Productivity
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The Best FREE Note-Taking App? | Logseq vs Roam Research

Introduction

Logseq is an outliner note-taking tool. You may think it's just another Roam Research clone, but it's actually more than that. It is more privacy oriented since all of your notes are stored in your local computer and offers many useful features like built-in spaced repetition system, PDF highlighter, and advanced queries while being completely free.

We've seen a lot of new note-taking apps in the past few years. In particular, Roam Research quickly became one of the most popular note-taking apps. And at the same time, we started seeing lots of similar tools.

I discovered Logseq a few months ago, but I'd never tried it because honestly I thought it was just the same thing as Roam. But I decided to give it a try and turns out I was wrong; it's more than just a copy and actually a great option for people who place an importance on privacy and longevity of your notes, or can't afford to pay the price for Roam but still want to use a similar note-taking app.

Differences between Roam and Logseq

Logseq shares lots of similarities with Roam. For example, it has the daily note for capturing ideas, then you have the right sidebar to open multiple pages. And you have the slash commands to do things like uploading an image, making a backlink and block reference.

The base is same, but there are actually lots of differences between Roam and Logseq.

First of all, Logseq works directly with plain-text like Markdown and Org mode, and all of your notes are stored in your local computer unlike Roam where your notes are stored in a cloud. This is significant for some people who place an importance on privacy and want to keep their knowledge base just to themselves. Also, because it works directly with plain-text, you can open your notes with other Markdown based note-taking apps like Obsidian. But I will get into that later.

Unlike Roam, Logseq lets you make aliases for a page. In Roam, "Book", "books" and "book" are treated as different things. But in Logseq, you can specify them as the same thing by creating an alias at the top of the page, which I think is really helpful. But, it is possible to make an alias in Roam too if you use a community plugin, but it's not as smooth as the one in Logseq.

I think one of the main reasons why some people prefer Roam to Logseq is the collaboration feature. Roam is great for multiplayer where you develop a collective knowledge base with other people. Whereas Logseq doesn't have a collaboration feature (yet), and it's suited more for solo knowledge management.

Roam has a few extra features like table, pomodoro timer and kanban board which I like to use for managing my video ideas. But Logseq doesn't have these features, at least for now. If you think you're going to need these extras, you might want to use Roam.

However, Logseq offers some features that Roam doesn't. For example, it has a built-in PDF highlighter. This is really impressive; you can upload a PDF file, open it and highlight texts. Then you can use block referencing from the PDF. This is great because you can easily identify where the original text or idea comes from. I think this feature makes Logseq a great tool for thought for students and academics who have to read lots of paper. Also they have direct Zotero integration, which makes it even better for academics.

Another feature I like is their built-in spaced repetition system. Roam has a great plugin for spaced repetition, but Logseq comes with one. To be honest, it is not as great as the one in RemNote, but it's almost as good. You can create a flashcard by adding  "#card" to a block and the answer below. You can also create a cloze deletion from the slash command. Then you can review your flashcards from the menu option.

Roam has options to see your page as a document or a numbered list. The document view is particularly useful if you're writing a long-form essay or article. But in Logseq you don't get these options as far as I know. But, it has more commands for formatting. For example, if you type the less-than sign, it will show you a range of format options, which can be handy in some situations.

Also, right-clicking the bullet in Logseq gives you an option to change the colour of the block. I really like this option because it makes the page easier to read.

Roam has a descent TODO system where you just have TODO and DONE. But Logseq seems to have a more advanced TODO system where you have various options like LATER, NOW, TODO, DOING, DONE, WAITING and CANCELLED. And you can also set a deadline to a task or schedule it. And even choose a priority from A to C. But to be honest, I haven't quite figured out how to best use this system yet. I reckon if you combine this with the query, you can build a solid task management system within Logseq.

Now, something I love about Roam is that, when you get a block reference, you have an option to replace it with something else like an alias or a text. I love it because you get to rewrite the block to suit the context while maintaining the link.

But, Logseq doesn't let you do that. A block reference cannot be modified or replaced with something else. This was a little disappointing for me, but it may not be such a big deal for most people. Block referencing is still powerful as it is.

I mentioned earlier that you can use other Markdown-based note-taking apps to see the notes you made in Logseq. That means you can use the Obsidian mobile app to see your notes.

I think this is one of the biggest reasons why some people might choose Logseq over Roam because it gives you a quick access to your knowledge base from your phone. Whereas the mobile experience of Roam isn't as quick and smooth as I hope it to be. Personally, I almost cried when I tried this for the first time because of how quick I could access my notes.

Finally, let's talk about the price. I think it's safe to say there are lots of people who had to give up on Roam because of the price (US$15 a month). Even though they are giving away discounts and scholarship programs to many people, it's still a little pricey. On the other hand, Logseq, at least for now, is free. They're developing a premium plan called Logseq Pro, which won't be free, but I don't feel it's going to be as expensive as Roam. But let's see how it goes.

Summary

Alright, that was the difference between Logseq and Roam. To be honest, I highlighted lots of things that Logseq does better, but there are many things Roam does better too like being able to access your notes from any computer and a wide range of plugins. So, I'd say you should give them a try and see which one you prefer.

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