Reviewing Notes Applications — Part 2: Evernote
Evernote has been through a lot of changes recently. In the past 2 years, the code base has been re-written and multitude of new features have been added to the application. Just a few days ago, the application was acquired and is under new ownership. The app looks and feels very different from this time two years ago. What is not clear, is what their roadmap is, where are they headed. They, like most other people, are trying to e-invent themselves as an all in one productivity app, what is not clear is exactly what they think this means and what steps they plan on taking to get there. This worries me. Don’t get me wrong, Evernote is vastly improved on 2 years ago, but what concerns me is that some features that it would seem would be obvious to add, they haven’t and I cannot work out why not. But let’s get started.
Again, Evernote is available on every kind of device you can think. It follows a simple hierarchical of notebook and note. Notebooks an be grouped into stacks. It also has a pretty good tagging function and tags can be nested in a way that notebooks can’t. There could be an argument therefore for only having one notebook and using tags to organise everything. There are downsides to this as well though. The editor, is fairly well featured and across your devices pretty much all features are available.
Evernote excels at quick capture and search. These are the things it does better than anyone else in my view.
As previously mentioned, a notes app has 4 basic functions, and against these we look to measure any contenders.
Capturing notes — getting stuff into it
This is Evernote’s strongest point really
Wether you are on desktop or mobile, this is incredibly easy. On mobile devices, a widget can bring up a box for you to type in with just one click. On Mac & Windows there is a global keyboard shortcut to bring up the Evernote Helper. This is a little box that you again can type in right away and what you type can be saved as a note. This means, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, you can easily and quickly capture a thought without breaking your flow of concentration.
This is simply amazing. Great for bookmarks or article. And, it will save a full page as an HTML note that can then be edited within the app and all the links etc within the page work within the note as well. Of all the web clippers available, this one is probably the best.
Other capture methods
E-mailing things into Evernote works really well and there is also a Chrome extension for Gmail enabling you to get e-mails into Evernote from there. This method creates a better looking note than forwarding an e-mail.
Overall, capturing in Evernote is probably second to none.
Editing and formatting — actually writing, formatting and laying things out
The editor in Evernote is pretty good, The new version simplified the options for font and colour etc but all of the basics are there. There are tables, code blocks, different colours, highlights etc. You can embed files direct from Google Drive.
However, there are some missing features and some weaknesses here. What is frustrating is that these seem to be fairly basic things. For example, you cannot put in a block quote which seems fairly standard in other apps, the code block lacks any of the different colour font markers for the different aspects of different languages, and there is no option for any kind of ‘side by side’ formatting unless you use a table. This is a big weakness for those of us who need some visual organisation within our notes.
I also think that the editor menu on mobile devices is not very well thought through. Most apps have a side scrolling menu with all the options on it. Evernote has gone for the menu’s within a menu approach, which for me just takes longer as is a bit frustrating to actually use.
Most of the options can be selected with a keyboard shortcut which is a plus point.
I’m not really sure how to rate this overall — perfectly serviceable but nothing special.
Organisation — how things get sorted within the app
The organisation structure is really basic. Really, it is a hierarchical structure with only layer, the notebook and then you have notes within that. Yes, the notebooks can be grouped into a stack, but that is about it.
Tagging is a little bit more interesting. Tags can be nested and every note can have multiple tags applied to it. So, in many ways, tagging would seem to be a better organisational structure than notebooks. However, there are downsides. It is very easy to add/create a new tag and therefore to end up with two very similar tags (e.g. receipt and reciept). This therefore is not a seamless option.
You can link to notes within notes but this is far from straightforward. You need to navigate to the note you want and then copy the note link from a right click menu (or a keyboard shortcut) and then go back to the note you want and paste it in. You can copy multiple note links at once, but only if you have them all in the same place, filter or search.
Any note, notebook, tag or saved search can be set as a shortcut and appear in the sidebar.
Organising your notes therefore is a bit limited, but it works.
Retrieval — finding things again down the line
Overall, finding things manually is pretty straightforward however search in Evernote is second to none.
You have two options. The first, and generally the most useful for finding a single note is a like a quick switch box that you bring up with a keyboard shortcut. Start typing the note’s title and then select it from the list that appears below.
The main search is incredibly powerful. You can search by keyword, filter by tag or notebook or multiple tags and notebooks and you can search for various other things as well (e.g. noted created in the last week). Any search you complete can be saved for reuse in the future. It is fast, effective and surprisingly good and bringing you what you are looking for and not a whole host of things you are not looking for.
In addition to the functionality of an application there are some key technical things of these applications that can be the making or the breaking of them.
Accessibility — where is it accessible and what limitiations are there on portable devices like phones etc
Evernote is accessible everywhere and to my knowledge the only limits on smaller devices come from the small screen sizes and other natural limitations. For example, you cannot manually alter the width of a cell in a table on mobile.
Privacy & Security — How secure is your data and are there any issues with privacy
Evernote have their own servers and that is where your data is stored. To be honest, my experience is that for all of these types of apps, with one or two exceptions, the terms are fairly standard.
Speed of the application — load times for the application and notes etc, sync speed between devices
Since the application was updated in 2020 I have noticed that it has become slower on a number of levels. If I make a lot of changes and then, for example, use a device I have not used for a while, it does not sync instantly. I’ve noted as well that on my tablet, which is a bit lacking in power, the app is pretty slow. It uses quite a lot of system resources that other applications of this type don’t so this is a downside.
This is pretty good though there is a need on mobile to select to download notebooks for offline use. On desktop, this option is selected for all notes by default. What it does is save a local copy of your notes database when you close the application.
Export options — how easy is it to get data out of the app and in what format
On the one hand this is bad. On the other good. Let me explain. Notes can be exported individually or in batches. At present, you can only select a maximum of 50 notes at a time so that is your limit for a batch export. Notes can exported as a pdf, a single html file for multiple notes or multiple html files.
By far the most accurate export option is the .enex file. This is a file format developed by Evernote for Evernote.
However, Evernote is the grandaddy of the note taking market. As such every competitor is desperate to get you away from it and has developed a method for importing .enex files. (Onenote, UpNote, Notion, Nimbus Notes & Notesnook can all do this.)
Bugginess — are there any bugs or issues that are either frustrating or risky
Overall, it is a fairly polished application and I never encountered any major bugs. However, a while back, on my mobile phone and tablet every time I uninstalled and reinstalled the app it would sync from a time months earlier when I had over 5000 notes in the trash, despite the trash having been emptied some time prior to this.
Evernote is a great application and in some ways I highly recommend it. However, I feel like I have been waiting for them to ‘improve’ in the ways I hope that they will for about 5 years. I have seen them do a lot, and very little of it is useful to me. Evernote’s new ‘Home’ has been well done, but I can’t really see the use of it. They have introduced tasks, but the functionality is nowhere near as good as even the most basic task manager. The app is good, but I do not know where it is going.
To score the application — 7/10