In this article we are going to discuss two of the tools on the market that are designed as ‘Productivity, Management and Organization’ tools. We are talking about Notion and Roam (Roam Research.)
These two tools have distinctly a different design philosophy, this makes for entirely different user experiences, but which is better?
What is Notion?
Notion is a multi-tool system that can perform just about productivity any tasks you could ask of it and much more besides. Notion is designed with blocks as the central facet of the system, with these blocks you can build such items as databases, notes, calendars, tables, and much more. Together these components can be used to create your system for project and knowledge management, calendars, data management and more.
What is Roam?
Roam is a note taking concept that is designed to connect ideas and notes the same was as our brain does. Roam describes itself as a ‘Note-taking tool for networked thought’. Effectively, what it aims at is being an online workspace for organizing and evaluating knowledge.
Each note can be linked in a b-directional manner in its ‘flat database structure’ in a graph database.
Whilst Roam is focused on note taking as an information organizational tool, Notion is a more wide-ranging platform that is built on a hierarchical database. When it comes to doing a direct comparison, they both have strong and weak points.
In this section we are going to look at some of the pros of Notion.
Because of its ‘build by block’ design Notion has an extremely high level of customization that most other software platforms struggle to match. These blocks are your data structure, and you can build whatever systems you like with them in much the same way a kid can build whatever they want with a set of building blocks.
From the interface you can add whatever blocks you like and define a block type. Common block types are Notes, Calendars, Tables, Lists and Journals, to name a few.
Once you have created a new block they can be manipulated in a range of ways, they can be added to other pages, shared, exported, converted to other types and more.
This freedom to build your own systems is at the core of Notion’s flexibility.
Because Notion has so many functions and flexibility it can take the place of the several different apps that are usually required to perform the individual functions that Notion is capable of. Whilst it is true that many ‘specialist apps’ are better at their function than Notion is, for the bulk of users the features that Notion offers are more than capable of fulfilling their needs.
Whilst it is restricted to one user, the free version is still a great organizational tool for home or one-man band operations. With just about every tool available as in the pro versions, it makes a great life-organization tool and can be used as everything from a word processor, web page builder to a reading list and calendar.
Easy to Use
With a clean and uncluttered interface, Notion is fairly simple to master and once you have used it for a short period it becomes so intuitive that it really couldn’t be simpler. Given the complexity of what it can achieve the simplicity it offers to achieve this is quite remarkable.
Other Pros of Notion
- Great Note taking system, with full formatting features and the ability to rearrange and place into pages and subpages, the notetaking function is a powerful tool.
- Mobile app, the app has the same functions as the web-based service.
- Multiple Views, choose from table and Kanban views
Built with a different philosophy in mind, Roam has different strong points than Notion. Some of the main Pros about Roam are listed below.
Fluid Information Structure
Unlike the hierarchical database structure of Notion, Roam uses a flat database represented by a graph view. In this structure each note has relationships to other notes within the database, but no note is embedded within another. The thinking behind this approach is to enable information to ‘flow’ based on their relationships as opposed to their hierarchy.
Easy Page and Links Creation
Creating pages and links is what Roam is all about, so it would be strange if they got this part wrong. Luckily, they haven’t. There is no requirement to file or place pages, you simply create them and use them as required. An example would be to create a page on a certain topic and use it as a placeholder to link similar subjects to.
By linking pages together based on subject matter or keywords, you have at your fingertips all the relevant pages that you have created using the same keywords. But perhaps even more impressive is the fact that it can also show you unlinked pages with the same keywords and lets you effortlessly link to them.
Want to see a visual of how connected your life and notes are, the graph overview shows you a cool graphic of your entire note structure and lets you zoom in to get a visual sense of how your life’s notes are interconnected.
Other Pros of Roam
- Excellent for Journals, the setup of Roam encourages you to start your day in the daily note section, which really helps when keeping a journal.
- Great for CRM, with each customer tagged in a page link it is a fantastic way of tracking each engagement with a customer.
Being a jack-of-all-trades usually results in a product that is master of none. Whilst Notion has largely avoided this through clever design and a flexible approach, there are always niggles with any product.
In this section we shall cover some of the cons of Notion.
Although it is easy to use, to unlock the full features of the Notion system there is a bit of a learning curve. It is true that you could say this about any piece of software, but to unlock the full flexibility of what Notion can offer does involve learning how to Utilize and Maximize the concepts and functions that the block approach offers.
Free Version Restricted to One User
While it is great to have a free version available, particularly one that is as powerful as the Notion offering, it is still disappointing that this is restricted to a single user.
The price after this is $4 per month for the pro version of the single user license, this unlocks some more functions. To use it as a team system for collaboration and management purposes is priced at $8 per month.
Over Complicated Tables
Each table you create in Notion automatically is set up as a database. It would be nice to have an option to set up tables that don’t carry this complication, not everything in a table is always required to be part of a dataset.
I hear you; did this not get listed as a pro, well it did indeed. But this flexibility can also be a double-edged sword. With it comes the potential to get into a mess, particularly for new users. If you don’t keep a tight rein on how you organize your pages and content, then it is easy to lose your way.
Whilst Most users have reported being satisfied with the mobile app, there are a few niggles with it. These include being easy to accidentally delete items and the interface not being as intuitive as the desktop version.
Lack of an API
Apparently, this is in the pipeline, but for the moment there are no API functions within Notion.
While Roam is a unique concept that has created a lot of pros, sometimes being unique brings its own set of cons, here are some of the most common ones associated with Roam.
No Ability for External Files
There is no capability for storing external files like you can within notion. The files within Roam are of a proprietary format and for many people this is going to be a consideration.
No Free Version
Currently there is only a professional package which costs $15 per month and a believer package that costs $500 for a year sign up, which works out at $8.33 per month. There is a free month’s trial of the pro-version available, so at least you can try before you buy.
No Mobile App or API
Although they are both in the pipeline, currently there is no mobile app or API available.
No Support for Safari
If you are a user of Apple’s browser then you’ll be disappointed. Currently, Roam just doesn’t work in the Safari browser.
No Offline Mode
Another feature that has been promised for the future and is probably quite imminent, but currently there is no offline access to Roam. You can see your content when offline but there is no option to add new content or edit existing content.
Editing is done through markdown instead of WYSIWYG
Most of us have become acquainted with WYSIWYG editors, Roam uses markdown formatting for text editing.
Advantages that Notion has over ROAM
When considering which software platform to use when considering which is best for your purposes then here are some factors you may like to consider.
If budget is a factor and particularly if you are using it as a single user then Notion has a free license and a license for a single user that costs $4 per month. The most a user will have to pay for this product is $8 per month.
By comparison Roam will cost a user $15 per month unless they plump for a five-year plan, in which case the cost will drop to $8.33 per month.
Notion is built on a foundation designed to create an all-in-one multi tool which is capable of just about anything you’d ever need from productivity software. In this category the features available in Roam just don’t match up.
In Notion it easy to set up a particular object with just a single click, examples of the type of object include database, calendar, gallery, note and list.
Easier to Use
The concept of Roam is one of its unique points. However, it does mean learning a new way of thinking about data and the relationship between all your data. With Notion data is stored and accessed in more conventional methods and as such the actual operation of the software is more familiar to most of us.
While there is still a learning curve to it, it is less steep than the associated curve with Roam.
Real Time Collaboration
The collaboration features that are built into Notion make it super easy for members of their team to collaborate and coordinate work with other team members.
If you want to work on the go, then Notion is the best option, certainly at the time of writing. Notion has a fully featured mobile app that enables you to perform everything you can do with the browser-based version.
Advantages Roam has over Notion
The flat database design that allows for easy bi-directional linking is a great method for creating a research tool that would be difficult to match in a traditional ‘hierarchical database.’
This is an extremely powerful method of storing data in a manner that makes it intuitive to find.
Graph Database View
While it actually has fairly limited real-world usage a graph view of your data is actually useful from a personal point of view as it can show you behavioral patterns in your data and keyword usage.
Part of the problem of comparing two packages like this, is that you could easily run them side-by-side such as the differing approaches. Whereas Notion is by far the better tool for running the logistics of a team, Roams approach makes it a better tool for gathering insights to what’s working within your project and for gaining insights and inspiration to generate new ideas.
Frequently Asked Questions about Roam vs Notion
Who Should Use Notion?
Notion is a perfect tool for those who want to put some organization into their own lie or to organize the workflow or tasks of a team. It really is flexible enough to cope with being your shopping list and social diary to being the organizational cornerstone of a large business.
With plenty of tools and the options to build whatever systems you require using its block architecture, it is an incredibly powerful tool.
Considering there is a free version for personal use, this should be the choice for most people simply wanting an all-in-one digital assistant to manage their affairs and much more besides.
Who Should Use Roam?
Roam is a perfect tool for those undertaking large research or writing projects. It’s ability to easily link related pages in a linear manner makes it easy to find all related pages using the likes of keywords and tags.
Roam is also a useful product for strategists and planners who can use the bi-directional linking system to track your knowledge in a graphical pattern, this ability gives valuable insights which can be acted upon.
Which is better for Project Management?
The hands down winner here is Notion. It is designed from the bottom up to perform this very act and it does it extremely well.
If you consider some of the functions that Notion offers in this regard it isn’t difficult to see why it is such an outright winner in this category
- Wiki Creation
- Task list and assignation
Now as it is the head the outright winner here I think it’s fair to say that the design concept behind Roam is abstract and not directly pitched at the same market.
What is Better for Collaboration?
Once again and for fairly similar reasons the winner is Notion. Roam doesn’t really have any built-in collaboration features and therefore it isn’t really a consideration when it comes to this category.
Which is Better for Note Taking?
This really depends, they both have fantastic note taking capabilities, and they can both justifiably be the winner in this sector. It really depends what you are using the note platform for. When it comes to taking notes for organizational purposes then the Notion software is going to be the better choice.
For research and analysis purposes then the note-taking system in Roam is the better of the two choices. For referencing and cross-linking to finding a thread of data that runs through your notes, there is no better than Roam.
Conclusion: Our Final Verdict for Notion vs Roam
These are two fantastic software platforms, however if you are looking for a true all-purpose Productivity Suite then Notion is the outright winner. It is what it was designed to do, and it does it exceedingly well, there are glitches but overall, it does exactly what it sets out to do.
This is not to disparage Roam, it really sets itself up with a different agenda to Notion and it performs really well in the niche it services. It is also still a young product with a lot of growing to do, and it certainly has the potential to grow into something quite special.
Want to read more about Notion and other tools like Trello, Asana, OneNote, Basecamp…?
Have a look at our Notion “vs” software reviews here: