Hypernotes vs Roam Research

Hypernotes first caught my eye after watching Francesco D’Alessio’s first impression video and his ambitious description of Hypernotes.

“Better than Roam Research or Obsidian, Hypernotes is the latest bi-directional note-taker on the market.”

Since then, I have tried using Hypernotes as my daily driver for note taking. The short summary is Hypernotes is a great introduction to the world of bi-directional links, but not yet ready for heavy use. The more I wrote, I ran into limitations that impeded my workflow while encountering incomplete features. Here’s my experience on how it currently stacks up against Roam. Hypernotes appears to be a clone of Roam Research but with a business twist and a notion-like design. Similarities including:

  • Outliner
  • Daily notes
  • Backlinks
  • Sidebar
  • Block references
  • Graph view

Pricing

Hypernotes is an excellent gateway to bi-directional links as it has a free plan with an upgrade of $8 per month, compared to Roam’s $15 per month. Although Hypernotes offers a free plan, one thing I dislike is that they sneakily do not mention anywhere that it is only for 10,000 blocks. Once you reach this limit, you are prompted with a “plan exceeded” notification and a prompt to upgrade before your trial expires in 14 days.

The product usage page is not visible prior this. I wanted to make sure I didn’t misread the fine print somewhere on their website, but upon searching for reviews, another user had the same issue. Edit: As of 20/04/2021, this has since been updated on their pricing page.

Onboarding and Mental Models

Hypernotes has a fantastic onboarding experience. When you first login, it prompts you to create a “notebook” and to view the onboarding tutorial. This will provide you with all the necessary information to get up and running in a step by step manner. In this sense, the onboarding experience is a lot smoother than Roam’s. The mental model is also easier for new starters to transition into non-linear note-taking as it uses notebooks as the reference point. Each notebook acts as a top-level folder, also known as a Graph in Roam or a Vault in Obsidian.

Graph View

The graph view in Hypernotes is more interactive than Roam’s. You are able to select, connect and create individual nodes. These nodes can also be “focused” (view connecting nodes) or “collapsed” (view secondary connections and the direction of the relationship). Roam’s graph view on the other hand hasn’t received much developer attention and lacks these features.

Collapsed View

There is also an option to “create an abstraction” in Hypernotes which asks you to select multiple nodes. This seems like an interesting feature, but there is no current feature to select multiple nodes.

The Sidebar

The sidebar is one of my favourite features in Roam. Hypernote’s sidebar is a bit lacking in comparison and does not have the ability to re-organise items or display the list of backlinks of sidebar items.

Backlinks and Block References

Backlinks appear at the bottom of the document in both and work as you’d expect. Currently there is no way to filter backlinks or embed editable block references in Hypernotes.

Enterprise-focused

Hypernotes is built as part of the project management software suite by Zenkit. They appear to be enterprise-focused with their roadmap citing Office 365, Google Suite and Slack integrations. While this did not impact how I use Hypernotes, I hope it does not spread the product development too thin in other areas.

One very cool feature to come out of this is the generate pdf tool. Hypernotes allows you to converts an entire notebook into a pdf with a table of contents and in page order based off created date. But I am not sure about the practicality of this, considering the fundamental nature of the product is to be organised non-linearly.

Overall Usability

I do most of my initial writing in the daily notes page before consolidating elsewhere in Roam. Hypernotes has a daily notes equivalent which creates a new page for the current day. I found this to be buggy, and when visiting the daily notes page, it sometimes created a duplicate blank file to my notebook. You can see this in the below graph which has two “April 17th, 2021”.

Two instances of April 17, 2021

The more I wrote, the laggier my experience became. The visuals appeared to be a touch behind my keyboard strokes which sometimes created weird visuals with the only remedy being to refresh the page. Constantly refreshing was a deal breaker for me and interrupts the writing process too much.

For example, pressing “enter” twice within a parent block in the last block, the expected behaviour is to exit below the block. However, what happens is that it exits above the parent block, switches the new blank block with the parent block, and then swapping with the block below. Video below, confusing to follow, I know.

With all that said, I would like to revisit Hypernotes in the upcoming months with the hopes for more stability and feature completion. But for now, it causes more friction than not.

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