:
- Source mode: i.e. pure Markdown
- Reading mode: you cannot make any change to the document
- Live mode: you will be able to write using Markdown, but the sintaxis will disappear as long as you the word doesn’t have the cursor focus.
- You can split the editor in 2 (or even more) panels, either horizontal, or vertically
- You can see inline images (but not videos)
Obsidian is a really powerful note taking app.
It has a steep learning curve, and it’s true that it lacks some features other’s have, like:
- API for automations,
- Or an easy way of sharing just some notes with family or friend / with restrictions
But if you don’t need any of those, and you are willing to spend some time learning the basis of Markdown and the app, Obsidian is one of the best picks if you are creating tons of content.