SimpleMind Pro is a mind mapping app that is available on macOS, Windows, iPadOS/iOS and Android. They’ve got most operating systems covered. The app is a one-time purchase on all these platforms. It costs $29.99 for macOS, $9.99 for the iPadOS/iOS version, $7.99 on Google Play and $32.40 for Windows. They also have some cool packages on their website for bulk purchases. Something we noticed though, it is cheaper to buy the app from third-party apps (Appstore, Google Play, etc.) than from their website.
You can import text files, OPML, Freemind, PDF bookmarks and the native SimpleMind Pro formats. PDF bookmarks caught our attention and we were curious to see exactly how that would work. Most of us use PDFs and it’s important to understand how they work in as many apps as possible. PDFs are the most user-friendly file format in digital productivity. To import a PDF, it must have a Table of Contents.
When you tap a PDF for importing you have to Convert and Open. This converts the Contents Page into a mind map with links to the PDF that opens on a window with no annotating tool. Not very useful, unfortunately. It helps though to see the contents page as a mind map because it puts things into perspective.
Creating a new mind map
When creating a new mind map, you can start with a blank template to have full control over the mind map you will be creating. SimpleMind Pro has a collection of useful templates that you can get started with: Mind Map, Timeline, ToDo simple, ToDo, Meeting, SMART, SWOT, Week planner, Month planner, Flowchart and Organogram.
Every mind map you create starts with a Central Theme which is the main title for your mind map. Mind maps are great for brainstorming. When you have plenty of ideas on your mind, you can put them all down as central themes by tapping the Plus icon on your top toolbar. To do this a bit quicker, make sure nothing on your mind map is selected and double-tap an empty space. When brainstorming you are simply putting all your ideas on the mind map canvas to get them off your mind. You are not organising your thoughts yet, therefore at this point, your mind map has no connections between the ideas. You can decide how your ideas are connected later.
Building your mind map
To build your mind map, you have to add topics and content to it. You can add child and sibling nodes using the Plus icon on the node. A child node is one hierarchy lower than the node you’re adding it to. Sibling nodes are on the same hierarchy level and you add them using the sibling icon, which looks like a star. You can also use the big Plus icon on the toolbar if you don’t remember what these icons mean because it is written out for you:
- Add Child Topic
- Add Sibling Topic
- Insert Sibling Topic
The app has a shortcut to adding new child siblings. Select the node you want to add a child node to and double-tap an empty space. You can Insert a topic between two topics (nodes), that is, between a parent and a child node.
Adding items to your mind map
You can add notes to your mind map. SimpleMind Pro gives you basic writing tools on the keyboard toolbar. You can make your text bold, italic, underlined or strikeout. You also have superscript and subscript options. The text you add to this note stays tucked away from the mind map. Your topic has a small yellow box on it, indicating that it contains some notes.
You can add icons to your mind map from the app’s vast library of stock icons and emojis. If you’re not happy with those, you can add custom icons from your Photos library. Custom icons are limited to 240 pixels width or height, whichever is bigger. The app’s icons can either be small or large. You can add them in front of your topics. To change an icon, simply tap on it to select a different one.
In SimpleMind Pro you can:
- Add Image
- Add Embedded Image
- Add topic with Embedded Image
You can add an Add Image from Photos, Files or take one with your camera. You can also record a movie. Your image can be small up to unrestricted original size. You can choose the size of the image’s thumbnail, which can be a maximum of 480 pixels. Lastly, you have the option to Include in Mind Map File the full image size. We’ve not been successful in unticking this option. You can Link to Document. This feature feels a bit incomplete on the iPad. It doesn’t indicate whether adding a link overrides the option to store the full image on your iPad.
The image has an invisible link (to its node) that is only visible when moving it around. You can rotate and enlarge the image thumbnail, but it pixelates as you enlarge it. After you’ve added your image you can’t change these settings. To open the full-size image, double-tap your image. It opens up in a separate window with no markup tools. You can’t do much with your images in SimpleMind Pro. We could use at least some markup features in the view window.
Add embedded image
Add Embedded Image doesn’t have the option to record a video. It doesn’t come with image size options either and the thumbnail has a worse resolution. The image is added inside the topic.
Add topic with embedded image
Add topic with Embedded Image creates a child topic with an image. Of course, you can edit the topic for the child node but you can’t change the thumbnail resolution. The best way to add an image in SimpleMind Pro is with the Add Image option. It gives you more control over the size of images attached to your mind map and the thumbnails displayed. It’s a pity you can’t add full-size images to your mind map.
You can record a video to add to your mind map. It would be better if we could add videos from Photos or Files instead. To play the video, double-tap it to open it in another window, like you do with images in the app. It’s best to view and watch photos and videos in a small overlay window, where you can still see your mind map to better appreciate their relevance.
You can add labels that contain text which is visible on the mind map. It also has the same basic editing features you get for notes. You can resize the call-out box containing your text. A label also has an invisible link to your topic and it only appears when moving it around; disappears when you deselect it.
You can link to a:
- Mind Map
- Web Page
Link to mind map
When linking to a Mind Map, you choose from all the Mind Maps you’ve created in the app. You can search for the mind map you need when you have too many mind maps. SimpleMind Pro lets you search through your titles or the full text in the mind maps. The app then adds a linking icon to your topic that takes you directly to the linked mind map when you tap it. To return to your previous mind map, tap the navigation arrow on the left side of the toolbar.
Link to URL
You can add a Weblink to your topics. The URL should include http://. When you tap the web link icon it opens in your web browser.
Link to contact
SimpleMind Pro can open your Contacts app to link a Contact. You can search through your contacts and the app displays results instantly. However, you can’t add a contact from the search results, you have to add manually. A simple add button at the top right corner (or the bottom) of the Contacts‘ search window can fix that. Otherwise, it’s pointless searching through your contacts in the first place.
You can decide what Groups you look through when adding a contact to your mind map. However, groups don’t have the option to add contact like you get when looking at your contacts. Tapping on one of the action links (message, call etc.) seems to solve that problem.
The app adds an icon which when tapped shows your contact’s information within the app. You can even Edit that contact within SimpleMind Pro and that is a bit impressive. You can take actions to message, call or email your contacts in SimpleMind Pro and the app takes you to the different relevant apps.
Link to topic
You can link to any topic in the app by copying the link from one topic and pasting it to another topic. You can go through different mind maps to paste your links. SimpleMind Pro is the first productivity app we have encountered that can hyperlink between documents. Most apps can only hyperlink pages and elements of the same document.
You can add voice recordings to your mind map when your app is connected to a cloud service. SimpleMind Pro can only save your recordings to a Cloud service and not on your device. You can use the following cloud services: Dropbox, Google Drive, Nextcloud and Nutstore. When you’re signed into multiple Cloud services, you can choose where you want your recording to go. This feature doesn’t work with iCloud.
Tap the recording icon to start recording your audio. When recording, you can’t use the app and any attempt to do so stops your recording without saving it. When you finish recording your audio, tap Done to save it. The app adds an audio icon to the topic and you can listen to it when you tap on it. Like with any other media in SimpleMind Pro, the recording plays back in a separate window. It would be better if you could listen to it while viewing the mind map. You can export your audio, just your audio alone out of the app.
Topic check boxes
You can add checkboxes, progress bars and roll-up progress bars to your topic for tracking your progress on projects. You can check and uncheck your checkboxes as you do with simple to-dos. You have to update your progress bars using a percentage scale from 0 to 100%. A roll-up progress bar updates automatically as you check off checkboxes in your mind map. You can add it to the central theme and add checkboxes to your child nodes. As you complete the tasks on your child nodes, the roll-up progress bar automatically updates. It is very convenient.
You can add dates to your topics; useful for tasks you have to do or important dates to note. The date is added neatly below your topic. You can also Add Event to Calendar and add all the details for your meeting within SimpleMind Pro.
You can Show Branch Border to highlight a node and all its child nodes. It puts things into perspective when your mind map becomes too big and you’re starting to lose track of things.
A Group Border groups thoughts that are not in the same branch. You have a few borders to choose from and all of them are very colourful to highlight the nodes you want to group together. You can Add Group Border and tap the plus icon to add nodes to the group border.
Applying layouts to branches of the mind map
When using the Free Form Layout, you determine the layouts for your child nodes in the app. This is the only layout that gives you this much control and flexibility. Effectively, each branch can potentially have a different layout. Changing the layout of the central theme changes your whole mind map and you won’t be able to change the layout for your child nodes. As a general rule, when you apply a layout to a node, you can’t apply another layout to its child nodes.
You can add cross-links between topics that are not in the same hierarchy. Unlike the invisible topic links, these are visible on your mind maps and show visible connections between the topics in your mind map.
Customising your mind map
Universal font settings
Everything on your mind map can be customised. Under Preferences > Fonts you can decide the fonts you want for all your mind maps to make your content consistent. You can determine the Font for your:
- Central Theme Style
- Main branch Style
- Sub-branch Style
- Label Style
- Outline Export
SimpleMind Pro doesn’t support custom fonts and that is disappointing for such a sophisticated app. You can also choose the default scale for your editor. You can also choose the Snap Options for your Snap to Guide Lines options. Guidelines are helpful for creating symmetrical mind maps.
SimpleMind Pro has three levels of styling your mind map. Style Sheet is the highest level that defines what your whole mind map looks like. If you’re unhappy with options in the app you can create your own from scratch.
Mind map style
Mind Map Style overrides the Style Sheet customisation and it changes all the elements in the mind map at once. It changes all the topics and call-outs in your mind map to make your changes consistent. Tap the three dots icon on your toolbar and go to Mind Map Style to change:
- Auto Numbering Style: None, Numbering Inside Topic or Numbering below Topic.
- Connections: Centre Connected, Baseline or Left-Right
- Checkbox colour: determine it using the RGB, HSB or HEX code.
- Topics by determining their:
- Borders, Line Style and Width of the borders
- Colours: Fill Colour, Stroke Colour, Text Colour. Stroke Colour is the border colour of your topics.
- Hierarchical Relations & Cross Links: the lines that connect everything. You can choose their:
- Line Style: Width, Source Arrow, Target Arrow and Colour.
- Path Style: Curved, Angled, Rounded, Straight. This determines how your lines look in the mind map.
- Labels can have options for:
The lowest level of customisation in SimpleMind Pro is the Element Style for single or multiple elements. Elements of a mind map include: topics, labels, group border, branch borders and relation lines. Element styles make individual aspects of the mind map stand out. It changes only that selected element. Element Style customisation overrides the Mind Map Style. Element style customises:
- Font: Bold, Italic, Underline or Strikeout.
- Font size
- Topic border
- Border lining style
- Border thickness
- Fill colour
- Border colour
- Text colour
- Padding for the topic text box.
- Group border
- Borderline style
- Border thickness
- Fill Colour
- Border Colour
- Font: Bold, Italic, Underline or Strikeout
- Font size
- Call-out style
- Fill Colour
- Text colour
- Path style
- Line style
- Line thickness
- Source Arrow (where the arrow is coming from).
- Target Arrow (where the arrow is pointing towards).
- Line colour
To remove any changes you don’t like, tap on the eraser icon for the customisation you want to remove. The top toolbar on your customisation sidebar is the same, no matter what style level you’re editing. You can choose some preset favourite styles by tapping the first-star icon. To add a new preset, make the changes you want to save and tap the next Star icon with a plus sign. You can also copy & paste customisations across elements. To reset all the changes, tap the eraser icon.
iPadOS 14 compatibility
- False dark mode: SimpleMind Pro changes only your user interface when you switch to dark mode. The app has some dark-mode-compatible Style Sheets and you can also change the Background Colour of your mind map for a true dark mode experience in the app.
- No support for Multiple Instances: you can only split-view with other apps.
- Scribble Support: you can use Scribble to add text to your mind maps.
You can search your mind map and the app dims everything to highlight your results so they are easier to find. The app has a simple navigation tool for your search results so it’s not difficult to find what you’re looking for.
View outline for your mind map
Sometimes the outline is easier to understand and move items around. You can re-order your nodes in the outline and the changes update on your mind map immediately. You can filter to see:
- All checked checkboxes
- Unchecked checkboxes
- Checked checkboxes
- Dates in your mind maps
Creating presentation slides
You can create a presentation from your slides. When you Add Default Slides the app creates slides from the main branches in your mind map. The presentation resulting from this is a bit disjointed and difficult to follow.
For more control over what slides you show and the order you show them in, you can manually add your slides. Untick Only display topics defined in slide under Options, to see your full mind map during your presentation. All of it is dimmed out but lights up when you navigate to that topic and this helps keep everything in perspective.
Show Children Sequentially shows only the children of that slide and not all the branches in your mind map. To create the exact mind map you want, you need to use a combination of creating and presenting tools. You can retake slides to replace existing ones when you want to change some slides in your presentation. With a slide selected, go to your mind map and pick up the element you want to replace the slide you have selected.
You can rearrange your slides as well and you have the option to Export Slides. You can determine their image resolution: Normal, Medium High, High and Extra High. No presentation apps show up on your app options when exporting your slides. That is because SimpleMind Pro creates a zipped file with png images of your slides and doesn’t actually create .ppt or .pptx files. All things considered, SimpleMind Pro offers you a cool way to present your mind map.
Full Screen Read Only removes all the toolbars so you can focus on just reading your mind map. You can’t edit anything in this mode. SimpleMind Pro has one of the easiest ways to exit full-screen mode we have seen in an app. Just tap Done to exit.
Autofocus dims your mind map to let you focus on: Selection, Selection and Children or Selected Branch and you can choose to Include Cross-Linked Topics. This is not an effective way to help users focus on a node. The app should be able to zone in onto a selection and completely remove the rest of the mind map, not just dim it out. If anything, I personally found this more distracting. Let’s hope our developers can give us the kind of focus we get in MarginNote, where everything else disappears when focusing on a node.
When you Lock Auto Focus on Selected Branch, tapping other elements in your mind map does not change the focus point of your mind map. Your focus point becomes fixed, no matter what you do.
In SimpleMind Pro you can share mind map:
- Via Mail
- Print it
- Save to Photos is literally a one-step process. The image resolution is a bit poor and so it’s not the best exporting option when you need high-resolution files.
- Export to Files
- Export to Google Drive
- Open in other apps
- Print Outline
- Open Outline in
- Add to Templates adds this mind map to your layout templates and you can use it in the future.
- Export to Reminders
- Export to Calendar
- Export to ICS
That is a lot of options. You can export your mind map in the following formats: Image, PDF, Text/HTML outline, Native format for SimpleMind Pro and Presentation Slides.
You can export most of the above-mentioned formats via email. Exporting to Files, Cloud services and Open In… all have sharing options that are similar to the ones you get with email. PDF is the best option when printing out the mind map (which we do not condone). If this is something the other person wants to print out, send them a PDF. It is also the best option when exporting to non-mind-mapping apps. A PDF, however, flattens everything making your mind map uneditable in other apps (even mind mapping apps). PDFs keep the thumbnails for your media but don’t link back to them if they are in the app. The app does export your web links though so if your file is in the cloud, you can access it from the PDF.
PNG photos are best for word processing apps because the mind map looks exactly the way it does in SimpleMind Pro. You can share an HTML outline with apps that can read HTML. Agenda is a great example. Text outline is simple and can be viewed in many apps. Any app that supports text can open this format. Outlines have everything (even hidden notes) in your mind map, except media.
OPML and Freemind format both export the mind map to other mind mapping and outliner apps. The Freemind format seems to be the better option of the two in the apps we tried. Both formats ignore your media files (audio, videos, images) though.
The native format, SimpleMind Mind Map, is the best option for exporting to apps that can support the format. It exports the most detailed mind map when exported to other mind mapping apps. iThoughts and SimpleMind Pro work well together when a mind map is coming from SimpleMind Pro.
Exporting via email
You can either export the Mind Map or Selected Branches of it. You can then write your email and Export it.
Print mind map
You can print the Mind Map or Selected branches. You can choose to:
- Fit to Page
- Shrink to Page
- Tile & Fit to Page
- Tile with Scale
Whatever options you pick, you won’t be able to export the full mind map on one page at a reasonable size that doesn’t require zooming in to read its contents. Part of that problem stems from the fact that SimpleMind Pro, despite offering options to print out your mind maps, doesn’t have any page size customisation when creating your mind maps. To export an A4-sized mind map, it must be created on an A4 page size in the first place.
SimpleMind Pro should consider adding some way for users to determine the sizes of their canvas. They could take LiquidText’s approach where you have an infinite canvas made from smaller blocks of finite pages connected together. That way, when users want to export their mind maps in PDF format or print them out, they know not to overlap page borders.
You can export a variety of page sizes out of SimpleMind Pro. It’s more useful to have this information when creating the mind map, not after it’s completed. You can also add page borders when you’re printing your mind map.
Outline: print and open in
When printing your outline or when opening it in another app, you can choose the Mind Map or Selected Branches. You can also choose to print or open:
- Outline style: Hierarchy Outline (shows everything in the mind map), Topics with Notes (only) or Checklists (only).
- Options to show Hierarchy, Numbering, Checkboxes, Notes and Dates.
- Filter to:
- Show Hidden Topics
- Topics with Notes only
- Topics with checkboxes only
- Unchecked checkbox only
- Topics with Date only
- Paper size: A5-A1, B4 & B5, US (Letter, Legal & Tabloid) and JIS (B4 & B5).
Exporting to Apple Reminders
When you export your mind map to Apple Reminders, SimpleMind Pro creates a new list in your Reminders. The Central Theme in your mind map becomes the title for your new list. Your Main Branch topics become your to-dos and you can add further details to them in Apple Reminders.
Export to Calendar and ICS sort of do the same thing. Export to Calendar exports all the topics with dates in your mind map specifically to Apple Calendar, while Export to ICS can export to most calendar apps that are not Apple Calendar.
SimpleMind Pro can store your mind maps locally on your device or in the Cloud. You can decide where you want to save every mind map you create in the app. Local mind maps are stored on your device only and you need to manually back them up to keep your data safe. For your Cloud storage, you can save your mind maps to Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Nextcloud or Nutstore.
In your cloud service, in our case Google Drive, you can sort your documents by Name or Date. You can also filter to see Mind Maps only or All supported files and you have the option to work online or offline. Mind maps you store online automatically sync across devices.
SimpleMind Pro supports an infinite number of organisational levels. We were patient enough to try up to 10 folders within folders. What are the chances you’ll need more than ten organisation levels? The app keeps your navigation history to help you jump between mind maps with ease. This serves as your Recents tab, a place where you find all your recently opened documents.
We’ve gone through some of the app’s settings already (when they were relevant). Now, we will talk about all the settings we haven’t mentioned yet. Your preferences are organised into:
- Snap Options
- Image Options
Under Topic Tools you can choose:
- Default settings
- Display Hide Tool for topics
- Display Resize tool for topics
A hide tool for a mind map is a must-have. It is the one we recommend choosing. Sometimes you just want some elements not showing in your mind map. You can make your relations lines draggable. Lastly, in this section, you can choose a default layout mode for the new mind maps you create in the app.
- One-time purchase
- Exports to Apple Reminders & Apple Calendar
- Integrates with Apple Calendar & Contacts
- Links between different mind maps
- Infinite canvas without demarcations
- Handles media (images, videos) badly
SimpleMind Pro packs in a lot of impressive features and definitely gives you value for your money. We wish it had a collaboration feature though because collaboration is a big way we work now in 2020. Let’s hope that is something in the pipeline.