This will be my ninth but hopefully not last article about the Big Green Elephant in the room, Evernote.
Early last year, I wrote a couple of introductory articles on the software that were met with some success.
Then, I wrote perhaps my most successful and somewhat controversial article stating that I thought it was still the best. I felt so at the time, despite the same complaints other long-time users had voiced for years.
Then they released version 10.
After that, I wrote one asking if it was still the best, which got many people answering no, and a handful of loyalists declaring that it was. Or it might be again.
Next, I wrote two about moving to something else, one lamenting what the product had become and finally, a piece about how now may be the time to give them a try.
The last one I wrote for those who had never tried it. I felt that most of us who were complaining didn’t like things that were taken away or didn’t work the way they had. A new user would come in with fresh eyes and get in on the ground floor of virtually a new product.
I have been a mostly loyal user for over a decade and premium almost the entire time. I say most of the time because occasionally, I would look with envy at the shiny new toy on the shelf. I’ve been a techie and a bit fiddler since my first computer in the early eighties. I’m always trying new stuff and get restless if I stay with the same product for long.
But that was mostly just experimental and keeping abreast of what was available. I stayed with Evernote, going all in at one point, scanning every piece of paper I could get my hands on. The Import Folder concept made it a one-step process from paper to the cloud.
But, over the years, I looked more seriously at other products. First, when Evernote became stagnant and their new ‘products’ looked like something from an Etsy shop. Socks? Seriously, Evernote? And for a while, they got earnest about selling expensive notebooks. A product that was centered around going paperless selling paper. Over-priced paper at that.
Then, of course, there was the debacle over reducing the benefits of the free version. That in itself didn’t bother me. I’ve never been one for free versions of anything. I would always pony up the few bucks they wanted for any app I used for more than a few days. It supported independent development and gave me new toys to play with.
But I was concerned about the longevity of the product. I was heavily invested in it, and I was afraid it might just go belly up someday. Was the change in plans a smart business move or desperation on their part? They always seemed to grab some new venture capital when things turned bleak, but that alone is not a sustainable position. The good news is, it had been around a long time.
EverNote, created in 2000 by Stepan Pachikov, was widely launched in 2008 under Evernote 3.0 by Phil Libin. I came aboard the next year. At first, it was just a light-duty screen capture program, but as I used it more and more, I used it more and more. It grew and blossomed. Until it didn’t.
Ian Small gave me hope when he came along, but hope is all they offered a year later. He kept talking a good game, but it was unclear exactly what all that meant. The geeks he interviewed seemed pretty excited, but being a reformed geek myself, I can attest to the fact that you don’t let those guys make decisions, much less run the show.
Then I was asked to be a beta tester for version 10. After just a few minutes, I was very afraid. But I have been a beta tester many times over the years, starting with Prodigy. How many of you ever heard of Prodigy?
Typically things get ironed out in beta. That’s what beta testing is for.
I don’t know how long it had been in beta, but I did some thorough testing and made comments and suggestions. Most of the users on that forum had the same comments and suggestions.
We were all but ignored, and a few weeks later, they announce the new release. Since then, a handful of people say that the new release wasn’t really meant for production, and the old version was still viable.
But despite a sentence buried very deep in the announcement, it was presented as production work. It completely replaced the old version. Only after a great deal of pushback did they make it easy to reinstall the ‘legacy’ version.
The relevant definition of legacy is “denoting or relating to software or hardware that has been superseded but is difficult to replace because of its wide use.” Superseded being the operative word.
We’ve all seen the release of new software many times. And there have been many times where it is announced as ‘a work in progress,’ but feel free to keep using the old version. That’s not what this was. This was a replacement. Somebody told somebody that told Ian Small; this was ready for prime time.
It was not.
They stripped it down to the least common denominator to make future development easier. But here’s the thing. It’s not my purpose in life to make developers’ lives easy. I only use a handful of major software packages, and I expect them to work. Evernote didn’t.
This common platform was supposed to make enhancements and maintenance easier. But, I’d be willing to bet there are groups of people trying to make it work better on Mac, Windows, Android, and iOS. And that they are working independently of each other.
Everyone except for the handful of loyalists had different complaints depending on their use cases. For me, the major one was losing the import folder. For ten years, I have used this almost daily. It’s how I got most of the stuff into Evernote.
But, the ‘legacy’ version still worked, including the import folder, so I was happy to stick it out. I took a deep dive into other products, but I decided to stay with Evernote because of the import folder and the speedy Android app and see what happened.
Six months later, still no import folder, and now they broke the mobile app. There are a lot of different opinions on this. Some people say it works fine. Others agree with my assessment. But that is all irrelevant. For me, it doesn’t work reliably. Sometimes it works, and others, it doesn’t. The old version always worked. Always. When I tested other products, Evernote’s mobile app beat them all easily. A few were almost as fast but didn’t offer all the widgets.
I was excited the day they announced the release of the new Android version. I was excited the next time I used it, and the green elephant appeared on a black screen.
I was less excited a minute later when that was still all I saw.
Okay, maybe it’s reloading or syncing all my data. I have about 12K notes. Let’s give it some time.
I’ve given it some time. Sometimes it opens in 10 seconds. Other times, I give up and go away after a minute or more. Why the lack of consistency? I don’t know. Both my mobile devices are only a few months old and are both running the same OS. I never allow programs to pile up in the background.
But I can’t be standing in line someplace needing a piece of information and staring at a green elephant for over a minute. I can’t do that. I’ve been doing something else for ten years.
“Do you have..”
“Yes, I do; here it is.”
They say there is a ‘legacy’ version of this. I can go to some site I’m unfamiliar with, download and .apk file, go through some gyration to install it, and make sure it doesn’t get ‘updated’ again.
But I’m not going to do that. It’s not my job to keep jumping through hoops to avoid a product that shouldn’t have been released. Maybe it will be fixed soon, but I doubt it. I think they are spread too thin. I believe this common platform idea hasn’t been all it’s cracked up to be. And, if a more stable release was imminent, why release this one at all?
A Fresh Start
So, I’m starting over with a new search for a replacement. I’ve done this enough to know most, if not all, the major players, but I wanted to spread the net far and wide. Spend some time on it. There’s no rush; I’m not going to delete any data from Evernote. There’s no reason to.
I have, however, canceled my Premium subscription. It comes due in a couple of months, but based on the last six, I can’t imagine they will be able to change my mind.
I wanted to share the beginnings of that search and the narrowing down to the final X. I’ll put together another one in a few days. Or a week. I want to be sure. This ain’t my first rodeo, but I hope it’s my last. And, of course, Evernote may turn around. It’s hard to turn an elephant, though. That’s what happened to Microsoft.
What I Am Looking For
Mostly, something that works. The way I work. I will almost certainly have to give up on the Import Folder as no one else seems to be working on that. Nimbus might be, but we’ll get back to them in a minute.
First, I have to clear the air about what Evernote is. If you do any search on Evernote, you will see page after page of posts related to something called a Note-Taking App. I don’t know what that is. Notepad is a note-taking app. Evernote is a document repository. You can put almost anything into it, including notes, and quickly get anything out of it. At least you used to.
So, that’s what I need. Something I can put stuff in. Any kind of stuff, but mostly text, PDFs, and images. I need to put it in from my laptop or in a limited fashion from my mobile devices. I’m not one of those that live on the phone or tablet. I am on my computer for the majority of my 17 hour days. I need the mobile data when I’m out and about and need to put my hands on something. Or I want to quickly, and I mean quickly, capture something.
I need to have a sense that the company will be around for a while. As I said above, if I change packages, I hope it’s my last. This isn’t a product that needs to be flashy and sexy; it just needs to work. As long as it works, I’ll stick with it.
If it has an import function from Evernote, that’s a plus, but not a complete deal-breaker. There are pros and cons to both scenarios, and I’ll get back to that in a bit.
But on that subject, I’d like to speak briefly about my new take on document management. I’ve been all-in with Evernote for a long time, and part of that has been the ease of getting data out. I do a weekly backup of my Enex file and a monthly backup to HTML. This gives me all my data in formats I can use natively or import to a supported app.
V10 has restricted that. Another reason to stick with Legacy, but it got me thinking. Of those 12K notes, the vast majority of them, and almost all of the critically important ones, are PDF files. As I move to a new platform, I will be making local copies of all of them, organized hierarchically on my hard drive. The hard drive gets backed up to two external drives nightly and to a cloud service in real-time.
Things I’m Not Looking At
I’m a Windows and Android guy. My first computer was an Apple IIe. My next couple of dozen have been PCs. I may change someday, but I doubt it. So, I won’t be looking at any Apple-only stuff. I’ve heard some great things about some of the Apple apps, but they’re just not on the table.
I’m also not looking at any apps that were developed and tested for Macs, and then, oh, yeah, we threw together a Windows version. I’ve been through that too many times in my photography business.
As a side note, with apologies to the Mac users, some of the things I look at maybe Windows only. Sorry about that, but it’s what I use. It’s all I care about, that an Android. Which reminds me. It has to have a mobile app and be able to sync to it.
Things I Looked at Briefly But Didn’t Make the Cut.
I’m not going to list everything I looked at, but know that I did cast an extensive net. Wider than any in recent memory. I scanned all of the X best alternative type articles and spent some time on the excellent site, Noteapps.info.
If it’s not mentioned here, I probably did a quick glance and moved on. Having said that, if, after reading this, you have a viable alternative, please place it in the comments.
I didn’t look at any of the project management tools except for this one. This is my current task and project management app. It’s also where I do the majority of my writing. It has some pretty good document management, but it’s not quite there. I could conceivably get all of my Evernote data into ClickUp, but the organizational aspect and more importantly, the search functionality isn’t there. Yet.
ClickUp has the most nimble development crew of anything I’ve used in a long time, and I am always amazed at what they put out in their weekly (that’s right, weekly) updates. I will keep my eye on it. There are pros and cons to the all-in-one-place mentality, but I trust these guys.
They’ve also just updated their Android app, but it works better than the old one, not worse. Are you listening, Evernote?
A lot of people talked about this one. But it is truly a note-taking app. It can replace Post-Its. It can’t replace Evernote.
Another one with a lot of love and support. And I’ll keep an eye on it. But about twenty years ago, when I got my first Palm Pilot, I remember configuring a third-party tool so that I could sync data on my computer with that on my Palm. I’m sorry, but we’ve come too far to go back to that. If you are going to produce apps for computers and mobile, develop a way to sync them.
Besides, If I’m going to use DropBox, Google Drive, or OneDrive as a staging area for sync, I’ll just use that app to house my notes. More on those is a bit.
Another new kid on the block and one that is getting a lot of attention. Because of Roam, a lot of other developers are throwing backlinks into the mix. Here’s the thing. I’ve never once wished I had backlinks. Until I read about Roam, I had never heard of backlinks. I’m more of a straight-line thinker. But the main reason I didn’t spend much time on it is, it’s just too expensive. I don’t need to spend that kind of money. Evernote has set the bar on what I’m willing to pay.
DropBox and Paper
Paper seemed to be too team-centric. I don’t need to share very often. If I can email a note to someone, I’m good. And again, DropBox is too expensive. To me, it doesn’t offer anything I can’t get in Google Drive, which is much cheaper, and for that reason, made the final cut.
I came up with a, to me, not unsurprising list of finalists. Actually, two of them did surprise me a bit, and I’ll explain why. I’m going to spend some days (or weeks) exploring these four and will give you a write-up as I progress.
But for now, the finalists and a brief discussion of what I know at this point.
This was one of the surprises. I have looked at it several times in the past and didn’t get far. There are too many versions, and the syncing was very iffy. But, I always liked the concept. The Notebook, section, page hierarchy appeals to the way I think and organize things.
But this time, I narrowed down my focus and eliminated some options. In my brief testing, the sync between the web version and the Android version was perfect. I would rather have an app, though, because I keep too many tabs open as it is.
I looked at 2016 (their legacy version) as it was supposed to be the most feature-rich. I found it to be the most confusing. And syncing was slow and clunky. I created a new notebook and note in both web and Android versions, then added some attachments. I went to the other version, and it was there. That is what I expect from syncing.
A side note here about ClickUp. They have set the gold standard in syncing. I have a project that I mostly use on a second laptop, which sits across the room. One day, I typed on my main laptop, but the screen was up on the other one. I watched it update in virtually real-time as I typed. It doesn’t get better than that.
Anyway, I went to the Windows Store and downloaded their new OneNote app. It was clean and easy to use. I liked the interface. The note I created on the web version was there. The one I made on Android was not. This will require further testing. I suppose I can just use the web version, but it concerns me that something this basic doesn’t work correctly.
It does have an Evernote importer, but it doesn’t do much more than bring stuff over. You’d still have to organize it. Another reason, I may not do a direct import.
I may also look at a pure OneDrive solution and leave OneNote out of the equation.
And, of course, it’s Microsoft. Which means support will be non-existent. You take what they give you and like it, or you find something else.
I’ve written at least four articles on this one. There is a lot to love about Notion. There is also a lot missing that shouldn’t be. After all this time, you still can’t email a note to Notion. Combine that with no Import folder, and it makes it harder to get stuff in than it needs to be.
However, it is a very powerful and flexible program. Almost too much so. If I go this route, I will have to use a lot of willpower not to keep going down the rabbit hole of building a lot of pretty widgets and dashboards.
Their development started very quickly, but it has slowed to a crawl lately. They recently had a significant outage, which caused concern for a lot of users. And support is not what it used to be.
During my last round of testing last June, it seemed like the import from Evernote was broken. It only affected a small percentage of people and then only a certain kind of note. But broken is broken. If I’m going to port 12K notes, it needs to work. I’m not going to search through finding ones it doesn’t like and removing them.
That being said, I am still considering a solution that doesn’t involve a direct import. What is more concerning is that I discovered the bug last June. I wrote to support and got a somewhat canned response. I wrote to them yesterday that the much-reported bug still exists and got pretty much the same answer. We know about it. We’re working on it. We have no ETA. Sorry, those last two statements are contradictory in my book.
A company that is pushing itself hard as an Evernote replacement that can’t fix their import feature doesn’t look too promising. Especially since it used to work flawlessly. If something worked and now it doesn’t, you have three choices. Roll it back, find out what changed and fix it, or ignore the problem because you don’t care. Notion has chosen option three.
Another thing I don’t like about Notion is it is the hardest of all the apps I looked at to get your data back out of. However, as I said early on, I’m rethinking my entire document management procedures, so this may be a moot point. If I lose the pretty page I just designed, that’s a minor annoyance. If I lose critical data, well, that’s another thing entirely. I’m not going to rely on anyone else to make sure that doesn’t happen,
But again, there’s a lot I like about the product, so it’s still in the game. For now.
The other surprise. I use it from time to time. It’s convenient, it works, and it’s Google, which I am heavily invested in. But I never thought of it as an Evernote replacement.
But several people brought it up, so I took a look. It’s effortless to get stuff into, even though there is no direct Evernote import. And the sync is quick and flawless. There is a third-party app I could use to port everything over, but again, I may not want to go that route. It’s the lightest of the bunch functionality-wise, which could be a plus.
I first looked at Nimbus Notes over two years ago. I was impressed then and am impressed now. The look and feel have historically been similar to Evernote.
The main difference between the two is that the development of Nimbus has never slowed down. They listen to users and are bringing out new features often.
It has a good but somewhat clunky Evernote import, but it’s there if you want to use it. I think I will use it for some, but not all, of my Evernote notebooks. It brings over tags as well, if that’s your thing.
I haven’t had any syncing problems so far, and the Android app is very quick with a good search. Their web clipper isn’t quite Evernote, but it’s very good. They also have a second clipper that works across Windows, not just in the browser that is very powerful. I’m not sure why anyone would use the stripped-down web clipper instead of the more powerful Nimbus Capture.
That’s It For Now.
I have a lot of testing to do before I make a decision. And, of course, I will keep a close eye on Evernote. There is no reason for the foreseeable future not to leave my existing data there. I just don’t believe at this point they will earn any more of my money, or more importantly, any more of my data.
Thanks for reading, and please, I’d like as much feedback as you can provide. This is a big deal for me, and I am not taking it lightly.